The Pure Michigan 400 promised to be another exceptionally fast race at Michigan International Speedway. Repaving of the surface prior to this season caused speeds to skyrocket in June, and despite a new tire from Goodyear to meet the demanding conditions this time, speeds still promised to be high.
The race created a number of chances for drivers to test equipment and one another. From the green flag it was Mark Martin who dominated the first half. A scary accident when his car speared the end of an opening in the pit road wall took him out of the running before halfway, though.
Toward the end it looked as though the Hendrick teammates of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson could claim the top spot, with Johnson edging much of the field. The five-time champion took the lead from Brad Keselowski with just a handful of races remaining, but lost his engine shortly after. Oil on the track forced a late restart leading to Greg Biffle flying the Ford flag in Victory Lane.
Ahead this Saturday is one of the most exciting nights of every season. The night race at Bristol is always packed with action and excitement, and this season will be no different. A handful of drivers are fighting to claim the Chase for the Championship's wild card, and still others are fighting for survival in the top-10 in points. There is still time for others to make it into the playoffs with a win, and tensions are bound to be high.
Greg Biffle - Biffle drove his Roush Fenway Racing Ford to the organization's first win in 15 races. That statistic is astonishing considering how the teammates dominated the top positions in the points for so much of the season. The Vancouver, Wash., native used the final green-white-checkered restart to jump out front and command the final circuits. Sunday's win was Biffle's second top finish in a row, and sends him to Bristol brimming with confidence. Four top-10 finishes in the last six Bristol races will not harm his confidence either. Biffle's average finish at the track from his last five tries is 12.8, and he could improve on that this week. Biffle might be the top fantasy play this week.
Brad Keselowski - Keselowski is etching his name into Bristol folklore. He won two of the last three races at the track, and is rapidly approaching the status of dominator at the track. Last week at Michigan he worked hard to take the lead in the closing laps, but was out muscled by Jimmie Johnson, who ended up losing his engine just a short bit later. On the final restart, Keselowski just didn't have enough to get to the back bumper of Biffle and was forced to settle for second. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 for the last six races, and there may not be a hotter driver on the circuit at the moment. All of this is bad news for the competition, but good news for fantasy owners.
Kyle Busch - If winning four of the last seven races at a particular venue doesn't put your name atop the fantasy options, we don't know what would. The younger brother of the Busch duo has won five Bristol trophies, finished in the top five seven times, and picked up 10 total top-10s. His average finish at the tiny oval is 10.6 from 15 career starts. He finished 13th in Michigan and sits outside of the top-10 in points, slipping away from winning a wild card spot in this season's Chase. The young driver could still get the job done, though, and will look toward Bristol to stamp an exclamation point on that effort. Busch is a driver to leverage this week.
Martin Truex Jr. - Four consecutive top-10 finishes is nothing to sneeze at, and that is the run Truex has put together heading into Bristol. This driver rivals Keselowski for hot-streak momentum, but doesn't have the recognition he might deserve. To add a cherry to the top of this sundae, Truex has an amazing recent record at Bristol as well. He is a driver that is on a strong upswing in form, and could be poised to surprise at a track that suits his style. Add to that positive momentum a third-place finish in the last Bristol race and you have a prime fantasy option this week. Truex is a driver who can save fantasy starts for other options as the season draws down and should be a solid option this week.
Jamie McMurray - This season has been a disaster for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing and McMurray. No top-5s and just three top-10s are not what the team hoped for 23 races deep into the season. Things could get better for the pairing, however, as there are a few tracks where the Missouri native could close out the year on a high note. Bristol is one of those places. Two top-5s and four top-10s in the last five Bristol races make McMurray a driver to consider this week. He finished seventh when the series came to town in March and claims an average result of 8.8 in the last five Bristol races. McMurray is definitely a driver worth considering this week, unlike most other times.
Denny Hamlin - With only one top-10 finish in the last five Bristol races, Hamlin is definitely on a downward run of results. Prior to Michigan he finished consecutive races outside the top 20. He may claim six top-10 finishes in 13 career starts at Bristol, but he has never won at the track. He did a fantastic job to overcome troubles to finish 11th in Michigan, but there is reason to believe that may not happen twice in a row this week at Bristol. The team knows how to set the car up for the tight bullring, but Hamlin hasn't been able to translate it to success quite yet, which isn't great for fantasy owners.
Marcos Ambrose - Ambrose has been a contender in fantasy lineups the past few weeks, but this may be the time to give him a rest. He claims just one top-10 in the last five Bristol races and only a career average finish of 18.1 from seven tries. He had a great afternoon at Michigan, as predicted, and finished fifth to claim his second top-5 in a row. Those two top-5s are his only two this season, though. The Tasmanian knows how to race effectively at a number of tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule, and we've just visited two, but Bristol is unique. He hasn't quite figured out how to get the job done there, and while he could improve from his past results, he isn't likely to claim a top-5 three weeks in a row.
Jeff Gordon - He might have been the king of Bristol once, but his crown has tarnished recently. A lone top-5 in the last five Bristol races helps Gordon to an average finishing position of 15.4. In total he owns four winner's trophies from 33 career starts at the track, but the last came almost exactly 10 years ago. Last weekend trouble took him off track before the halfway mark of the distance, and that makes back-to-back finishes outside the top 20 for the driver slowly slipping away from any hope of making this season's Chase. He returned to the track eventually but was only able to climb as high as 28th before the distance was complete. Bristol numbers and his current form make Gordon questionable this week.
Tony Stewart - Like Gordon, Stewart only lays claim to one top-5 result in the last five Bristol races. His average finish in that time is 18.0. In fact, he only finished in the top-10 twice in the last eight races at the track. His engine issues at Michigan make it consecutive races without a top-10 finish and leave him dangerously close to falling out of the top 10 in points with precious little time remaining. He finished 32nd after last weekend's trouble. With the slips he has had the last few weeks that Chase spot may be in jeopardy, and that would be a disaster for the Hoosier. Expect Stewart to battle back for the Chase, as he always does, but don't expect a break-through Bristol night this week.
Joey Logano - In the last four races Logano has finished worse than 30th three times. For a driver with a victory this season, results like that are terribly disappointing as he tries to claim a Chase wild-card position. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be reason for much optimism for the young driver either. Despite landing pole position in the March 2010 Bristol race, he has only finished on the lead lap once in his career. His best finish was 13th in the night race of 2011, and his average finish from seven career starts at the track is just 24.1. It has been a disappointing career for Logano at this particular track, and the tides don't seem likely to turn this week.
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