This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
We've also seen several styles of tracks and generally raced on the larger ovals. Bristol should prove to be a big adjustment for the drivers to make this weekend. It's been some time since we've gone racing on an oval of less than one-mile in size. Despite the long layoff, we should see a lot of the same faces racing at the front that we saw here in April. Successful short track drivers are a rare mix of patience and aggression. Those who can balance that yin and yang and beat fenders when need be
We've also seen several styles of tracks and generally raced on the larger ovals. Bristol should prove to be a big adjustment for the drivers to make this weekend. It's been some time since we've gone racing on an oval of less than one-mile in size. Despite the long layoff, we should see a lot of the same faces racing at the front that we saw here in April. Successful short track drivers are a rare mix of patience and aggression. Those who can balance that yin and yang and beat fenders when need be and still be able to sit back and wait for an opportunity to pass in traffic are the ones to succeed at this half-mile oval of chaos. When we put the fireworks of Bristol Motor Speedway under the lights we have a sporting event second to none in the racing world. We're sure to see some tempers raised, fenders beaten and feathers ruffled after this 500-lap battle Saturday night at what has been tabbed "The Last Great Colosseum". Much like Spartacus and his famous chariot race, the crowds will roar when these 40 drivers take to the lightning-fast bowl of Bristol Motor Speedway.
In preparing our fantasy race teams this week, we'll need to take a close look at the last 11 years at Bristol Motor Speedway in order to collect some recent data on the drivers. The loop stats from these 23 races will be very useful. This span will cover Bristol's transformation from a one-groove to a two-groove short track and should bear some great data. In forming this week's driver list we'll also pay some attention to current hot streaks. Drivers who raced well at Watkins Glen should carry that momentum into the World's Fastest Half Mile this Saturday night. Here are the loop stats for the top-performing Bristol drivers, sorted by driver rating.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUALITY PASSES||FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||RATING|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||11.5||588||272||83||6,615||87.4|
|Martin Truex Jr.||20.8||653||254||114||5,519||81.1|
In the season's first race at Bristol Motor Speedway back in April of this year, we had a few surprises, both at the top and the bottom of the finishing order. Still, some of the same short track specialists found their way to the front. Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards staged a running battle for the 500 laps until the driver of the No. 19 took control and came out on top with his fourth-career victory at the half-mile oval. That win capped an amazing day for Edwards at BMS. The veteran driver qualified on the pole position for the Food City 500 and led the final 104 laps to capture the win. Also of note that day in April was Trevor Bayne's fantastic performance. He raced inside the Top 10 all day and finished fifth in the 500-lap spring battle at Bristol. It marked Bayne's first-career Top 5 at the historic short track. That effort has set up the young driver for a lot of the improvement he's experienced this season. Hendrick Motorsports rookie, Chase Elliott, finished fourth and upset many of the stars of the series by cracking the Top 5 with a great performance in his first-career Sprint Cup start at the half-mile Bristol oval. As you can see, each of these trio of drivers compete for a different manufacturer. So we have plenty of parity among Toyota, Chevrolet and Ford at this short track. With Ford and Toyota drivers having won the last six-straight Bristol races, we have to concede a nod of favoritism towards them. Chevrolet last won at BMS when Kasey Kahne visited victory lane here in 2013, so this manufacturer is on the comeback trail to a certain extent. We'll take a look at the historical loop stats and recent hot streaks and see if we can clear up the picture, and give you the drivers you need this weekend to conquer the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Carl Edwards - As we come to Bristol this weekend we begin to examine the possibility of Edwards getting back to victory lane. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has been coming on in recent weeks, and showing signs of grabbing another win this season. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota picked up his fourth-career win at the Tennessee short track in the spring of this year, and that ranks him tied for second in victories at BMS among active drivers. With close to 1,000-career laps led at this oval, it's clear that those victories didn't happen by accident. As for the intangibles are concerned, three of the four Edwards' victories at Bristol have come under the lights.
Matt Kenseth - With his victory at the Loudon short track four races ago, Kenseth now has two victories for the season. He's been a very strong performer for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota has enjoyed a lot of success at the famous half-mile oval in the second-half of his 17-season career. Kenseth is a four-time Bristol winner, and he sports an excellent 61-percent Top-10 rate at Bristol Motor Speedway. The veteran driver has won two of the last six races at the Tennessee short track and he comes into Saturday night about as hot as a driver can get. Kenseth's 1,572 laps led at this oval ranks third among active drivers. He'll be racing at the front again this Saturday night.
Joey Logano - Logano claimed his first Bristol victory in this event two years ago. He battled tooth-and-nail with Matt Kenseth over the final 70 laps to come away the victor. Logano now has 15-career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, so he's not short on experience here. That experience is now starting to pay off with challenges for the checkers. Logano's start here in this event one year ago yielded another victory, his second at the Bristol short track. So he's the two-time defending winner of this night race. While the focus might fall on the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas, don't forget to add this Penske Racing Ford driver to the top of your fantasy racing priorities list.
Kurt Busch - Coming off the somewhat disappointing 11th-place finish at Watkins Glen, the No. 41 team should be very hungry as we return to the short tracks. Busch led 41 laps and finished a brilliant third at the Bristol oval earlier this season, and he's made quite a NASCAR career stacking up trophies on the short track circuit. The Stewart Haas Racing star has five-career wins at Bristol Motor Speedway, although all of those came prior to 2007. He's been a model of consistency at this short track with over 1,000-career laps led and a strong 52-percent Top-10 rate. If there's a surprise winner in the offing this Saturday night it could be Busch and his homerun potential at Bristol.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Brad Keselowski - One of the strongest fantasy racing plays for this weekend's Bristol race is Keselowski. The Penske Racing star has won two-career victories at the historic short track, and he's led a whopping 499 laps combined in 13 starts. Keselowski led 4 laps and finished sixth in this event one year ago. As with some drivers, the night installment of this Bristol race seems to favor Keselowski over the day race in the spring. We expect the No. 2 Ford team to return to Bristol and complete the unfinished business they started here in April of this year. The Penske Racing driver knows this race will be a key component in competing for the championship later this season.
Kyle Busch - The five-time Bristol winner has had some tough luck at this oval the past couple seasons. However, he's had the speed to be very competitive despite the bad luck finishing in those races. Busch comes into Bristol weekend hoping for a rebound to his prior performance at this small oval. The veteran driver has the short rack pedigree and experience to succeed in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. Busch qualified on the outside pole, led 192 laps and finished eighth in this event one year ago. There's good reason to expect the No. 18 Toyota to be fast and for Busch's luck to turn positive this Saturday night.
Kevin Harvick - Even though Harvick is a one-time winner at the Tennessee short track, his consistency here over the years has been somewhat shaky. However, his last two visits have the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet riding a two-race Top-10 streak at BMS entering the weekend. It has boosted his Top-10 rate to a respectable 45-percent at Bristol. Harvick stopped an eight-race Bristol Top-10 drought with that pair of Top 10s. So it seems things have turned back to the positive at this bull ring for the Stewart Haas Racing star. He's not likely to visit victory lane this Saturday night, but he should have no trouble extending that streak to three races after this 500-lap battle.
Denny Hamlin - Coming off the big Watkins Glen victory and good outings of late, it would seem that the No. 11 Toyota team are gathering some momentum heading into the Chase for the Cup. Hamlin now has two wins on the season and he rides a four-race Top-10 streak into Thunder Valley Saturday night. The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a one-time Bristol winner and he's won three pole positions here since the 2013 season. In this event one year ago Hamlin won the pole, led 54 laps and finished a brilliant third. That's one of his nine-career Top 10s at Bristol Motor Speedway for a respectable 43-percent rate. Hamlin is a strong bet for yet another Top-10 finish in this thrilling night race.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Bristol who can provide a solid finish
Tony Stewart - The driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet has been one of the hottest drivers in the series the last five races. Stewart has four Top-5 finishes during this span and that ranks for tops in the Sprint Cup Series. The veteran driver has never been that great at Bristol Motor Speedway, but he is a one-time winner at the Tennessee short track. Smoke sports about a 31-percent Top-10 rate, which falls short of most expectations. However, signs have been pointing upward for Stewart of late at BMS. Two of his last three starts have yielded fourth- and sixth-place finishes. This will be his last-career start at Bristol, and you can guarantee Stewart will want to go out on top.
Ryan Newman - The Richard Childress Racing veteran righted the ship with his pair of Top 10s in the last five races. That has revived Newman's chances of making the Chase for the Cup later this fall. Now he comes to a short track that has held solid success for him over his 15-year Sprint Cup Series career. Newman has never won at the Bristol oval, but he has claimed 16-career Top-10 finishes. That includes a strong ninth-place finish in this April's Food City 500. He checks out with a career 55-percent Top-10 rate at the facility. Newman now rides a three-race Bristol Top-10 streak into Saturday night's event. He should keep this streak going after the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
Trevor Bayne - It's been a pretty good season for the Roush Fenway Racing driver. Bayne's five Top-10 finishes to this point and his 16th-place ranking in the driver standings are both career-bests. Bayne started opening eyes this season with his great performance earlier this spring at the Tennessee short track. The young driver qualified 10th on the grid and raced inside the Top 10 most of the day before finishing a very impressive fifth-place. It will be hard to replicate those kind of results this Saturday night, but you can guarantee the No. 6 team learned a few things in that start earlier this season. Bayne is coming off a strong ninth-place finish at Watkins Glen in the last race, so momentum is on his side.
Jamie McMurray - The late summer has heated up for the Ganassi Racing No. 1 team. McMurray is on a roll coming to Bristol and he has Top-10 finishes in three of the last five races, including the just-completed Watkins Glen road race. The veteran driver has a pretty good resume at the World's Fastest Half Mile. McMurray has 10-career Top-10 finishes at this oval. His recent outings have yielded performances of eighth-, 14th-, 11th- and 13th-place. McMurray has avoided the DNF bug-a-boo during that span and finished on the lead lap in all but one of those starts. He should keep that roll going, and challenge the Top 10 this weekend.
Kyle Larson - The Chip Ganassi Racing sensation will be looking to build on his good recent outings and keep the momentum rolling this weekend. Larson should carry it forward to Bristol Motor Speedway. The young driver has finishes of 10th- 12th- and seventh-place in three of his last five starts at the Tennessee short track. He's had great cars at Indianapolis, Pocono and Watkins Glen the last three races, so he should show up with a good car this weekend. Larson has shown resilience all season long, and we expect no difference in Saturday night's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
Clint Bowyer - The stealth, dark horse driver this weekend at Bristol is Bowyer and his No. 15 HScott Motorsports team. He's never won at the Tennessee short track, but he's been painfully close to breaking through at this facility. Bowyer owns 10-career Top 10s at BMS and two of those have come in his last two trips to upper East Tennessee. When he's not in the Top 10, he's generally not far out with Top-15 finishes in eight of the last nine. Given how well the team is performing entering this week, Bowyer has a good shot at continuing his Bristol Top-10 streak.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Watkins Glen who can provide a solid finish
Aric Almirola - The struggles of the No. 43 Ford team in recent weeks are painfully clear. After his nearly-invisible 27th-place finish at Watkins Glen in the last race, Almirola has sank to 27th in the overall championship standings coming to Bristol. This track has had its ups-and-downs over the years for the Richard Petty Motorsports veteran, but it's turned south of late. He finished 34th in this spring's Food City 500 and that has him with two finishes outside the Top 30 in his last four starts at the half-mile oval. Almirola's career average finish here has slumped to 24.6. That's pretty close to where he will likely finish in Saturday night's 500-lap battle at the BMS oval.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Earnhardt's physical condition will not allow him to race yet again this weekend. Jeff Gordon will once again get the start in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Considering the veteran driver's rough Bristol outings in the last three seasons, it was an easy decision to have him continue to rest this weekend. No updates to Earnhardt's condition have been given yet this week. It remains to be seen if he'll resume racing at Michigan on 8/28. However, continue to monitor his progress as we approach the weekend as an announcement should be made. Michigan's style of racing would make it a favorable venue to make a return to action if the doctors allow it.
Martin Truex Jr. - The Furniture Row Racing star has been good of late. With three Top 10s in the last five races, and a good outing at Watkins Glen, it's hard to keep him on the bench this weekend. However, that's exactly what we're suggesting. Truex's career numbers at Bristol Motor Speedway are less-than-inspiring. He has only two Top-10 finishes in 21 starts. The last time he cracked the Top 10 at this short track it was the 2012 season. The six starts since that Top 10 have yielded four finishes outside the Top 25. This is a good week to give Truex and the No. 78 team a rest on the bench and save those starts for the intermediate ovals of the Chase.
Jimmie Johnson - While Johnson and the No. 48 Chevrolet team are normally contenders to win, Bristol has presented struggles over the years for the six-time champion. The Hendrick Motorsports star is mired in a terrible slump coming to BMS this weekend. He has just one Top-10 finish in his last nine starts. It's one of the longest Top-10 droughts of Johnson's career. The veteran driver qualified sixth on the grid this spring at the Bristol short track, but then finished a disappointing 23rd after 500 laps. This has been the pattern for Johnson of late at BMS. Inconsistency and mixed results have been the norm at this oval the last few seasons.