This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
In preparing our fantasy race teams this week, we'll need to take a close look at the last 13 years at Bristol Motor Speedway in order to collect some recent data on the drivers. The loop stats from these 27 races will be very useful. This span will cover Bristol's transformation from a one-groove into 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 Michigan 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|
|Martin Truex Jr.||20.7||768||384||230||6,584||82.4|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||10.2||409||131||0||2,694||81.1|
|Darrell Wallace Jr.||16.0||34||2||6||322||73.2|
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. Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch staged a running battle between the raindrops for the second half of the race, and it would be the No. 18 Toyota of Busch that would take control and go on to win. It was the Joe Gibbs Racing star's seventh-career victory at Bristol. That performance and win capped an amazing day for Busch at BMS. The veteran driver led the first 16 from the pole, but he wouldn't retake the lead until lap 325. He would be a force over those final 175 laps. Also of note that day in April was Jimmie Johnson's fantastic performance. He raced inside the Top 10 all day and finished third in the 500-lap spring battle at Bristol. In a season where highlights have been few and far between for the No. 48 team, the spring Bristol performance stands out for Johnson. The duo of Larson and Busch combined to lead an amazing 317 laps, but there were other suitors for victory lane that day that came up short. Ryan Blaney led 100 laps in the early going and looked great, but ran into trouble and crashed out on lap 117? Brad Keselowski also spent some time at the front with 67 laps led before running into some trouble and finishing 23rd that afternoon. Can any of these contenders step up and redeem themselves at Bristol this weekend. We'll soon find out. Let's 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
Kyle Busch - The now seven-time Bristol winner has had his way in recent trips to the Tennessee short track. Busch enters the weekend on a two-race Bristol win streak that dates back to this event one year ago. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has led well over 500 laps combined in his last four Bristol starts. These recent outings have only bolstered what is already an incredible career racing record at this historic short track. In addition to Busch's seven wins, he has 15 Top-10 finishes (58-percent) and led well over 2,200 laps. He went through a bit of a dry spell here between 2013-2016, but that is now clearly over, and Busch is once again the driver to beat each time we visit Bristol Motor Speedway.
Kevin Harvick - Coming off the big Michigan victory, the No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing team is surging coming into the Bristol night race. Harvick has seven wins on the season, and is just showing no signs of slowing down heading into the Chase for the Cup. He's a two-time Bristol winner, but always in the mix to challenge for the win here most seasons. Harvick rides a six-race Bristol Top-10 streak into Saturday night's action, and that string includes one win (2016) and one runner-up finish (2015). In April's Food City 500 the No. 4 team didn't look particularly impressive with Harvick peddling to a seventh-place finish. In all fairness, that was a race broken into many segments by three different periods of rain. He should be much faster and much more impressive in Saturday night's 500-lap battle.
Chase Elliott - The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet is gearing up for the Chase, and no better place than Bristol to make a run at a very important win, and help the playoff standings position. Elliott has five-career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway and they've yielded a pair of Top-10 finishes. Our reason for major optimism this weekend for the Hendrick Motorsports driver is twofold. Elliott is coming off the big win at Watkins Glen two weeks ago, and really showing much better performance of late. Secondly, his performances on short tracks this season have been among his very best. Elliott nabbed a third-place finish at Phoenix, runner-up finish at Richmond, and fifth-place recently at New Hampshire. We believe this Bristol race will see Elliott race among the leaders and challenge for the win.
Clint Bowyer - One of the top short track performers of this season has been Bowyer and his No. 14 Ford team. The veteran driver shocked the NASCAR world by staging an impressive win earlier this season at Martinsville, and upstaging the big three that day. He's also visited the Top 10 in five of the six events this season on ovals 1-mile or less in size. Most recently, Bowyer nabbed a runner-up finish at the high banks of Dover. While the speeds are higher at the Monster Mile, the racing can be quite similar in style. Bowyer is a career 50-percent Top-10 finisher at Bristol Motor Speedway, but he's never won at the half-mile oval. That could change this Saturday night.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Denny Hamlin - Coming off a pair of pole positions and Top-10 finishes the last three weeks at Pocono, Watkins Glen and Michigan, it would seem that the No. 11 Toyota team are gathering some momentum heading into the Chase for the Cup. Hamlin has cracked the Top 5 in three of his last six Bristol starts coming into Thunder Valley Saturday night. All three of those have been Bristol night races. Hamlin tends to step it up a notch for these events under the lights at BMS. The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a one-time Bristol winner and he's won three pole positions here since the 2013 season. The race that Hamlin won at Bristol in 2012 was a night race. The odds and trends would seem to favor this Joe Gibbs Racing driver and team.
Kurt Busch - Riding a five-race Top-10 streak into Thunder Valley this weekend, the No. 41 team and Busch are focused like a laser. Busch won the pole, led 94 laps and finished eighth at New Hampshire recently, so his short track performance is on point coming to Bristol. The Stewart Haas Racing star has five-career wins at Bristol Motor Speedway, although all of those came prior to 2007. He's amassed 17-career Top-10 finishes at the Bristol oval, and that checks in at a respectable 49-percent rate. Busch's start in this event one year ago netted an impressive fifth-place finish in last season's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. This driver and team are surging towards the upcoming playoffs, so Busch should be a top performer in Saturday night's 500-lap fender bender.
Jimmie Johnson - Johnson and his No. 48 team have been a real disappointment this season. With no victories and just seven Top 10s to this point in the season, his standing in the Chase is somewhat secure, but the lack of Top 5s and wins is concerning. However, his struggles have been absent on the short tracks this season. Johnson has four Top 10s on the tracks of Bristol, Richmond, Dover and Loudon earlier this year. That sets up well considering the Hendrick Motorsports star's strong career stats at this half-mile oval. Johnson is a two-time Bristol winner and has 19 Top-10 finishes in 33-career starts for a sound 58-percent rate. Three of his last four Bristol appearances have netted Top 10s. This is a definite weekend to use the seven-time champion in weekly lineup leagues.
Joey Logano - Logano has had some tough luck of late, but has battled through to good finishes none-the-less. A visit to the Tennessee short track should be just what the doctor prescribed to fix the bad luck of the No. 22 Ford team. Logano has two-career victories at this short track, the latest as recently as 2015. He has five Top-10 finishes in his last six Bristol starts coming into Saturday night's action, and this current string has boosted his career Top-10 rate here to 42-percent. The short tracks have been a bright spot this year for the Penske Racing star. Logano has four Top 10s on the short track circuit, including 92 laps led and an impressive fourth-place finish this spring at Richmond. He should once again visit the Top 10 this Saturday night.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Bristol who can provide a solid finish
Brad Keselowski - One of the steadiest 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 566 laps combined in 17 starts. Keselowski has had a tough time at the Tennessee short track in recent outings, but the No. 2 team is surging strong entering this Saturday night's battle. He finished runner-up this past weekend at Michigan, and is signaling that the team is beginning to turn it up a notch. Keselowski's short track performances this season have been razor sharp, with Top-10 finishes at Martinsville, Richmond and Dover. The driver of the No. 2 Ford brings a lot of value to the table each time we visit Bristol.
Kyle Larson - The Chip Ganassi Racing star has had some tough times of late, so we're giving him a bit of a downgrade this weekend. Still, his most recent Bristol outings are packed with some tantalizing performance and the sign of big potential for this Saturday night. Larson ride a strong three-race Bristol Top-10 streak into this weekend's action. Over that span he's claimed one pole position, led 472 laps and piled up three Top 10s. His most recent visit this April yielded 200 laps led and a runner-up finish to Kyle Busch at the end of the day. We're well aware of Larson's mediocre speed and finishes in three of the last four weeks, but the upside here is way too good to ignore in Saturday night's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
Aric Almirola - The Stewart Haas Racing veteran grabbed what was just his third-career Top-10 Bristol finish in April's Food City 500. This short tack has not been a venue of success for the driver of the No. 10 Ford. However, Almirola's season has been a career redefining experience. With his Top-10 finish this past week at Michigan, he broke double digits in Top 10s for a season for the first time in his career. There's a lot of races left in 2018, so that number is sure to grow. It will likely continue at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. Almirola's sixth-place finish at BMS in the spring, coupled with his recent third-place showing at the New Hampshire short track signal some big potential for this weekend. He appears to be marked for upset driver in the field at Bristol.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - As we come to Bristol this weekend we have to look at how the Rosh Fenway Racing veteran performs at this steeply banked oval, and the similar one-mile oval in Dover. Stenhouse's outing at Bristol of particular interest yielded a fourth-place finish in April's Food City 500. He also cracked the Top 15 earlier this season at Dover. Stenhouse has been pretty consistent in his last four Bristol outings with finishes of second-, ninth-, 14th- and fourth-place. Now in his sixth season of Monster Energy Cup Series racing, his resume is starting to grow at this half-mile oval. Stenhouse's six Top 10s in 11 starts checks in at a very favorable 55-percent rate.
Alex Bowman - The 2018 season has been an interesting year of growth for the young Hendrick Motorsports driver. After a slow start, Bowman began to pick things up in the spring with his strong Top-10 finish at Martinsville. He's been consistent on the short tracks ever since. During that stretch he recorded a stellar fifth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway during this season's Food City 500. The confidence and experience gained from that performance should set up pretty well for this weekend. Bowman's recent 11th-place finish at Loudon is also another strong vote of confidence for this driver and team. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet will be making his sixth-career Bristol start this weekend, and he's going to start looking more like a veteran than a young driver at this oval.
Ryan Newman - The Richard Childress Racing veteran has righted the ship the last four races with a pair of Top 10s at Loudon and Pocono and a Top-15 effort this past week at Michigan. Now he comes to a short track that has held solid success for him over his 17-year Monster Energy Cup Series career. Newman has never won at the Bristol oval, but he has claimed 18-career Top-10 finishes. He checks out with a career 55-percent Top-10 rate at the facility. Newman rides a two-race Bristol Top-10 streak into this weekend's action, and that includes his respectable 10th-place finish in April's Food City 500.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Martin Truex Jr. - The Furniture Row Racing star has been really good this season, but he showed a chink in the armor with his power outage at Michigan this past week. That gives us some pause heading to one of his tougher ovals. Truex's career numbers at Bristol Motor Speedway are less-than-inspiring. He has only three Top-10 finishes in 25 starts. Other than a Top-10 finish in the spring 2017 Bristol event, which we would consider to be an outlier, Truex has failed to crack the Top 10 at this facility since the 2012 season. All that toil has lowered his Bristol Top-10 rate to a lowly 12-percent. The driver of the No. 78 Toyota could jump up and surprise this weekend, but we would put those odds as very low. Certainly, in weekly lineup leagues, you would be best served to save his starts for cookie cutter ovals.
Ryan Blaney - Blaney is having a tremendous season, but this is a week to take a pass on the Penske Racing No. 12 team. To be completely honest, Blaney has had only one decent finish (10th-place) in his six-career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway. The average Bristol finish checks in somewhere around 24.3. That's well below where we see the No. 12 team running and finishing on a weekly basis this season. Blaney did lead 100 laps in April's Food City 500, but he found trouble on lap 117 and crashed out for the day. This style of racing just hasn't gone well for the young driver, at least to this point in his career. In weekly lineup leagues it would be best to bench Blaney this Saturday night and save a start for him on larger tracks during the Chase.
Ty Dillon - The short tracks this season have not held much success for Dillon and his Germain Racing team. He has one Top-20 finish in those six events, and an average finish around 24.5. Bristol in April, in particular, was a tough outing for the No. 13 team. Dillon labored to an uninspiring 28th-place finish that afternoon while dodging the rain drops. He now has four-career Cup Series starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, with only one Top-20 finish to his credit. That brings his Bristol average in at 26.0. Dillon is a lower tier driver anyway, but his lack of production at this half-mile oval even makes him a risky pick to crack the Top 25 in Saturday's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
Michael McDowell - McDowell brings a lot of fantasy racing upside each time we visit a superspeedway or road course, but the short tracks are a different story entirely for the veteran driver. This season he's posted only two Top-25 finishes on the short track circuit, and checking in at an average finish of 28.3. While that's better than his career average of 32.2 on the bull rings, it still doesn't cut it in terms of fantasy racing expectations. McDowell crashed and finished 38th at Bristol earlier this spring, and even after a great qualifying effort that weekend. With no Top-15 finishes, and only three Top-20 finishes in 16 career starts, we're seeing an average (31.4) that just doesn't bode well for this Saturday night's 500-lap battle under the lights.