Is Bristol Motor Speedway a wild card?
An argument can be made either way with one driver exemplifying both.
Kyle Busch is arguably the best driver to ever compete at Bristol. In 2010 and 2011, he scored five consecutive wins in NASCAR’s three national series. Last August, he swept Bristol again – winning the Truck, Xfinity and Cup races. He won this spring’s Food City 500 and enters this weekend with back-to-back victories in Cup.
But he doesn’t have one of the 10 best average finishes during the past three years because he was involved in three consecutive accidents in 2016-17 – finishing 35th or worse each time.
Bristol is a rhythm track. That is one of the reasons Busch is so great, but the opposite side of that coin is that when a driver loses his rhythm, it can be difficult to get back.
NASCAR’s parity among most teams – prior to this season’s dominance of the Big 3 – has kept all but four drivers from accumulating a three-year average of better than 10th and that could make setting this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster a little tricky.
1. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 5.20)
Bristol has not always been one of Harvick’s better tracks. After getting off to a strong start in the early 2000s, he struggled through 13 races from 2009 through 2015 with only a single top 10. He finished second to Joey Logano in the 2015 night race and has not been outside the top 10 since.
2. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 9.00)
While this team fought to find the right setup on most tracks this spring, Johnson scored a solid third-place finish at Bristol. Except for one poor showing in spring 2016, he has finished 11th or better since the 2014 night race including a victory in the 2017 Food City 500.
2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (three-year average: 9.00)
Bristol may be Stenhouse’s final opportunity to score a victory and lock the No. 17 team in the playoffs. He has not yet won on the half-mile bullring, but has a pair of second-place finishes in 2014 and 2016 to indicate he is capable of doing so if the strategy plays out just right.
4. Joey Logano (three-year average: 9.40)
With a six-race streak of results 13th or better, Logano has been one of the most consistent drivers at Bristol in recent years. Only two of these were top-fives, but one earned maximum points when he won the 2015 night race. He won that same event in 2014, which suggests he has a great setup under the lights.
5. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 10.00)
If one had to venture a guess, it would be that Hamlin will finish third this weekend. That is where he’s finished in each of the last three years during the August race, so the 14th earned by the No. 11 this spring at Bristol is less predictive than it otherwise might be.
6. Trevor Bayne (three-year average: 11.80)
Bayne is anything but a safe choice this week, but for fantasy NASCAR players who need to take a big risk, he could be the best differentiator. Entering this spring’s Food City 500, he had a four-race streak of results 12th or better. He was involved in a crash this spring and finished five laps off the pace in 24th, so he’s going to need a little luck this weekend.
7. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 12.80)
McMurray will not be a good choice for this week’s Fantasy Live game, but he is a great utility driver in other games. In the last eight Bristol races, his best finish was an eighth, but before this spring, he had a perfect record of top-15s. He missed that mark in the Food City 500, but still finished in the middle of the pack with a 19th. He won’t earn maximum points, but he’s not going to cost a lot either.
8. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 13.40)
Newman is another great dark horse pick. He is not going to get a lot of attention before the race begins and is unlikely to get a top five, but the odds are in his favor that a top 10 is in the offing. In the last 18 races at Bristol, he has finished in the top 10 in 55.6 percent of the races and earned a top 15 72.2 percent of the time.
9. Clint Bowyer (three-year average: 13.60)
Bowyer has been stronger in the spring than fall in recent years. His last three attempts in that race ended in top 10s, while his August races under the lights have netted only one top 10 in the past five years. His overall average since 2011 has been 11.3 with only three results outside the top 15 in 13 races, so he should be on fantasy owners’ radar screens when practice begins.
10. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 14.60)
Elliott deserves attention less for his Bristol record than the recent momentum he brings to the weekend. In five starts on the bullring, he has only one top five and another top 10. Meanwhile, his last two attempts have ended in results outside the top 15. He has momentum on his side, however, with a four-race, top-10 streak to his credit that includes his first Cup win at Watkins Glen two weeks ago.
Pole Winner: Joe Gibbs Racing or an affiliated driver has won the last six Bristol races for which time trials were run. Kyle Larson took the top spot in spring 2017 based on NASCAR’s rule book. JGR’s strength is a good indication that they will lead the field to green again this weekend. Busch has the advantage. If he shows speed in practice, last summer’s pole winner Erik Jones is also a good choice.
Segment Winners: In three races at Bristol since the advent of segment points, Brad Keselowski is the only driver to win a stage more than once. He swept the segments this spring. Those were the only times that Keselowski finished among the top 10 at the end of a segment, however, so it is difficult to make him a top choice to sweep the stages again this week. Larson and Johnson are the only drivers to score points in all six stages. The Gibbs’ guys Busch (earning points in 4 stages) and Jones (5) are not far behind and they have a lot more momentum on their side this week.