There are a lot of wild card races on the calendar each year. All four races on the restrictor-plate tracks (Daytona and Talladega), as well as the three road courses come immediately to mind. But what happens when a race on one of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks goes so horribly awry as it did last week?
Fantasy players simply have to pick themselves up and wash the dust from their feet – just like all the drivers involved in last week’s carnage.
An unfortunate pairing on the schedule puts Bristol Motor Speedway next in line, however. This half-mile bullring where cars circle in 15 seconds is often a chaotic mess. Little mistakes are compounded by how quickly drivers can lose laps and accidents can clog up the straightaways to create multi-car pileups.
As a result, streaks are hard to come by and only two of this week’s 10-best drivers over the past three years have average finishes better than 10th. They are the ones to watch closely in practice and qualification, but be prepared to make last minute adjustments on race day.
Players who have not already joined the NASCAR America Fantasy league can still do so at nascar.com/nbcsportsfantasy, and then share their team using #NASCARAmericaFantasy.
1. Jimmie Johnson, (three-year average: 8.00)
Is this the week Johnson finally breaks his career-worst winless streak? Probably not, given how many things can go wrong at Bristol, but he won last spring’s Food City 500 and finished second in the 2015 edition.
2. Erik Jones (9.50 in two starts)
Jones has only two starts at Bristol so it is much too soon to make any sweeping judgements. His near-miss and second-place finish last fall makes him a great garage pick in the NASCAR America Fantasy Live league, however.
3. Kevin Harvick (9.83)
Entering the fall 2015 race, Harvick had not earned a top 10 at Bristol in eight races. He was second in that event and has not finished worse than eighth in five races since.
4. Denny Hamlin (10.83)
With three consecutive third-place finishes, Hamlin is much better in the fall at Bristol than the spring. In his last three Food City 500 efforts, he has only one top 10 and an average of 18.7.
5. Chase Elliott (11.00 in four starts; tied with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.)
After getting penalized 20 points for an infraction at Texas, Elliott is going to want to make it up this week. Bristol is not the track one wants to come with something to prove.
6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (11.00; tied with Elliott)
In fantasy racing, predictability makes a driver’s stats more meaningful. Stenhouse has finished worse than 16th only twice in his 10-race career at Bristol and came close to winning twice with runner-up finishes.
7. Jamie McMurray (11.67)
Several drivers had season-best results last week at Texas, but McMurray may have had the most dramatic run with his third-place finish. At Bristol, he has a seven-race streak of top 15s.
8. Ryan Newman (12.00)
With the exception of crash damage that caused him to finish more than 20 laps off the pace in fall 2016, Newman has finished in the top 15 at Bristol in the past three years.
9. Clint Bowyer (12.83)
Bowyer has been getting progressively better in the spring race with a 12th in 2015, an eighth in 2016 and his runner-up finish to Johnson last year.
10. Trevor Bayne (13.00)
Like his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Stenhouse, Bayne has been one of the best dark horses in the field whenever NASCAR comes to Bristol. In six career starts there, he has five top 15s and a best of fifth in the 2016 Food City 500.
Pole Winner: Denny Hamlin has four front row starts at Bristol. Three of these were poles with the most recent coming in 2015. That makes him a front runner for the top spot.
Segment Winners: Bristol is hard to handicap. That is not only true at the end of the race, but during the segments as well. Last year, four different drivers won the four segments, but going back two years, Kyle Busch has been at the front most often at those critical junctures. He should be the pick for segment two. For segment one, pick a front row starter after qualification is in the books.