Food City 500 Preview

As many of you who have participated in Fantasy NASCAR know, there is no lower feeling than exiting the race prematurely with a DNF. Unfortunately, many of us, including myself, received that punch in the gut last Sunday. Truex, Johnson, Hamlin, Larson, and Keselowski are several of the big names to receive 11 or less points at Texas, and virtually every league format received a traumatic market correction. But, this is why they play out the season instead of simply handing the trophy to one of the same names I write about each weekend. Regroup, and let’s get back at it.

The series now heads to my absolute favorite track, Bristol Motor Speedway. Even before I became a NASCAR fan and knew nothing of the sport, I still remember pausing on ESPN to watch a little of a race back in college. It was the 2000 GORACING.COM 500 at Bristol, and I wound up setting the remote down for the rest of the evening. Fan or not, the track is simply compelling, to say the least. Of course, since I have season tickets to Bristol, expect plenty of rain and delays this weekend, I assure you. Ugh. Let’s just avoid the washouts; I have things to do back in Charlotte on Monday.

BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY

The World’s Fastest Half Mile. The Last Great Coliseum. Thunder Valley. Whatever you want to call it, it’s Bristol baby! Bristol Motor Speedway is a .533 mile short track located just south of Bristol, TN, situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is the 4th largest sports venue in the United States with a seating capacity of roughly 162,000, and 8th largest in the world. Unlike other race tracks on the circuit, there are no “bad” seats at Bristol, just less good. It’s loud, it’s angry, it’s fast, and every lap is intense. The main difference between Bristol and other short tracks is the tremendous amount of progressive banking in the turns. Progressive, meaning there are 24 degrees of banking down near the apron, and 28-30 degrees higher up near the outside wall. The intent of this was to create multiple racing grooves, but the track design itself hasn’t exactly produced those results in reality. In recent years, they’ve been laying down VHT/PJ1 racing compound on the inner groove to add more grip and make the racing more competitive on the bottom of the track, much like the good ‘ol days of the bump n’ run. Like everything in NASCAR, fans have differing opinions on all the modifications I just mentioned, but I’ll save mine for another time. Watch the broadcast and you’re certain to hear all of this narrated at some point.

PIT STALL PICKS: THE DOWNFORCE, THE DRAFT, & THE DRAG

This section is less about prognostication, and more about highlighting drivers catching my eye at a given moment. We all play in different formats and have different strategies, but hopefully this adds some value to your results. Good luck!

THE DOWNFORCE (start ’em)

Wins: 29%
Top-5: 54%
Top-10: 74%
Avg Finish: 9.7
Avg Points: 37.0

Kevin Harvick (Pit Stall Rating 268.10, 1st) – The best average finish (4.2) and highest Pit Stall rating once again belong to Kevin Harvick, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone at this point. Kevin is as sure of a top-5 pick as anyone this week, and will likely compete for the win. However, keeping a clean car at Bristol is easier said than done, and anything can happen. Much like the plate tracks, I tend to gravitate towards a less versatile pick usage at Bristol to mitigate risk. But, that’s just me. You do you. Most people in our league have already used Harvick somewhere.

Erik Jones (Pit Stall Rating 122.53, 4th) – Jones is my personal fantasy play this weekend. Erik has only run 2 MENCS races at Bristol, but bear with me. In the Xfinity series, Erik made 5 career starts at Bristol we can also look at. He had 3 poles, 4 top-10s, 3 top-5s, and 2 wins. He also finished 2nd in last year’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, and 4th last Sunday at Texas. In the 2 aforementioned races, Erik has the highest average loop rating (116.4), and has run 91.3% of his laps in the top-15 (second only to Harvick). His average running position is 4 spots higher than his average finish, which tells me he needs to focus on closing the race better – typical with rookies. It’s important to pick the right spots with sophomore drivers, and this is as good as any for the #20 team.

Joey Logano (Pit Stall Rating 136.79, 2nd) – Joey has been a model of consistency at Bristol over the last 5 races, finishing no worse than 13th. The rest are top-10s, and two were top-5s (including a win in 2015). Joey ranks 3rd in momentum heading into this race, 3rd in average Bristol loop rating, 2nd in average Bristol finish, and 2nd in Bristol Pit Stall Rating.

Kyle Busch (Pit Stall Rating 42.73, 15th) – Kyle has not had the best numbers lately at Bristol despite winning last summer’s night race, but his history alone here gets him considered. Twice in his career, Kyle has swept the truck race, Xfinity race, and Cup race over a single Bristol weekend. Back in the day, the #18 at Bristol used to be the most ‘duh’ play on the schedule, and Vegas will likely list him as very short odds to win considering his recent form this season.

Denny Hamlin (Pit Stall Rating 134.23, 3rd) – Denny has been a wild card at Bristol recently. He has finished 3rd in each of the last 3 night races at Bristol. However, this is the spring race, during the day, and his last 3 spring races haven’t had the same success, finishing 26th, 20th, and 10th respectively. Trending in the right direction, yes, but the disparity still warrants a noteworthy caution.

*Side note* Normally I’d have Jimmie Johnson in this space, but I don’t know what’s going on with the #48 team this season. He’s definitely a top-5 driver at Bristol, all things considered, but I can’t endorse him [again] until they demonstrate some consistent results. For what it’s worth, Jimmie has a 104.13 Pit Stall Rating, which ranks 5th on my list.

THE DRAFT (dark horse)

Clint Bowyer (Pit Stall Rating 57.00, 11th) – A couple weeks ago, I mentioned how Clint used to be a must-start at Martinsville and Bristol. Well, he won that race at Martinsville, and he also finished 2nd in his first Bristol race with Stewart-Haas last year. With a full season under their belts at SHR, this #14 team is starting to click. Clint had a fast car at Texas last week and finished 9th, but he’ll be back in his wheel house again Sunday.

THE DRAG (avoid ’em)

Brad Keselowski (Pit Stall Rating 29.75, 22nd) – Brad and the #2 team have the ability to win almost everywhere, but Bristol has not been kind to them recently. Brad’s last 3 races have resulted in 33rd, 34th, and 29th place finishes, usually because of some sort of incident, but even bad luck is still worth avoiding. Although, if you’re the optimistic type, Kyle Busch had similar numbers in the 3 races preceding his return to victory lane last fall. Brad’s comprehensive history tends to be feast or famine at Bristol, and there are more consistent drivers available.

AVERAGE FINISH POSITION @ BRISTOL

4.2, #4 Kevin Harvick
7.8, #22 Joey Logano
7.8, #11 Denny Hamlin
9.2, #48 Jimmie Johnson
9.5, #20 Erik Jones

AVERAGE LOOP RATING @ BRISTOL

116.4, #20 Erik Jones
112.6, #4 Kevin Harvick
106.7, #22 Joey Logano
104.7, #11 Denny Hamlin
103.4, #18 Kyle Busch

MOMENTUM (last 5 overall races)

51.0, #18 Kyle Busch
40.4, #4 Kevin Harvick
43.8, #22 Joey Logano
36.4, #12 Ryan Blaney
36.2, #78 Martin Truex Jr.

Dan Roman Contributor|User role
Dan Roman is an opinion writer, content contributor, and league manager from Charlotte, North Carolina – the proud home of NASCAR! Dan is passionate about furthering the reach of NASCAR, and expanding its base of fans and fantasy players everywhere. In his spare time, Dan enjoys simulator racing on iRacing.com, and learning the nuances of motorsports; including racing physics, setup configurations, strategy, and history. The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NASCAR Pools Online.

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