Fantasy NASCAR Picks – Bristol: Irwin Tools Night Race
If there is one word that describes Bristol Motor Speedway, that word is tough. Over the past five years, only one Sprint Cup series driver has an average finish inside the top-10 at the high-banked half-mile oval (Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – who didn’t even make this week’s list), and while the lack of a dominant team at the Bullring makes for great racing, it also presents a few problems when picking your Fantasy NASCAR team.
There are, however, a few drivers that have established themselves as consistent contenders at Bristol, or at the very least are better at avoiding trouble. Here are my best-bet picks for your Fantasy NASCAR team this weekend at Bristol
Five-year averages are listed next to each driver (including the first race of 2010, so 11 races total), including Average Running Position (ARP), Average Finish (AVG), and Driver Rating (RAT).
Favorites at Bristol
1. Kyle Busch (ARP: 13.3 AVG: 10.1 RAT: 103.0): I almost hesitate to put Busch at the top of the list, because his inconsistent results over the past few weeks have generated a lot of tension in the No.18 garage, but the fact of the matter is that Kyle is currently the best in the business at Bristol, and as long as the team can provide him with a halfway-decent car, there is no doubt he’ll be at the pointy end of the field. In addition to his series-leading Driver Rating over the past five years, Busch has top-10 finishes in nine of his last ten races at the half-mile oval – including three wins – has led 935 laps and scored 1618 championship points over that span, all tops among active drivers. Even with his recent problems, The Shrub has scored top-10 finishes in two of the last four races heading into this weekend. He’s the best of the bunch here.
2. Matt Kenseth (ARP: 11.1 AVG: 12.5 RAT: 97.5): After struggling mid-season, Kenseth and the No.17 team have improved markedly over the past few weeks, and they appear to be hitting their stride at the right time, heading into one of Matt’s best tracks in Bristol. Over the past ten races at the Tennessee oval, Kenseth has scored seven top-10 finishes, including both of his career wins here. A pair of finishes outside the top-30, as well as Kenseth’s propensity to struggle in qualifying have cut into his driver rating a bit, but he has led 706 laps here over the past five years (third in the Cup Series) and he has even improved his qualifying efforts the past two Bristol races, starting both in the top-10. Coming off a fifth-place last week at Michigan and having also finished fifth in the spring race at Bristol, this should be a good week for the No.17 team.
3. Greg Biffle (ARP: 11.1 AVG: 10.5 RAT: 101.2): The Biff has never won at Bristol, but it is only a matter of time before he does; Biffle has top-10 finishes in eight of his last 11 races at the Bullring – five of those being top-5 tallies. His Driver Rating here over the past five years is second only to Kyle Busch, and Greg’s 1525 championship points scored during that span are bested by just Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Biffle is one of the drivers leading Roush-Fenway’s – as well as Ford’s – second-half resurgence, with top-5 finishes in three of the last four races heading into this weekend. He might not win, but The Biff should be a contender.
Safe Picks for a Solid Bristol Finish
1. Carl Edwards (ARP: 14.8 AVG: 11.6 RAT: 88.2): If there is one Ford driver hotter right now than Biffle, it is Edwards. Cousin Carl is on fire, having finished seventh or better in his past six races, and there is every reason to believe that streak will continue at Bristol. Over his last nine races at the high-banked half-mile, Edwards has two wins, five top-10 finishes and has not finished lower than 16th – all despite starting outside the top-30 four times during that span (hence the lower ARP and Driver Rating). That kind of consistency makes Carl a valuable option for Fantasy NASCAR owners – not only will he score points every time out, but he has the ability to win, as well. Ignore the low driver rating, and cash-in on consistency.
2. Denny Hamlin (ARP: 14.2 AVG: 11.6 RAT: 95.0): Hamlin has yet to win a Bristol race, but there is no question this is his kind of track. His balance of finesse and aggression behind the wheel are an ideal match for the high-banked oval, and it is no surprise that he has had a decent amount of success here, with finishes of sixth or better in four of his last five races. Hamlin hasn’t gotten a lot of press lately, but he is still performing well and should post another solid finish.
3. Kurt Busch (ARP: 12.9 AVG: 15.1 RAT: 96.1): The elder Busch hasn’t put up numbers quite as impressive here as Kyle’s over the past few years, but he has one thing his younger brother cannot lay claim to – five career Bristol wins. Kurt is definitely familiar with victory lane at the Bullring, but even though his last win here cam back in 2006, he still has solid numbers – Busch has top-10 finishes here the past two races, and has finished no lower than 15th his last six turns at Bristol. Kurt has been hamstrung the past few weeks by engine problems and accidents, but Bristol provides the perfect venue for the No.2 team to return to form.
One of the most difficult things to do when picking a Fantasy NASCAR team is filling those last few slots – either “C List” drivers in category leagues, or low-budget drivers in salary leagues. Here are a few drivers that could present a good value for your team this weekend:
1. Marcos Ambrose (ARP: 12.0 AVG: 15.3 RAT: 93.4): Maybe it is an extension of his road course experience – dealing with the tight turns and close quarters – but Ambrose has quickly developed into a promising short-track racer. Marcos has top-10 finishes in two of his three career Bristol races, including a third place in the Bristol night race one year ago. With the announcement that he’ll be headed to Richard Petty Motorsports next season, Ambrose should be riding plenty of momentum into the weekend, making him a great budget pick for your Fantasy NASCAR team.
2. Brad Keselowski (ARP: 11.3 AVG: 13.0 RAT: 88.7): Keselowski has been, well…dismal this season, but although he has yet to live up to the lofty expectations set for him, the driver of the No.12 car has reason to be excited heading into this weekend, having finished 13th in the spring race. With few other low-budget options, Keselowski could be a decent sleeper pick.
3. Jamie McMurray (ARP: 20.9 AVG: 23.6 RAT: 70.5): McMurray may or may not be a low-budget or ‘C List’ option, depending on your league, but if he is, this might be another good week to roll him out and take advantage. Jamie does not have a great history at the Bullring, but he has been solid here of late, with an 8th place finish in the spring race as well as an 11th here one year ago. Don’t expect a surprise winner, but if he is available in this category, McMurray represents a good value with a solid upside.
Bristol is exciting and unpredictable – great when you are watching on TV, but not so much fun when it comes to picking your Fantasy NASCAR lineup. If, however, you stick with solid performers and err on the side of consistency, you can maximize the number of points your Fantasy NASCAR team scores at Bristol.