The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series roars into Thunder Valley this weekend for the second race of the year at Bristol Motor Speedway. Saturday’s Bass Pro Shop NRA Night Race might be the most popular race on the schedule among fans, and while it might not have the aura of the Daytona 500 or Brickyard 400, this is one race that every driver would love to win.
Bristol poses an interesting challenge for Fantasy NASCAR owners. On one hand, you tend to see a lot of the same drivers contend for wins at the half-mile, high-banked short track. However, you still run into a space issue when you cram this many drivers on a small track that allows for such high speeds. There are usually more wrecks and more attrition at Bristol than at most place, and when a driver has a bad day, it tends to be a really bad day.
I’ll highlight the Busch brothers as an example of the Bristol conundrum. Kyle is an eight-time winner here, and he has won three of the last four races at the track. However, he has also finished 20th or worse in four of his last seven starts, finishing 35-th or worse three times. Kurt sandwiched a win in last year’s night race between Kyle’s wins to give himself six Bristol wins in his own right, but in his last six starts here, he has three Top 5s and three finishes of 22nd or worse.
Middle ground can be hard to find, especially among the top drivers who are hunting for a win. With that in mind, I like to use Bristol as a chance to save some starts from the bigger names in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game if needed. Not only is there an elevated risk of drivers wrecking, but there are also a lot of middle-tier options that excel at short track like Bristol. Whenever you can maximize the production from the second tier of drivers while simultaneously being smart with the top options, you need to take advantage of the opportunity.
With that being said, you also need to understand your particular situation at this point in the season, especially when it comes to the Fantasy Live contest. This portion of the game only spans the regular season, which has just three races remaining. All year, you hear me preach about budgeting your driver allocations, but now we are in the home stretch. Do not leave any starts on the table from elite performers like Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano. If you have the starts to spare, there’s no need to be conservative this weekend.
I do recommend sticking with a long-term approach for the Driver Group Game since this contest spans the entire regular season and the playoffs. The Group B tier needs to be managed particularly carefully because there is a significant drop in upside and consistency between guys like Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones and the rest of the options. Saving the top guys and targeting those middle-tier drivers who tend to excel at Bristol is the best long-term strategy.
Slingshot Fantasy Auto is going to be a bit of a balancing act, but for the most part, I try to load up on drivers that have had sustained success at Bristol in the past. In this scoring system, I obviously prefer when these drivers also have some place differential upside, but for the most part, I am not going to throw a dart at just any driver starting deeper in the field. I could make an exception if some decent drivers end up failing inspection Saturday and get scored from the rear. When a driver can gain 20-plus spots without even cracking the Top 15, it is hard to ignore that type of fantasy floor.
Check out my initial lineups for the season-long Fantasy NASCAR contests for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and make sure to circle back around Saturday evening for an updates after the starting lineup becomes official.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
With two starts left from Hamlin, I was originally planning to use him at Darlington and Indianapolis. After he went out and won the pole for Saturday’s race, I decided to change my strategy. Hamlin has been solid at Bristol, reeling off six straight Top 15s and cracking the Top 5 three times during that streak. More importantly, he has been on fire in recent weeks, posting five straight Top 5s. I’m going to ride the hottest driver in the series.
Blaney has been a rocket at Bristol since joining Team Penske, leading at least 100 laps in all three starts and leading a race-high 158 laps earlier this year. He finished seventh and second in the two stages and seventh overall in last year’s night race, and back in April, he picked up a fourth-place finish after winning Stage 1 and finishing fifth in Stage 2. Blaney showed a ton of speed in practice Friday before qualifying 12th. He looks like a Top 5 threat this weekend.
Yes, he has had his share of bad luck at Bristol, but Jones has shown tons of speed at the short track. Plus, he has been at his best in the night race. He finished second in the 2017 race, finishing in the Top 5 in both stages. He picked up a fifth-place finish last, cracking the Top 10 in both stages. Jones is scheduled to roll off in the Top 10, and he appeared to have one of the best cars in practice.
Busch is the defending winner of the night race and a six-time Bristol winner overall, and just in case you though last year’s victory was a fluke, he went ahead and finished second in the spring race here back in April. Busch has now cracked the Top 5 in three of his last five starts at Bristol, and after a fourth-place qualifying effort, he could be back in the mix for a win this weekend.
He didn’t have a typical performance at Bristol back in the spring thanks to a loose wheel, but Larson has a strong resume here overall and seems to have found some speed in recent weeks. Last year, Larson finished second in both Bristol races, finishing sixth or better in all four stages between those two starts for a total of 25 stage points. Starting on the front row, Larson has a great chance to deliver another dominating run at his favorite track.
Garage Driver – Kyle Busch
With three starts left from Busch with three races to go, “Rowdy” will be in my lineup or on my bench the rest of the way. The eight-time Bristol winner will be trying for a season sweep and his fourth win in the last five races at the track. He will have his work cut out for him after a terrible qualifying effort, but I’m not betting against Kyle Busch at Bristol. I’ll have him ready on my bench and ready to go if he surges towards the front in short order.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Joey Logano (A)
It came down to either Kyle Busch or Logano for this spot, and while Busch has shown the higher ceiling, he also qualified back in 31st. Plus, Logano’s upside comes close, and it comes with a much higher floor. He has scored the second-most points of any driver in the last 10 races at Bristol, winning twice and tying for the series lead with five Top 5s and eight Top 10s. Starting just outside the Top 10, Logano is well positioned for stage points and another strong run.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (B)
With attrition a little higher at Bristol than most tracks, I want to avoid using the top-tier Group B options like Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney in this contest. Not only am I not worried about burning up a start from Stenhouse, but he has shown plenty of upside at Bristol, logging five Top 10s and three Top 5s in the last 10 races here, and he starts in the Top 15. I was planning on using Jimmie Johnson for this spot, but after lackluster practice times and a 30th-place qualifying run, I made the move to Stenhouse.
Ryan Newman (B)
Like Jimmie Johnson, Newman checks both the boxes I am looking for in my Group B picks this weekend. He’s not an elite fantasy option in this tier, but he does own an impressive 11.6 average finish in the last 10 Bristol races, posting nine Top 15s and six Top 5s. Starting in the Top 15, Newman should provide a safe floor while allowing me to save a start from high-end options. If you prefer more of a high-risk, high-reward option, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is your man.
Matt DiBenedetto (C)
This was a tough decision because DiBenedetto has emerged as one of the most valuable Group C options on a week-to-week basis, and I’d hate to use him at Bristol only to have him wreck. On the flip side, he’s been a Top 20 driver here in garbage equipment, and he finished 12th back in the spring race in his first start at the track in the No. 95. After topping the charts in Happy Hour, he qualified in the Top 10. I think he has legitimate Top 10 upside, and I just can’t pass that up. If you do want to save a start, David Ragan is worth a look.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Kyle Busch ($13,200)
He went out early in qualifying and put down a terrible lap, but starting way back in 31st, Busch is a must-own driver. Yes, he will be a chalk play, but he has won three of the last four races at Bristol and has eight wins here overall. I still expect him to be battling at the front Saturday night, and 50-plus place differential points are likely on tap.
Jimmie Johnson ($10,400)
Johnson hasn’t shown a ton of speed so far this weekend, but a 30th-place qualifying run has him oozing with place differential upside. He has also been excellent at Bristol recently. His eight Top 10s and five Top 5s in the last 10 races here are both tied for the most in the series, and his 7.4 average finish in that stretch leads all drivers. Even if he just challenges for a Top 15, he will post a big point total.
Clint Bowyer ($9,900)
Yes, he has been slumping the last several weeks, but short tracks usually bring out the best in Bowyer. He has four finishes of eighth or better in five starts at Bristol with Stewart-Haas Racing, and he led 120 laps in the night race last year. Bowyer also earned points in both stages in that race and in both stages in the spring race this year. Starting 20th, he should be able to use all the scoring categories to his advantage to deliver a solid score.
Ryan Newman ($9,000)
I debated between Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard for this spot, but I decided to go with the steadiest option of the group. Newman has scored the fifth-most points and owns an 11.6 average finish in the last 10 races at Bristol, and he only has one finish outside the Top 15 in that span. He starts 14th, and I am hoping he creeps towards the Top 10.
Chris Buescher ($7,400)
He has been a place differential monster all year, and on the heels of a 29th-place qualifying effort, Buescher is once again positioned to pile up those differential points. Granted, Bristol hasn’t been his best track, but he finished 19th here last summer and 22nd back in the spring. Buescher has also been a Top 20 driver for most of 2019. I think he will gain 10-plus spots and land in the Top 20 Saturday night.