Fantasy NASCAR: Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway Driver Rankings

Short track racing returns this weekend when the Cup Series visits Bristol Motor Speedway, and Fantasy NASCAR expert Brian Polking gets you ready with his Driver Rankings for the Food City 500.

Aug 17, 2019; Bristol, TN, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11), NASCAR Cup Series driver Austin Dillon (3) and NASCAR Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson (48) wreck during the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Mother Nature’s best efforts to throw a wrench into things, the Cup Series polished off a doubleheader at Charlotte Motor Speedway just in time to head to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend for the first short track action of the 2020 season.

The half-mile, high-banked oval will host Sunday’s Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500, and while fans will still not be allowed in the stands, at least we get to see cars bumping and banging around one of the most popular tracks on the schedule.

As was the case at Darlington, there will not be any qualifying or practice ahead of the race. The starting lineup will again be set by a random draw with cars locked into a certain range based on owner points. With so many laps on tap, I’m not going to overreact to starting positions when setting my lineups for Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game, but I will take advantage of any Bristol studs who get a rough draw.

If you play at any of the DFS sites, you may need to invest a little more heavily in a driver or two starting near the front. Laps can tick by in a hurry at Bristol, and someone in the first couple of rows is likely going to lead a big chunk of laps, at least early on. You need to try to gain as much exposure as possible to the dominator categories at Bristol, and early track position is going to help with that.

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1. Kyle Busch

Busch won the spring race at Bristol last year, and he has three wins and four Top 5s in the last five races at the track. He is an eight-time winner at the track for his career, and he has led 50-plus laps in 12 of the last 22 races here, leading 100-plus laps eight times in that stretch. Busch should be a juggernaut in all fantasy formats.

2. Chase Elliott

He has had speed all year, and Elliott has been knocking on the door of a Bristol win recently. He has led more than 30 laps in three straight races here, picking up a pair of Top 5 finishes. Elliott should once again be an excellent option in all fantasy formats.

3. Joey Logano

His seven Top 10s in the last nine Bristol races are tied for the most in the series, and his worst finish during that span is 16th. Logano has also led 70-plus laps four times in that stretch, leading 146 laps in a third-place effort last spring. This could be a week to target him as a Group A option in the Driver Group Game, and I love him in Fantasy Live.

4. Denny Hamlin

Hamlin picked up a win in the night race last year, and he has compiled one of the best resumes at Bristol in recent years. His five Top 5s in the last 10 races are the most in the series, and his 9.9 average finish ranks second. Hamlin has cracked the Top 15 in his last seven Bristol starts, notching Top 5s in both races last year.

5. Kevin Harvick

A busted clutch knocked him out of the night race last year, but Harvick has stilled notched eight Top 15s in the last nine races here, tallying seven Top 10s. Granted, Harvick hasn’t led a ton of laps at Bristol, so I probably won’t target him heavily at the DFS sites. However, he is probably the safest bet to deliver a solid finish, giving him plenty of value in season-long leagues.

6. Ryan Blaney

It seems like only a matter of time before Blaney is celebrating a win at Bristol. He has four Top 10s in the last five races here, including three straight, and he has led at least 100 laps in three of the last four. Blaney has the potential to be among the top scorers in any format this weekend.

7. Jimmie Johnson

Over the last 10 Bristol races, Johnson is tied for the series lead with seven Top 10s, and his 8.9 average finish is the best in the series. He has just one finish outside the Top 20 in that same span to go along with four Top 5s. History suggests he isn’t going to lead a bunch of laps, but the promise of a solid finish should have him on your radar in Fantasy Live and for the DGG.

8. Kurt Busch

Bristol has been one of his favorite tracks throughout his career, and he hasn’t been slowing down. He is a six-time winner here, with the most recent coming in the night race in 2018. Busch was also the runner-up in the spring race a year ago, and he has three Top 5s and four Top 10s in the last five races.

9. Clint Bowyer

Short tracks have always been his bread and butter, and Bowyer has been locked in at Bristol since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has five Top 10s in six starts in the No. 14, including four straight. Bowyer also led 120 laps in the night race in 2018 and led 24 laps last spring. With a Top 10 floor and a little dominator potential, Bowyer could be a useful option in season-long and DFS contests this weekend.

10. Erik Jones

He hasn’t always managed quality finishes at Bristol, but Jones always seems to bring a fast car to the short track. He has two Top 5s in six starts here, including a runner-up effort in the summer of 2017 when he led 260 laps. Last year, he led double-digit laps in both Bristol races. Jones is one of the riskier plays among the top options, but he could be a game-changer for your lineups.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

11. Matt DiBenedetto

DiBenedetto nearly pulled off the upset of 2018 when he came within a few laps of winning the night race. He settled for leading 93 laps and finishing second, and he finished 12th in the spring race earlier in the year. In fact, DiBenedetto has always overachieved at Bristol relative to his equipment. I think he has a chance to make some serious noise this weekend in his first start here in the No. 21. This a great spot to use him in the Driver Group Game.

12. Alex Bowman

Bristol won’t rank as his best track, but Bowman does have three Top 15s in four starts here with Hendrick Motorsports, including finishes of fifth and eighth in 2018. Throw in the high-end speed he has shown throughout 2020, and there is a good chance he will have a shot at a Top 10 this weekend. That being said, I recommend saving him for the bigger ovals in season-long leagues.

13. Brad Keselowski

His recent finishes at Bristol haven’t been pretty, and over the last 10 races, he has just two Top 15s. However, the results have been a little misleading, and he has led at least 40 laps in three of the last four races, leading 91 laps and finishing third last summer. There is still a lot of risk, but Keselowski could be a sneaky contrarian play at the DFS sites.

14. Martin Truex Jr.

Truex is the type of driver who could go out and dominate a race on any given day, but he sure has had a tough time at Bristol. In 28 career starts, he has just three Top 10s and a 20.6 average finish. Truex has just one Top 10 in his last 15 starts at the track, finishing outside the Top 15 in four of his last five. I’m saving him for another day in season-long leagues.

15. Ryan Newman

His driving style is made for a track like Bristol, and his numbers reflect that fact. Newman has an 11.4 average finish in the last 10 races here, and he has nine Top 15s that stretch, including six straight. He offers a solid floor as a Group B option in the DGG.

16. Matt Kenseth

The veteran is a four-time Bristol winner for his career, and the last time he was behind the wheel at this track, he was still getting the job done. Kenseth notched fourth-place finishes in both races in 2017, and Chip Ganassi Racing has always enjoyed solid success here. I love him as a Group C option in the Driver Group Game this weekend.

17. Austin Dillon

Dillon has had his share of terrible finishes at Bristol, but he also has seven Top 15s in the last 10 races here, including a 14th-place effort last spring. He’s probably a but of a reach in most season-long leagues, but he could be an asset in DFS lineups.

18. Tyler Reddick

The short tracks weren’t exactly his forte at the XFINITY level, but he did pick up a win at Bristol. More importantly, Reddick has been outstanding all year, showing Top 10 upside on a weekly basis. I’ll be taking a wait-and-see approach with him on the short tracks, but I won’t be shocked if he runs well Sunday.

19. Christopher Bell

The rookie has shown a little more muscle of late, and he could be poised for a big weekend. Bell was a stud at the short tracks at the XFINITY level, winning six of his 14 starts and leading 1,235 laps. Keep him in mind as a sleeper option.

20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Bristol ranks as one of Stenhouse’s best tracks overall, and he has three Top 5s and six finishes of 16th or better in the last 10 races. On the flip side, he has finished 24th or worse in the last three races here, so he is far from a sure thing. Stenhouse is a high-risk, high-reward sleeper in all formats.

Gerry Broome/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Network

21. William Byron

The sample size isn’t big, but Byron has finished outside the Top 15 in all four of his Bristol starts, compiling a 19.5 average finish. The speed that Hendrick Motorsports has shown throughout the year should help his cause, but Byron is a boom-or-bust fantasy option. I don’t expect to use him outside of GPP contests at the DFS sites.

22. Aric Almirola

Yes, he has had some bad luck at Bristol, but it certainly isn’t his best track. Even in his four starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing, he has three finishes of 29th or worse. I don’t expect to have much exposure to him this weekend.

23. Chris Buescher

Buescher only has one Top 15 in nine career starts at Bristol, but he has been enjoying an upward trend. He has finished 22nd or better in three of his last four starts here, cracking the Top 20 twice. Buescher could end up in the top half of the field, but there is not a huge ceiling here.

24. Bubba Wallace

It has been a solid start to 2020 by Wallace’s standards, and Bristol has been one of his best tracks. He has cracked the Top 20 in three of his four starts here, finishing 14th in the night race a year ago. Wallace could be DFS gem this weekend, especially if he starts a little deeper.

25. Cole Custer

He is holding his own in his rookie season, managing mid-pack finishes most weeks and sprinkling in an occasional Top 10. Custer could certainly outperform this ranking, but I’d rather see how he handles himself at a short track before trusting him in my lineups.

26. John Hunter Nemechek

His aggressive style has led to short track wins in lower series, but it also makes him an all-or-nothing fantasy option. Still, I’ve been impressed with what Nemecheck has accomplished in Front Row Motorsports equipment, and I will probably roll the dice on him in some GPP lineups.

27. Ryan Preece

After a 25th-place finish in his Bristol debut, Preece managed an 18th-place effort in the night race. I’m not expecting a surprise Top 10 or anything like that, but another Top 20 wouldn’t be a shock. Still, he will need place differential points on his side to have much fantasy value.

28. Ty Dillon

Dillon’s numbers at Bristol haven’t been anything special, but he has strung together finishes of 21st, 15th and 20th in his last three starts. If he happens to start around the 30th spot after the lineup is drawn, he will have some DFS appeal.

29. Michael McDowell

He has quietly overachieved to start the 2020 season, but Bristol has not been kind to McDowell. He has a 28.7 average finish in his last 10 starts here, finishing 37th or worse in three of his last four. I don’t see rostering him this weekend.

30. Corey LaJoie

Bristol is the type of track where drivers like LaJoie can steal decent finishes because of high attrition, but his best finish in six starts is 24th on a couple of occasions. If he rolls off outside the Top 30, he could be a DFS punt play, but you can’t expect more than a Top 25.