Fantasy NASCAR: Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway Quick Picks

Fantasy NASCAR expert Brian Polking gets you ready to dominate the first short track race of 2020 with his top plays for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Aug 17, 2019; Bristol, TN, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch (18) during the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Short track racing makes its 2020 debut this weekend when the Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway. The high-banked, half-mile oval will host Sunday’s Food City 500, and we should see a little more bumping and banging than we’ve seen since racing returned.

Bristol can be a tricky track from a Fantasy NASCAR perspective for a few reasons. Short track racing always tends to have a higher degree of attrition. When you have cars constantly on top of each other, you typically have more wrecks. Meanwhile, any mistake that requires a green flag stop will quickly put a driver multiple laps down, likely eliminating their chances of a decent finish.

Stage points can be tough to predict, as well. Track position is huge at Bristol, and since tires aren’t a must at every caution, you will see a variety of pit strategies come into play, especially if a caution flies near the end of either of the first two stages.

That being said, I am sticking mainly with the usual Bristol studs in Fantasy Live. Yes, I run the risk of using some bigger names and missing out on stage points, but it just isn’t that hard to budget starts in this contest because driver allocations reset for the playoffs. Throw in the fact that a lot of the top performers are also starting up front, and I don’t mind loading up my lineup with heavy hitters.

My strategy is a little different in the Driver Group Game. The unpredictability I mentioned is a bigger concern because of the restrictions in this contest. Not only do we need to delegate usage over the regular season and the playoffs, but since the drivers are tiered into groups, we aren’t pulling from the entire driver pool when budgeting starts.

Since two drivers are required, the Group B tier is always the easiest to burn through starts from the top options. With that in mind, I am using Bristol as an opportunity to save some starts from these drivers while trying to maximize the value of a couple of the midrange options in this group.

In Slingshot, I used a combination of drivers who I feel will contend for the win and provide stage points and drivers who I feel can gain double-digit spots or more. I’ve been a little less conservative (less intentional about seeking out place differential points) in this contest in 2020, targeting a driver or two each week simply because I feel they will be a frontrunner for the win. The strategy is paying off so far, and my team is sitting No. 6 overall heading into Bristol.

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Brad Keselowski

His recent finishes at Bristol haven’t done him justice, and Keselowski has actually led at least 40 laps in three of the last four races here. He also finished eighth or better in all four stages between the two races in 2019. After drawing the pole for Sunday’s race, he has an inside track to a strong finish and more stage points.

Joey Logano

Logano has piled up seven Top 10s in the last nine Bristol races, and he hasn’t finished worse than 16th in that span. He picked up a third-place finish in the spring race last year, leading 146 laps and finishing fourth and first in the two stages. Logano will roll off third this weekend, and I’m expecting a similar performance.

Ryan Blaney

He has reeled off three straight Top 10s at Bristol, but more importantly, he has led at least 100 laps in three of the last four races here. Blaney drew a Top 5 starting spot, and his proven ability to run up front should translate to plenty of stage points.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin has been locked in since the series returned from the break, and he has been dialed in at Bristol. He won the night race last year, and he cracked the Top 5 in both races. Hamlin has seven straight Top 15s at Bristol, and his five Top 5s in the last 10 races here are the most in the series. Starting 10th, he is in good position for stage points, and I love his upside.

Kyle Busch

It has been a checkers-or-wreckers season for Busch thus far, but you have to like his chances this weekend. He is the defending winner of the spring race and an eight-time winner at the track overall. Busch has four Top 5s and three win in the last five Bristol races alone, and after drawing a Top 10 starting spot, he is in perfect position to run up front and pile up points.

Garage Driver – Kurt Busch

Busch is quietly having a strong 2020 campaign, and he has always been a major player at Bristol. He is a six-time winner here, with his most recent coming in the summer of 2018. He also has four Top 10s and three Top 5s in the last five races here. Starting 12th with a proven track record at Bristol, I think he is a reliable option to have available off my bench.

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Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game

Joey Logano (A)

I wouldn’t argue with Kyle Busch or Chase Elliott in this spot, but Logano has provided the ideal combination of consistency and upside at Bristol. He led 146 laps and finished third here last spring, and he has seven Top 10s in his last nine starts. Logano’s worst finish in that span is 16th, and he has cracked the Top 5 four times. A Top 3 starting spot should only help the cause.

Clint Bowyer (B)

Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson are a few of the strong options in this tier, but these drivers bring plenty of value to the table almost every week. Bowyer, on the other hand, is at his best at the short tracks. He has five finishes of eighth or better in six starts at Bristol with Stewart-Haas Racing, including four straight. Even starting 23rd, I think this is one of the best opportunities to get maximum value out of Bowyer.

Matt DiBenedetto (B)

DiBenedetto’s move to Wood Brothers Racing over the offseason has him off to the best start of his career, and he was already a threat at short tracks. He finished 12th in the spring race at Bristol last year, and he came within a few laps of winning the night race. He will start ninth Sunday, and I think DiBenedetto is a good bet for a Top 10 and stage points, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he ran in the Top 5. I think this is a great week to use him.

Matt Kenseth (C)

He’s been plagued by cut tires the last couple of races, but Kenseth should get back on track at Bristol. He is a four-time winner here for his career, and the last time he raced here, he delivered a pair of fourth-place finishes in 2017. Rolling off inside the Top 15, I think he could be a Top 10 sleeper.

Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto

Chase Elliott ($12,100)

It was hard to pick between Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Elliott, but I used Elliott’s elite speed in 2020 as the tiebreaker. His record at Bristol isn’t bad either. Elliott has led 30-plus laps in each of the last three races here, notching a pair of Top 5s. I’m going to play the hot hand.

Denny Hamlin ($11,500)

Hamlin has been a little boom or bust this year, but he has two wins under his belt and is coming off a runner-up effort at Charlotte. He also cracked the Top 5 in both races at Bristol last year, winning the night race, and he leads all drivers with five Top 5s in the last 10 races here. Starting 10th, I expect Hamlin to grab a chunk of stage points and contend for the win.

Jimmie Johnson ($10,600)

He isn’t quite as a chalk as he was Wednesday night when he started dead last, but I expect Johnson to have one of the highest ownerships again this weekend. He will start 24th, but over the last 10 Bristol races, he is tied for the series lead with seven Top 10s and leads all drivers with an 8.9 average finish. A Top 10 finish, some stage points and 30ish place differential points could be on tap.

Christopher Bell ($8,100)

The qualifying draw didn’t do Bell any favors, but now that he is rolling off 35th, I don’t mind taking a chance on the rookie. Not only he has he shown Top 10 upside in recent weeks, but he was excellent at short track at the XFINITY level, picking up six wins in 14 starts. He just needs to crack the Top 20 to post a strong score.

Bubba Wallace ($7,600)

I rolled the dice on Wallace Wednesday night, and it looked like it was going to pay off in a big way until a broken hub ended his night. It was a punch to the gut, but you sometimes need to have a short memory in Fantasy NASCAR. Wallace starts way back in 36th Sunday, but he has three Top 20s in four Bristol starts, and he gained eight spots in both races here last year. He is more than capable of delivering 30-plus bonus points in the place differential category.