The regular season is quickly coming to a close, but before the playoffs begin in a few weeks, both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams and Fantasy NASCAR owners have a major hurdle to deal with this weekend. A return trip to Bristol Motor Speedway is on tap, and Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race could have short-term and long-term implications.
Whenever the series visits a short track, the playing field between the dominant drivers and powerhouse teams and the middle-tier organizations is leveled to a degree. The bumping and banging that goes on at a short track leads to more wrecks, and even minor mistakes that can typically be overcome at larger tracks can drop a driver multiple laps down and essentially ruin their entire race. These issues tend to be amplified at Bristol because the track’s high banks allow drivers to carry a ton of speed around the half-mile oval.
The end result is a much higher attrition rate, and when more and more drivers fall out of contention, it opens the door for some surprises. In the spring race earlier this year, Paul Menard finished sixth, and Matt DiBenedetto came home 12th. You also had Ty Dillon finishing in the Top 15 and winning a stage, and Bubba Wallace cracked the Top 20.
Simply by staying out of trouble and finishing the race, drivers who typically toil just inside the Top 25 can make a little noise. You also have some mid-pack drivers who become legitimate Top 10 threats at short tracks. Needless to say, Saturday’s race is a golden opportunity to save starts from the top options in both Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.
Keep in mind that with just three races left in the current Fantasy Live contest, you may not need to save your starts depending on how you have been budgeting your driver allocations. If you are down to just one or two starts from guys like Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, this is the track to try some alternatives. With the Driver Group Game spanning the entire 36 races, saving starts from the top drivers in each tier is a no-brainer strategy for me.
1. Kyle Busch
It has been all or nothing at Bristol for Busch, but with three wins in the last four races here, including a win back in the spring, I’ll ride or die with him this weekend in any Fantasy NASCAR league. Busch is an eight-time winner at Bristol overall, and he has led more than 70 laps in four of the last six races here, topping 100 laps led three times in that span.
2. Joey Logano
If consistency is more your thing, Logano should be at the top of your list this weekend. He is tied for the series lead with eight Top 10s and five Top 5s in the last 10 races at Bristol, picking up a pair of wins. Logano has also led more than 70 laps five times in that stretch, leading 95 laps in the night race last year and 146 back in the spring.
3. Ryan Blaney
It seems like only a matter of time before Blaney picks up a win at Bristol. He has led at least 100 laps in all three of his stars here with Team Penske, finishing seventh in the night race a year ago and leading a race-high 158 laps in a third-place effort back in April. Blaney offers Top 5 upside in all formats this weekend, and he could really be a force at the DFS sites.
4. Kevin Harvick
Although he hasn’t shown the dominator upside of some of the other top options, Harvick has been one of the steadier performers at Bristol. He has seven Top 10s in the last 10 races here, and he only has one finish outside the Top 15 in that stretch. Back in the spring, he managed to finish 13th despite being four laps down at one point. I don’t recommend using Harvick in the Driver Group Game this weekend, but he should be one of the safest bets for a solid finish.
5. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has been streaky at Bristol throughout his career, but he has cracked the Top 15 in his last six starts here. He has three Top 5s in that stretch, including a fifth-place finish earlier this year. Throw in the fact that Hamlin has five straight Top 5s heading into Saturday’s race, and I would be aggressive using him this weekend.
6. Kyle Larson
He had a mediocre showing at Bristol in April, but Larson has been running much better in recent weeks and has a great overall resume at the short track. He was the runner-up in both Bristol races last year, and he has led at least 70 laps in three of the last five races here, leading 200-plus laps twice. Larson’s upside is undeniable.
7. Kurt Busch
Much like his younger brother, Kurt Busch has been a high-risk, high-reward option at Bristol. However, he is the defending winner of the night race, and he was the runner-up here in April. Busch is a six-time Bristol overall, and he needs to be on your radar in all fantasy formats this weekend.
8. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer can’t seem to get out of his own way the last few weeks, but a trip to a short track could be just what the doctor ordered. He has four finishes of eighth or better in five starts at Bristol with Stewart-Haas Racing, leading 120 laps in the night race last year and 24 laps here in the spring. Despite the slump, this could be a great week to use him in season-long contests.
9. Jimmie Johnson
He is fighting for his playoff life, and based on recent numbers, there isn’t a better track for him to be headed to. Over the last 10 races at Bristol, Johnson leads all drivers with a 7.4 average finish and 375 points scored. He is also tied for the series lead with five Top 5s and eight Top 10s. Johnson hasn’t led a lot of laps in that stretch, but the consistency should make him an excellent Group B option in the Driver Group Game.
10. Erik Jones
Speed hasn’t been an issue at Bristol for Jones, and while he has had some bad luck at the track with tire issues, he has delivered in the night race. He led 260 laps and finished second in 2017, and he finished fifth in last year’s race. The Top 5 upside could make him a real X-factor in all fantasy formats.
11. Chase Elliott
Elliott had a great run in the Bristol night race last year, leading 112 laps and finishing third. He had another decent showing in the spring, finishing 11th after leading 38 laps. Elliott offers a Top 10 floor with Top 5 upside.
12. Ryan Newman
Bristol was made for a hard-nosed, aggressive driver like Newman, so it should be no surprise that he has put up solid numbers here. He has compiled an 11.6 average finish over the last 10 races here, finishing inside the Top 15 nine times and finishing ninth in the spring race earlier this year. This is a great spot to use him in the Driver Group Game and in survival contests.
13. Brad Keselowski
Fast cars and bad luck have been the theme for Keselowski at Bristol, and he has finished outside the Top 15 in seven straight starts here. He led 40 laps and finished in the Top 5 in both stages here in the spring, but he ended up 18th after a bizarre penalty for not lining up properly on a restart. The upside is obviously there, but I’ll likely being staying away from him in most season-long contests.
14. Alex Bowman
The sample size isn’t huge, but Bowman has cracked the Top 10 in two of his three starts at Bristol with Hendrick Motorsports, notching a Top 5 last spring. He didn’t have a great run here in the spring, but Bowman’s performance has picked up in the second half, so don’t be surprised if he contends for a Top 10 Saturday.
15. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex is one of those drivers you can never count out completely, but he sure has struggled at Bristol. He has a 22.0 average finish in the last 10 races here, and he has managed just two Top 15s in that stretch, leading laps in just one of those starts. I’ll have a tough time using him this weekend.
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
A multi-car wreck in the opening laps of the spring race made for a long afternoon for Stenhouse, but his overall Bristol numbers remain solid. He has a 13.3 average finish in the last 10 races here, finishing 16th or better seven times and logging five Top 10s. Stenhouse has serious sleeper appeal this weekend.
17. Aric Almirola
Almirola was one of the victims of the early wreck at Bristol in the spring, and thanks to a mechanical issue last August, he has finished outside the Top 30 in back-to-back starts here. His ceiling is much higher, but there are more proven midrange drivers available this weekend.
18. Daniel Suarez
He has worked his way into playoff contention despite some rough stretches, and Suarez could be worth a flier this weekend. He finished a career-best eighth at Bristol in the spring, and he owns a 14.0 average finish in five starts here, finishing 18th or better in all of them. Suarez could be a sneaky Top 15 option Saturday night.
19. William Byron
He has made serious strides in his sophomore season, but Byron is still looking for a breakout performance at Bristol. His 16th-place finish in the spring was his best run at the track to date, so he is trending in the right direction. Still, there are several quality sleepers at Bristol, so you can afford to take a wait-and-see approach with Byron this weekend.
20. Austin Dillon
It has been a rocky 2019 season for Dillon overall, but he’s been surprisingly consistent at Bristol. He has five Top 15s in the last six races here, including three straight. Dillon could be a useful fantasy sleeper this weekend, especially at the DFS sites.
21. Paul Menard
Menard has managed some decent results at Bristol recently, finishing 16th or better in four of his last five starts and notching a sixth-place finish in the spring. He is still a bit of a reach in most season-long contests, but a Top 20 floor can have value, especially for DFS contests.
22. Matt DiBenedetto
He had been able to challenge for Top 20s at Bristol despite some weak equipment, and in his first start at the track in the No. 95, he finished 12th back in April. DiBenedetto should have Top 15 upside again this weekend, and he is my top Group C option for the Driver Group Game this weekend.
23. Chris Buescher
Buescher hasn’t been spectacular at Bristol, but he did manage to finish 19th here last August and 22nd in the spring. He should be able to challenge for a Top 20 again this weekend, and he is always in play as a Group C option for the Driver Group Game, although saving him for the intermediate ovals is recommended.
24. David Ragan
Thanks in part to attrition, Bristol is a track where drivers from smaller teams can have some success, and Ragan is a perfect example of this. He has finished 23rd or better in his last six straight starts here, finishing 17th or better in three of his last four. Ragan is a potential Group C sleeper in the DGG, and he should definitely be on your radar as a cheaper option at the DFS sites.
25. Daniel Hemric
Hemric was involved in a wreck in his Bristol debut in the spring and finished 30th. He has been running much better in the second half of the season, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him challenge for a Top 20 this weekend. Still, I’d take a wait-and-see approach with him rather than rolling the dice and hoping he improves.
26. Ty Dillon
Timely cautions and great pit strategy allowed Dillon to not only finish 15th at Bristol in the spring, but he also won a stage. It would take an equally specific set of circumstances for a repeat performance to happen this weekend. With a 23.3 average finish here in six starts, a Top 25 is a more reasonable expectation.
27. Bubba Wallace
There aren’t many tracks where Wallace has had success at the Cup level, but he has managed to sneak into the Top 20 in two of his three starts at Bristol. Of course, he crashed out in the other start, but if he starts outside the Top 30, this is one track where he could be worth a flier at the DFS sites.
28. Ryan Preece
He is coming off a great run at Michigan, but Preece hasn’t been able to sustain any type of success this year. Even with a background in short tracks, he finished a forgettable 25th in his Bristol debut back in April. I’m expecting a similar showing Saturday night.
29. Michael McDowell
McDowell has crashed out of the last few races at Bristol, but when you start looking at drivers from smaller teams, he tends to be one of your best bets. He has cracked the Top 25 in eight straight starts heading into Saturday’s race, cracking the Top 20 four times. He’s always a potential punt option at the DraftKings sites.
30. Landon Cassill
He offers absolutely no ceiling, but even in garbage equipment, Cassill manages to run to the finish and pick off spots at Bristol. He has finished 26-th or better in all three of his starts here in the No. 00, gaining an average of 9.3 spots per race and gaining at least five spots in all three starts. Cassill could be a sneaky punt option at DraftKings.