NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Food City 500 at Bristol

March 12, 2013, Dan Beaver, NASCAR.com

NASCAR Fantasy Preview: Food City 500 at Bristol
Brace yourself, fantasy players: Bumps abound at season's first short-track race

The names Daytona, Monaco and Indy all evoke immediate reactions among race fans, but for short track aficionados, there is nothing like the tingle that Bristol sends sizzling up their spine. Forty-three cars traveling at more than 125 mph on a track the size of two city blocks is a recipe for excitement. Often it is also a recipe for disaster.

Fantasy power average

Rank

Driver

Power Avg.

1.

Jimmie Johnson

7.46

2.

Jeff Gordon

8.29

3.

Kyle Busch

9.76

4.

Denny Hamlin

10.48

5.

Clint Bowyer

11.98

6.

Matt Kenseth

12.16

7.

Kevin Harvick

12.90

8.

Carl Edwards

13.15

9.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

13.27

10.

Ryan Newman

13.80

11.

Juan Pablo Montoya

14.86

12.

Brad Keselowski

14.91

13.

Jeff Burton

15.48

14.

Martin Truex Jr.

16.08

15.

Jamie McMurray

16.83

16.

Tony Stewart

16.86

17.

Greg Biffle

17.26

18.

Kasey Kahne

17.50

19.

AJ Allmendinger

18.01

20.

Joey Logano

18.14

21.

Kurt Busch

18.16

22.

Brian Vickers

19.27

23.

Marcos Ambrose

22.40

24.

Paul Menard

23.20

25.

David Reutimann

23.80

26.

Aric Almirola

24.78

27.

David Ragan

26.54

28.

Bobby Labonte

29.74

29.

Casey Mears

30.43

30.

Danica Patrick

30.92

31.

David Gilliland

32.87

32.

Travis Kvapil

33.44

33.

Landon Cassill

34.18

34.

Dave Blaney

34.91

35.

Mike Bliss

36.55

36.

Michael McDowell

37.05

37.

David Stremme

37.11

38.

Scott Speed

37.53

39.

Joe Nemechek

39.77

40.

Scott Riggs

39.79

41.

J.J. Yeley

40.05

42.

Josh Wise

40.16

43.

Terry Labonte

40.33

-- The Power Average is the average finish on short tracks during the last three years, plus the number of laps spent in the lead, in the top five, and in the top 10 expressed as if they were finishing results.

The Car of Tomorrow and now the Gen-6 car introduced durability to the sport that allows drivers to be even more aggressive. Slight damage can be absorbed and it is not uncommon to see mangled machinery lined up on pit road after the race is completed, with their drivers accepting accolades for top-10 finishes. Patient aggression is an oxymoronically accurate way to describe the personality traits needed for success on this track and that is one reason why drivers like Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski have dominated Bristol in recent seasons.

After setting their rosters this week, fantasy players can expect to have a few heart-stopping moments, but that only makes success sweeter when their drivers emerge from the tire smoke and charge back to the head of the pack.

The Favorites

Jimmie Johnson is arguably the hottest driver on the circuit at the moment with a victory in the Daytona 500, a second-place finish at Phoenix and last week’s sixth at Vegas. He does not show any sign of slowing down in the near future, because Bristol has been incredibly kind to him in recent seasons. Since the beginning of the 2009 season, he has swept the top 10 on this track in all but one race with five top-fives in eight starts and a victory in 2010. He leans toward the patient side of the famed equation, and that will keep players from developing grey hair.

Busch epitomizes the aggressive side of the patient-aggression formula and he manages to keep fans on the edge of their seat. He is coming off his best run of the season and it appears that he has regained the form that gave him six top-five finishes in the final six races of 2012. He finished second at Bristol in the 2008 night race and then won four of the next five events on this track. Players who had him on their roster at Vegas will want to stand pat and keep him active for one more week.

Keselowski defines the middle ground. He has a reputation as an aggressive driver, but he also knows when to cool his brakes and log some laps. It took a while for him to find the rhythm of Bristol and he failed to crack the top 10 in his first three starts. He won the 2011 Irwin Tools Night Race and followed that with another victory last spring. He did not finish well last fall, but that was because of crash damage and his second-place start in the Irwin Tools Night Race was awarded by practice times when qualifying was rained out, but it proved that he had a fast car during the weekend.

Dark Horses

This week, there are a couple of dark horses that could catch the competition by surprise. Jamie McMurray is not the first driver who comes to mind when one thinks about short tracks, but he is consistently strong on this course. In his first stint with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2003 and 2004, he finished 11th or better in four consecutive races. He has been just as strong recently with four top-10s in six starts after rejoining this organization in 2010. Equally important, he has improved in his last six Bristol races with Ganassi and is bound to earn some place differential points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game.

McMurray’s teammate Juan Pablo Montoya also needs to be considered. He has been less consistent, but last year he swept the top 15 at Bristol with an eighth in the spring and 13th in the fall. He also has top-10s in 2009 and 2010 to recommend starting him, but because fans still associate him with Monaco instead of Bristol, he is a great differentiator.

Like Keselowski, Paul Menard is another driver who got off to a slow start on this track. His first seven attempts on this high-banked bullring netted an average finish of 23rd and a best of 16th. He turned a corner in 2011 and finished fifth in his first Bristol attempt. He stumbled that fall after sustaining crash damage, but rebounded last year to post back-to-back 10th-place finishes.

Underdogs

Kevin Harvick has the right personality for Bristol, but recently he has been an exception to the rule that patient aggression is important on this short track. He swept the top five in 2008, but he has only added one more top-10 in the eight races that followed. His average finish on this track in the past four years is a modest 18th and that is not enough to justify his salary cap.

Tony Stewart is another high-profile driver who can be avoided this week. In the last four seasons, he managed to finish second in the 2010 Food City 500, but that is his only top-10 in eight races. His bad results are much worse than Harvick’s and he has accumulated an average of only 20.8. Last week, he rebounded from a disappointing start at Las Vegas and finished 11th. But mistakes at Bristol are all too often critical, resulting in the loss of four or five laps, and Stewart has finished on the same lap as the leaders only three times since forming his own team.

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