Jimmie Johnson – Since 2009 perhaps no one has been more impressive then Jimmie Johnson at Bristol. Since then he has five top tens and his only finish lower than that came courtesy of Juan Pablo Montoya’s front bumper. Another impressive stat of his in these six races is that he’s led +76 laps in each race. His driver rating in these races is the second best in the series (108.0).
Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch has won half the races at Bristol in the COT. How can you argue against that? Since 2007 he’s averaged a whooping 41 points per race (best in series by 5 points) and has an average running position of 7.9. I think almost all of the experts will be lining up behind Kyle Busch this week because of his near unrivaled dominance at Thunder Valley. If you want a safe pick for the Food City 500 take Kyle Busch.
Carl Edwards – Cousin Carl is a two time winner at Bristol and since the track was reconfigured he’s never finished lower than 16th. Carl won the very first race on the new track configuration and in 2008 he visited victory lane again. Last spring Edwards finished second to Kyle Busch. In the 2011 summer race he finished 9th.
Greg Biffle – Biffle finished 31st last summer but in the four previous races he finished 8th, 8th 4th and 4th. Biffle has been impressive thus far this season and he’s a good driver who often flies below the radar. If you want an out of sequence driver for the Food City 500 Biffle might just be who your looking for. Since 2005 he’s only finished lower than 11th three times. That’s the definition of consistency at Bristol. Kyle Busch has four finishes lower than 11th in this time period.
Jeff Gordon – “Big Daddy” Jeff Gordon had the best car last summer but Brad Keselowski beat him on pit road. In that race he led 206 laps and posted the best driver rating (133.7). In the three previous races to last summers race he finished 14th, 11th and 14th. In 38 races at Bristol Gordon has five wins and 21 top ten finishes.
Matt Kenseth – The Daytona 500 champion has finished in the top ten at Bristol in seven of the last eight races. Last summer he finished sixth and had a 3rd place average running position. Kenseth also has the perfect amount of “calculated hate” I like in a driver at Bristol (video). Kenseth is also a good qualifier at the worlds fastest half mile. In the last five races he has an average starting position of 8th.
Brad Keselowski – Last summer Brad Keselowski emerged victorious at Bristol. He led 89 laps and had a 3rd place average running position. In his other three Bristol starts he finished in the teens (13th, 19th and 18th). Brad didn’t have the best car in the last visit by the Sprint Cup Series but he did milk NASCAR’s pit road speed rules better than anyone. He’s a smart driver and I predict he’ll finish in the top ten.
Denny Hamlin – My long running Denny Hamlin fantasy mantra is “if it’s short or flat pick Hamlin”. Another saying of mine about Hamlin is that’s “he’s the best driver who’s never won at Bristol”. He should’ve won the first COT race but he had fuel pickup problems late in the race. His recent finishes haven’t been impressive but make no mistake Hamlin is the real deal at Bristol.