This could turn out to be a very interesting weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway for a variety of reasons. First, it’s Bristol and crazy things happen here. Also, there’s a chance that we don’t race at all on Sunday because of rain in the forecast. And it’s also difficult to get a read on teams during practice when just looking at ten-lap averages because fuel runs are a ton of laps at a short track like this. At least we fantasy owners should be given quite a show whenever the race happens!
Matt Kenseth won the pole for this year’s Food City 500 and the full starting lineup can be found here. There were then two practice sessions on Saturday, the results of which are here: Practice #2 — Happy Hour. Also, don’t forget to check out our notes for each: Practice #2 — Happy Hour. Now, without further ado, my top drivers heading into this weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway…
Final Top 15 Ranking For The Food City 500:
I’ve heard quite a few people being down on Kevin Harvick from a fantasy perspective this week because he hasn’t had a top 10 finish at Bristol Motor Speedway since 2011. Really? You’re going to go against a team this hot? Of course you’re not. For the forseeable future, the only way that Kevin Harvick doesn’t finish inside the top 10 (probably top 5) week in and week out is if he runs into mechanical issues. And those can’t be predicted. Harvick will roll off the grid in 4th for this year’s Food City 500 and the practice sessions on Saturday did nothing to make me think that he won’t challenge for the win again this weekend. The #4 Chevrolet was P1 in ten-lap average during the morning Saturday practice and was on top of the board in Happy Hour as well. In terms of “one fast lap,” Harvick was 2nd-fastest in Practice #2 and P7 in Happy Hour. I understand that Harvick is the most picked driver in fantasy right now and you think you’re going to get ahead majorly on the weekend he does screw up, but how’s that working out for you so far in 2015? That’s what I thought.
Don’t look now but Brad Keselowski is 2nd only to Kevin Harvick when it comes to average finish over the last six Sprint Cup races. After Brad’s disastrous Daytona 500, he hasn’t had a result worse than 9th and he’s currently on a three-race streak of top 5s, which started with his win at Fontana. As far as this weekend at Bristol, the Blue Deuce has been fast since the team took it off of the truck and should be a contender in this year’s Food City 500. Keselowski is a feast or famine driver at Bristol (four top 5s and four finishes of 18th or worse in 10 career starts) and it’s looking like it’s going to be a “feast” on Sunday. Two of those top 5s were wins, by the way, coming in 2011 and 2012. BK finished 2nd to teammate Joey Logano in the fall race here last season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see both of them inside the top 5 once again at Bristol this weekend. Keselowski had the 7th-best ten-lap average in Practice #2 on Saturday morning and followed that up with the 5th-best average in Happy Hour. He also posted the 5th-best overall lap in that final session as well. BK should be considered one of the favorites heading into race day.
There’s a lot to like with Kurt Busch this weekend, although (as usual) you should be cautious because he is quite unreliable. With that being said, the fact that the #41 team is stealing setup notes from the #4 team should make Busch a top 5 threat week in and week out–and he’s definitely capable of pulling off a finish like that this weekend. We all know how Kyle Busch had his years of domination here at Bristol Motor Speedway but some people forget that the elder Busch brother went on a run at this track as well, winning 5 of the 9 Sprint Cup events here from 2002 to 2006. Kurt hasn’t been to victory lane at this track since then but he finished 5th here last fall and that’s definitely something that this team can build off of. On Friday, the #41 Chevrolet ended up 7th in qualifying and then on Saturday Kurt went out the 4th-best lap in Practice #2 with the 2nd-best ten-lap average. In Happy Hour, he laid down the fastest overall lap with the 6th-best ten-lap average. This team is by no means lacking speed right now, they’re just lacking execution of their race plans. If they can figure the latter out, expect Kurt Busch to get back to victory lane soon…and probably often.
My favorite heading into this weekend’s race was Matt Kenseth. Friday rolled around and he grabbed the pole, further adding to my confidence that the #20 Toyota will be the car to beat this weekend. But then Saturday rolled around and Kenseth was 12th on the ten-lap average chart in Practice #2 and 8th on there in Happy Hour. Not terrible rankings by any means, I just expected more. You can’t beat the track position that Kenseth is going to start this week’s race off with and I fully expect him to lead a handful of laps (at least to start the race). However, can Matt take home the win this weekend? He’s a three-time winner at Bristol Motor Speedway, most recently in 2013, and has had the best average driver rating over the last two years here (117.7). When you remember the fact that Kenseth rarely shows his hand in practice and that when he qualifies up front he typically has a car that can win the race, it’s not out of this realm to think that the #20 Toyota will be going to victory lane for the first time in a while this weekend. With that being said, I like Harvick and Keselowski a lot more than Kenseth going into the Food City 500 and I like the #41 a little more than the #20 as well. Kenseth is a solid top 5 pick this weekend but it’s going to take a little luck (or maybe a bumper) for him to take home the checkered flag on Sunday.
Junior ran a lot of laps in final practice on Saturday and that tells me that this team is satisfied with the race car and that Dale has a nice comfort level in it. Bristol is actually one of Junior’s best tracks on the circuit so don’t be surprised with his top 5 ranking heading into the Food City 500. This #88 team has also finished 6th or better in all of the Sprint Cup races that they haven’t ran into trouble during this season so don’t forget that little tidbit. Junior will roll off the grid in 13th on Sunday but I expect him to race (and finish) much better than that. The #88 Chevrolet ranked 9th on the overall speed chart in Practice #2 on Saturday morning but was just 19th out of 38 cars when it came to ten-lap average. During Happy Hour, though, Junior improved the latter ranking to 11th while posting the 11th-fastest lap as well. I would have liked to see more speed out of the #88 Chevrolet on Saturday but there’s no doubt in my mind that crew chief Greg Ives will have this thing hooked up by the end of the race on Sunday. Unless Junior runs into trouble early and gets lapped, expect a solid top 10 out of the #88 team this weekend, and probably a top 5.
When you look at Joey Logano’s history here at Bristol Motor Speedway, it leaves a lot to be desired. His career average finish of 18.3 is middle-of-the-road compared to those of his peers, and just two top 5s in 12 starts is much less than stellar. However, when you dig deeper, Logano always showed potential here, he just rarely got the finish. In his four years with Joe Gibbs Racing, for example, Joey qualified inside the top 10 in six out of eight starts, but he only finished inside that mark once. Once he made the move to Penske Racing, however, Logano started getting the finishes he deserved, starting with a 5th-place finish in 2013’s fall race and then, finally, a win here last August. With that being said, Joey has yet to finish better than 16th in the March/April event at this track, but that will change this weekend–I guarantee it. Despite breaking through as one of the top overall drivers in the series over the last year or two, Joey Logano is actually pretty underrated (yes, under) when it comes to short track racing. It’s only a matter of time before he’s considered a legitimate threat for the win on a weekly basis, and if he can pull off a victory in this week’s Food City 500, he’s one step closer. I don’t see that happening but a top 5 is well within reach for Joey Logano and this #22 team; he ranked inside the top 5 on both ten-lap average charts during the practice sessions on Saturday. Don’t forget that Logano hasn’t ended up worse than 10th in Sprint Cup action this year.
This #5 team has hit on something when it comes to speed and all it’s going to take for them to get to victory lane is a well-executed plan and some luck. Kasey had a great car at Texas last weekend but came home in 8th, somewhat disappointing (at least for me). He once again has a car that is capable of a top 5 finish at Bristol but we’ll see how the race goes. We all know how inconsistent Kahne can be, so keep that in mind. Kasey qualified 8th on Friday and then followed that up with some really impressive practice sessions on Saturday, ending up fastest in Practice #2 and 2nd-quick in Happy Hour. In terms of ten-lap average, the #5 Chevrolet ranked 4th and 2nd, respectively. As I said, there’s a whole lot of speed in this car. Kahne owns a career average finish of just 17.8 at Bristol Motor Speedway but has finished 9th or better in four of the last five events here, including a win back in 2013. It’s hard to pull the trigger on the #5 Chevrolet but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if we saw KK inside the top 5 when it’s all said and done on Sunday. He should be a top 10 pick at worst this week.
I was really high on the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas this weekend because Bristol is a track that you can make up for a lack of horsepower with a good handling race car. I think the JGR machines are still lacking in the engine department a little bit but their setups are on par with the top dogs. After qualifying I was sitting pretty happy with my prediction but Saturday’s practice sessions have hurt my confidence a bit. With that being said, I’m rolling with it and predicting a solid race day out of these JGR teams–all four of them even, as David Ragan looks like he could surprise some people again. Denny Hamlin will start 5th in this year’s Food City 500 and I view him as a top 10 threat all day on Sunday. He ranked 8th in ten-lap average during Practice #2 but regressed to 21st on that chart in Happy Hour. Still, the #11 Toyota was 8th-fastest on the speed chart during that final session so I’m not overly concerned. Looking at Hamlin’s chart history here at Bristol, he tends to qualify well but he’s hit or miss when it comes to the finish. So, pick with caution this weekend, and if you’re going with Denny, good luck. Hopefully it turns out like Martinsville and he’s back in victory lane.
HE FINALLY DID IT! With his 10th-place finish at Texas last weekend, Carl Edwards finally notched a top 10 finish in 2015 with his new team, it just took two months longer than expected. Hopefully, for fantasy owners’ sake, it doesn’t take another two months for him to finish up there again. Heading into Sunday’s Food City 500, I’m expecting it to take one week. Over the last couple of years, Roush-Fenway Racing placed a larger emphasis on their short track package, which in turn allowed Carl Edwards to brush up on his skills at venues like Bristol. He won this event one year ago (thanks to rain) and then came home 7th in the August race, so he had to come into this race with some confidence–especially now that he’s racing the JGR Toyotas. Carl went out and qualified 3rd for this weekend’s race and didn’t look terrible in either practice session on Saturday, ending up 7th and 10th on the speed charts. In terms of ten-lap average, he was 10th and 9th, respectively. I am by no means expecting a win out of the #19 team this weekend (or even a top 5 for that matter) but another top 10 is definitely within reach for Cousin Carl.
I’ve been overlooking Jeff Gordon pretty much ever week thus far in 2015 because this team isn’t performing at the level that we had come to expect out of them after 2014. With that being said, Gordon does have four straight top 10s now after his 7th-place effort at Texas, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him get a fifth in a row here at Bristol on Sunday. Jeff is a five-time winner in “Thunder Valley” and owns 24 career top 10 finishes over 44 starts at this track. He ended up a disappointing 16th here back in August but Gordon does have three top 10s over the last five Bristol races (for what it’s worth). He has some work to do on Sunday after qualifying 23rd but starting mid-pack isn’t the end of the world for any team–and, on that note, Gordon would probably make a solid pick in FOX’s Fantasy Auto Racing game. The #24 Chevrolet struggled a little bit in Practice #2 on Saturday morning but was 4th-fastest on the overall speed chart in Happy Hour. Gordon wasn’t great on the long runs during the practices but with how much speed the #5 and the #88 have this weekend I’m not worried about it at all. Plus, Jeff tends to race better than he practices anyway.
You know what’s amazing? Over the last six Sprint Cup races, Jimmie Johnson has two visits to victory lane yet his average finish over that span is just 13th-best in the series (right behind David Ragan’s 16.2). That’s what happens when you finish 41st at Las Vegas and 35th at Martinsville. The latter is what is concerning me this weekend. Johnson’s bad run at “The Paperclip” a few weekends ago wasn’t due to bad luck, it was because the car was junk. That simply doesn’t happen to the #48 team at Martinsville. This weekend, the #48 crew has struggled with the car once again, specifically during qualifying where Jimmie ended up 28th. They improved upon the car throughout the weekend, though, ending up 9th on the overall speed chart in Happy Hour with the 10th-best ten-lap average. A driver like Jimmie Johnson typically doesn’t worry me, but I’m just getting a bad vibe with this #48 Chevrolet lately. It’s very possible that Chad Knaus is in test mode right now to prepare for the Chase, and as a fantasy player I don’t like that. It’s very possible that Jimmie Johnson comes through and posts a top 10 finish in Sunday’s Food City 500, but he won’t be on many of my rosters (if any). One game that JJ would be a great play, however, would be FOX’s Fantasy Auto Racing…
There were only a handful of drivers that broke the 100-laps-ran in Happy Hour and Jamie McMurray was one of them. To some people this may be insignificant, but to me that says one thing: the #1 team like their racecar, and it’s comfortable for the driver. This is a 500+ lap race so comfort within the car is a lot more important a track like Bristol than some of the bigger venues we go to. McMurray will roll off the grid in 10th when the green flag waves on this year’s Food City 500 and, as has been the case over the last month or so, has an outside shot a top 10 finish this week. With that being said, this team and driver are prone to mistakes, so I would by no means go “all in” with Jamie Mac on Sunday. Still, it should be noted that the #1 Chevrolet has came home 11th or better in four of the last five Sprint Cup races, so this team has some momentum. McMurray ranked 6th on the ten-lap average chart in Practice #2 on Saturday morning but just 19th on there in Happy Hour. Still, Jamie should be considered a solid top 15 threat this weekend and, with a little luck, a top 10 contender.
This guy should have been the across-the-board favorite in terms of sleeper picks this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. There’s just something about Paul Menard and the first few months of the season; he seems to always get off to a really hot start before fizzling off in the summer. This year is no different even though Menard disappointed majorly at Texas last weekend, as he has ended up 14th or better in four of the first seven Sprint Cup races in 2015. Another reason Paul should’ve been on everyone’s radars heading into the Food City 500 weekend is because he has been really, really consistent here at Bristol over the last few years and that’s quite difficult to do (not to mention pretty much impossible to luck into). In the last six Cup races at “The Bullring,” Menard has ended up inside the top 10 in five of them with his only hiccup being this event one year ago, in which he started 28th. Menard has a lot better starting position this time around (9th) and looks to have quite a bit of speed as well, ending up 3rd on the ten-lap average chart in Practice #2. He was just 36th on that chart in Happy Hour but his average was calculated using the earliest laps of the session, so I’ll blame it on that. Menard tends to race better than he practices so keep that in mind if you pick him this weekend.
I have Kyle Larson as a “high risk” pick this weekend for two reasons. One, he has just two career Sprint Cup starts here at Bristol Motor Speedway. Now don’t get me wrong, his finishes of 12th and 10th were awesome, but there’s still a learning curve that’s going on here. The second reason is because Larson has been such a disappointment for fantasy owners this season. Yeah, he came home with top 10 finishes at Las Vegas and at Phoenix, but all other races have ended with Kyle finishing 25th or worse. That’s not very good, obviously, and it’s flashing me back to preseason when I questioned whether Larson would hit the sophomore slump. Speed-wise the #42 Chevrolet is decent this weekend and will roll off the grid in 14th when the Food City 500 goes green. Kyle ranked 17th on the ten-lap average chart in Practice #2 on Saturday morning but then improved that to 7th-best in Happy Hour, which is encouraging. I don’t foresee Larson grabbing a third top 10 of the season in this week’s race, but then again this is Bristol and anything can happen.
Going into this race, the top 10 streak for Martin Truex, Jr. and this #78 team ends this weekend. Now, with that being said, that is in no way a guarantee. This race is scheduled to run 500 laps and that leaves a plethora of opportunities for teams/drivers to screw up or for cars to get wrecked. All I am saying is that, speed-wise, there are at least 10 other cars that are faster than Truex heading into raceday. The #78 Chevrolet didn’t even make it on to the ten-lap average chart in Practice #2 on Saturday morning, which is usually a red flag for fantasy owners at a track like Bristol. In Happy Hour, Truex couldn’t even crack the top 25 in overall speed and was 22nd in terms of ten-lap average. The two Bristol races in 2014 were tough for Truex and this #78 team as they ended up with results of 36th and 20th. Also, Martin hasn’t finished better than 11th at this track since the 2012 calendar year, but on a positive note that was a 3rd-place result while driving for Michael Waltrip Racing. If you’re going to jump off the Martin Truex, Jr. bandwagon this weekend at Bristol, I don’t have a lot to say that will change your mind, just be prepared to jump back on at Richmond next Saturday night.
The Next Ten:
16. Ryan Newman
17. David Ragan
18. Austin Dillon
19. Tony Stewart
20. A.J. Allmendinger
21. Danica Patrick
22. Clint Bowyer
23. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
24. Greg Biffle
25. Justin Allgaier