BUY TICKETS TODAY! (603) 783-4931

Bracing for Bristol

Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Kyle Busch has made Bristol his own, including a win this past spring. Photo: Getty Images

Other than NHMS, where would you most like to watch a race?

Daytona?  Talladega?

When I posed the same question on the website's poll in April, Bristol was the runaway winner with 41% of the votes.

There's just something about Bristol that makes it unlike any other track.

It starts with the its compact size.  At just 0.533 miles around, it's the second smallest track on the circuit (just bigger than Martinsville's 0.526-oval) and it definitely races like the smallest.  Whereas Martinsville is a flatter paperclip-type track (like a mini-NHMS, if you will) that requires reduced speed in the turns, Bristol is noticeably banked even in the straightaways and is designed in a true boys-have-at-it ring.

Another striking aspect of Bristol is that it sets up like a stadium with high grandstands surrounding the oval.  This further adds to the atmosphere and intensity of the race as the drivers always have the backdrop of thousands of fans waiting for them to make their move.

Lastly, in the case of this Saturday evening race, it'll be under the lights, which is always known to bring out the inner hooligan in the drivers.

You can definitely expect to see a lot of paint traded and little love lost between the drivers of the Sprint Cup Series.  However, amidst the sure-to-be twisted metal of the 43 cars, we need to figure out which ones have the best chance of staying in enough pieces to score big points for the fantasy team.

Here's a look at this week's best bets at Bristol.

*In case you're new to this segment, check out my first fantasy post on how the system works.

Strategy: In looking at the stats for most of the year, it seems like there are usually three or four ringers at a specific track that post a driver rating of 100 or better.  At Bristol, there's just one: Kyle Busch.  This is a good week to play it safe.  Go with a good driver, but don't waste an allocation on a great driver that could get wrecked out.

A-List

Start

#18 Kyle Busch - Five wins in 13 starts at Bristol.  Really!?  Yes, really!  And, he's won four of the last five here.  Last year, he staked his claim by sweeping all three series in a weekend.  He's your man!

#22 Kurt Busch - Like his brother, Kurt also has five wins here.  Those have come over the course of 21 starts, so, while he's not Kyle, he still wins at an astonishing rate.

#24 Jeff Gordon - As would be the tendency to happen in 37 starts, Gordon has five DNFs.  However, he also has five wins and five poles, and since driver rating started getting calculated in 2005, he's got the third best rating (behind Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle).

Park

#11 Denny Hamlin - He hasn't shown a lot of success here.  His average finish is 16.3 and he's the second lowest fantasy scoring driver in the A-List on this track.  He also just hasn't looked good lately in general.

B-List

Start

#2 Brad Keselowski - Between Keselowski's broken ankle, on which he's finished first, second and third since the injury, and Denny Hamlin's torn ACL, on which he nearly won last year's Sprint Cup, I'm wondering if there's some weird mindset in which drivers perform better after a leg injury.  Either way, Keselowski's looked great lately and, while he has yet to record a top-10 in three starts at Bristol, he ranks among the top of the B-List in fantasy performance at the track.  Plus, we know after last year that he'd love to take down Kyle Busch in his own playground.

#9 Marcos Ambrose - Would I recommend starting him?  No, not exactly.  However, he has been much better at Bristol (16.2 average finish) than elsewhere (21.4 career average finish) and has two top-10s in five starts.  Sitting in 23rd with a win, you have to expect that this is his best opportunity to go for broke and see if he can net a second "W," climb inside the top-20 and steal a Chase wild card.

#39 Ryan Newman - Newman is the only B-List driver in the top-10 in driver rating at Bristol.  At 88.7, he's tenth, so he's not a lock, but he does well here and he's been consistent in general this season.  The caution is that the only thing that could block him from the Chase would be a series of bad finishes, so he probably won't push the envelope for a win.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior is far and away the best B-List option this week.  He has 12 top-10s in 23 starts and an average finish of 11.5.  The only thing stopping me from starting him is that I've taxed his allocations (I only have one left), but don't let that stop you.

Park

#20 Joey Logano - His best finish here is 18th and his average is 28.0.  Need I say more?

#33 Clint Bowyer - At some point in the next three weeks, Bowyer's probably going to need to win a race to make the Chase.  This might not be the week though, as he's not that desperate yet and this track doesn't have anywhere to put a wreckless driver other than in the garage.

C-List

Start

#27 Paul Menard - The math is simple; Menard is one win away from the Chase.  He won't make it in if he doesn't win and he's in a great position if he does.  He qualified fourth and finished fifth this past spring, so he's got a shot on this track.

#47 Bobby Labonte - The only reason to start Labonte is that the C-List doesn't offer much upside this week and, unlike the start-and-parkers, he's likely to finish the race and get you something.

Park

#6 David Ragan - Ragan really needs to push for a win, but he's only got one top-10 in 10 starts at Bristol.  He started fifth this spring but tailed off for a 16th-place finish.  Between Menard and Ragan, Menard seems to be the better choice.

My Preliminary Roster

A - KYLE BUSCH (5), Kurt Busch (7)

B - KAHNE (4), KESELOWSKI (9), Ambrose (8), Earnhardt Jr. (1)

C - MENARD (5), Labonte (6)

*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.

-JS