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FANTASY: Bumpin' Through Bristol

Friday, March 16, 2012
Keselowski's win last August was his only top-10 at BMS. Photo: Getty Images

Ford City 500 Fantasy Preview

Bristol is a great place to watch a race.  It's small 0.533-mile oval with banking of up to 36 degrees makes it a unique experience that puts a true emphasis on continuously holding that steering wheel to the left, while maneuvering between accelerator and brake.

The venue itself projects itself more like the bowl of a football stadium than the open grandstands of a speedway.  There's nowhere for the roar of the engines to go, so it's appropriately earned the nickname "Thunder Valley."

However, for all the enjoyment the race itself might provide, it won't be a fun week to be a fantasy owner.  The short track causes two major issues.

The first being that there are a lot of cars and a little amount of space.  It's likely that only the diehard start-and-parkers won't trade at least some paint this Sunday, and drivers can end up getting turned to face the oncoming traffic at any point in the 500 laps.

While it's nice that the cars don't go as fast as a superspeedway, and thus don't get torn up as badly in a wreck, the short track doesn't do any favors for a team trying to hammer out any significant dents.  The time it takes to turn out a lap is far shorter than the time it takes to complete a pit stop, and any extended stay in the pits can put a car a few laps down and out of contention in an instant.

At one point in last August's night race, I remember Tony Stewart being about five laps off the pace.  I don't think he'd done anything other than bring a slightly slower car to the track.  (That was about the time he stated he wasn't a championship contender...we all saw how that turned out!)

The simple explanation is that it won't be a simple week to project as a fantasy owner.

Strategy: Despite the race being more dependent on good luck (or at least a lack of bad luck) than the average track, this isn't a flip-a-coin-type restrictor plate race; it's not a pedal to the medal weekend.  There is a lot of onus on the driver to get on and off the gas at the right time.  Be smart, don't take big risks, but don't get too focused on just going with the "safest" choice, like I sometimes suggest.

A-List

Start

#17 Matt Kenseth - While I told you to avoid the safe choice, Kenseth is a smart safe choice.  He's not going to be favored, but his 12.0 average finish is fifth in the field at Thunder Valley and his 99.5 driver rating is third.  It's unlikely he'll hurt the cause this weekend.

#18 Kyle Busch - Busch owns this track with five wins in 14 starts, and his 107.0 driver rating tops the field by a large margin.  If you have a personal grudge, keep this in mind: both you and Kyle want to win at all costs; this weekend would be a good time to team up together and do that.

#24 Jeff Gordon - Gordon has five wins in 38 starts at BMS and his average finish of 11.5 is second only to the No. 18 above.  Five poles and an average starting position of 6.7 suggest he could cash in some bonus points for you in qualifying.

Park

#2 Brad Keselowski - He won last year's August race here, but it's the only time he's finished in the top-10.  More importantly, he's well off the pace of the A-List through the first three races of the season.  This is the kind of "big risk" I'm advising against.

B-List

Start

#9 Marcos Ambrose - Ambrose is the B-List's dark horse this week.  He's usually an afterthought, but he's a road course specialist, which translates well to short track.  These types of tracks, like road courses, involve a balance between gas and brake pedals and timing of passes is key.  Ambrose has three top-10s in six starts at this track, so I'm not just making this up as justification!

#16 Greg Biffle - He's finished third in the first three races of the season, so it seems likely he might finish there again, right!?  On the statistical side, his 11.8 average finish at Bristol is fourth in the field.  He's not a bad play at all.

#51 Kurt Busch - If you read that stuff about Keselowski being a big risk, you'll definitely find me hypocritical here.  Like the driver of the No. 2, Kurt is worst on his respective list this year.  Great things are not expected of Kurt this year, but he has a whopping five wins at Thunder Valley and driver is be more important than equipment in this type of race.  He's still a good driver, even if the car isn't always there.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior fans, start your engines!  Dale Jr. is third in the field with an average finish of 11.7 and tops the B-List in Yahoo scoring for the last 10 races at BMS.

Park

#5 Kasey Kahne - Kahne's suffered damage in all three races so far in 2012.  Last week was a bummer (especially for an owner like me), as he fell from the top-10 to 19th on the final restart.  It's hard to endorse starting a driver that's been so accident-prone of late in a bump fest like this one, especially since I expect to use all nine of his starts at some point this season.

#55 Mark Martin - You can't get negative points in Yahoo, but you can get zero if your driver doesn't start.  Brian Vickers is in the No. 55 this week, so if you still have Martin in your lineup, get him out!

C-List

Start

#32 Ken Schrader - Looking for a cheap start?  And I mean Dollar Tree-type cheap!?  Schrader is an interesting option.  I don't think he's expected to start nine races this season, so he'll save wear on the rest of the list.  The biggest issue, however, is that he doesn't qualify automatically, so have a back up plan in case he shows up slow.

#47 Bobby Labonte - Labonte is a series regular worth considering.  He leads the C-List in points so far this season (which isn't a positive reflection of the C choices) and also has scored the highest on the list in the last 10 races at this track.  He's a former Cup champion, so he clearly has the driving ability to race a layout like this one.

#55 Brian Vickers - Late last season, Vickers showed a knack for bumping everything and everyone out of his way, and those skills will come in handy this weekend!  The No. 55, driven by Mark Martin so far, has been running relatively well, and you have to assume the guy left out of a 2012 Cup ride will have something to prove.

Park

#43 Aric Almirola - Too many things can go wrong on a track like this to risk an inexperienced driver that is ascending to the top of the C-List.  There will be about 15 times that he's probably going to be the best choice, but you only get to use him nine.  This isn't a good week to throw away a start.

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The picks in this blog are based around Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game and its standard scoring rules.  The preview is designed to provide suggestions, while still encouraging managers to make their own decisions.  Once sorted into Yahoo's A, B and C-Lists, they are organized based on car number and not directly associated with a rank value.

You can sign up and play for free, by visiting http://racing.fantasysports.yahoo.com.  If signed up, the "Fans of NHMS" group may be joined by clicking here.