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FANTASY: The Night Race

Thursday, August 23, 2012
Brad Keselowski won the Night Race last year and has been running very well lately.

IRWIN Tools Night Race Fantasy Preview

When you ask people around NASCAR the race they'd most like to attend, most experienced fans pass on the Daytona 500 in favor of the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.  That's nothing against the experience of the speedweeks and the "Great American Race" in Florida, it's just that the race under the lights of the 0.533-mile oval has a certain mythical aura to it.

Nothing speaks to the race's status in NASCAR more than its name.  Whereas most every other NASCAR race is tagged with a number, this race is simply the "Night Race."  Like a husband or wife that emerges from a long line of relationships, it's not the only one, but it is the one.  Other tracks hold races under the lights, but only Bristol holds the distinction of hosting NASCAR's "Night Race."

While I've never had the privilege of attending the race, there are a few things that make this track and this race stand apart from the others.  The first being the unique size of the track in Thunder Valley.

Martinsville Speedway is of a similar length, but it's 65,000 seat capacity pales in comparison to Bristol's 160,000.  The stadium seating makes BMS more like watching a football game than a superspeedway's auto race.   The tracks are also configured extremely differently.

Martinsville has flat straightaways, much like New Hampshire, and a maximum of 12 degrees of banking in the turns.  Bristol's straightaways are banked at 16 degrees and the turns get up to a gravity-defying 36 degrees.

A second factor that makes Bristol Motor Speedway such a patronage is its location.  It's not uncommon in NASCAR to have a track in a small, rural town; Loudon is a great example of that.  However, most of the NASCAR tracks with the seating capacity of Bristol are located somewhere near a city.

Bristol is about two hours from Knoxville, two-and-half from Roanoke and three from Charlotte.  By comparison, the town situated in Tennessee on the Virginia border is only about an hour from the rural statelines of Kentucky and West Virginia.  It truly is a destination for race fans.

While most all of us do have the fantasy of visiting there someday, for the majority this weekend, the only fantasy we'll be fulfilling is that of team management as we watch the race on TV and cheer for the drivers on our Yahoo teams.

Strategy: Drivers have either figured out how to race Bristol or they haven't.  It's a track where you need to bump and bang your way to victory and some do that better than others.  That said, while the car isn't of the utmost importance, track position is crucial.  With a track this short, it's easy to end up a lap down when the nose catches the tail, so I'd suggest avoiding cars starting near the back of the pack.

A-List

Start

#2 Brad Keselowski - Unless you're a Probability and Statistics Major that doesn't believe in momentum and thinks that every action happens independent of every other, you should be starting "Bad Brad."  He's won the last two Bristol races and has an impressive run of seven consecutive top-10s this summer.

#17 Matt Kenseth - Never known for lighting the world on fire with excitement, Kenseth's bump up to the number two spot in the Cup Standings last weekend went largely unnoticed.  It's odd to think that he enters this weekend as a "sleeper," but he's one of only two drivers with a driver rating over 100 at BMS and has 17 top-10s in 25 starts at the track, so he could certainly make a trip to victory lane.

#18 Kyle Busch - His struggles have hit earlier than they usually do this season, and Busch is in noticeable jeopardy of missing the Chase.  A win would fix all of that however, and he has five of them in 15 Bristol starts.

Park

#14 Tony Stewart - Not only has he not been racing particularly well, but with just eight top-10s in 27 races at BMS, this probably won't be a week where he turns it around.

B-List

Start

#15 Clint Bowyer - He's a true win-or-go-homer in Thunder Valley.  He has only two finishes between ninth and 25th in 13 starts at this track.  He has six tops-10s, four of which were top-fives, and five finishes of 26th or worse.  He's a risk with a lot of upside.

#16 Greg Biffle - I was surprised at how strong Biffle has been at Bristol, as I always considered him more of an intermediate track expert.  He's never won at this track, but he has 11 top-10s in 19 starts and an 11.8 average finish that ranks fourth among active drivers.

#39 Ryan Newman - "The Rocketman" tends to excel on shorter tracks geared toward driver ability.  He has just one top-five in 21 Bristol starts, but 12 top-10s suggest he's a safe bet.  Basically, he's the safety ying to Bowyer's risky yang this week.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - The biggest worry with starting Junior is that he's been so strong, you'd hate to see him get banged up at Bristol and limp to a poor finish.  Statistically, he's very good here with an 11.8 average finish, but he's not dominant, so it might come down to whether you have the allocations to afford a start.

Park

#9 Marcos Ambrose - Aside from the clear duds, it's hard to find a lot of B-Listers that are poor choices.  I've put Ambrose here because his recent success has garnered some hype.  It's worth noting that he went the first 21 weeks of the season without registering a top-five, so it's unlikely he continues this hot streak for too long.

#51 Kurt Busch - This should be a pretty obvious "Park," but people might be inclined to take him for two reasons.  First off, he's averaged the second-most fantasy points on the B-List in the last 11 Bristol races.  Secondly, a shorter and tighter track would give his abilities a better chance to shine ... Don't over think it!  He hasn't finished better than 30th in four weeks and shouldn't be considered.

C-List

Start

#22 Sam Hornish Jr. - He seems to have settled into his Cup ride and had another strong run last week at Michigan.  It's safe to deploy him most any week from the C-List

#55 Brian Vickers - The inability to turn out a lap at Watkins Glen two weeks ago hurt a lot of fantasy owners, including myself.  However, he still has two top-fives in five 2012 starts, so he's a great option.

Park

#43 Aric Almirola - While he doesn't have Cup experience everywhere, he does at this track.  Almirola has raced Bristol six times and has just one top-10 to show for it.  You're better saving him for another day.

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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.