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FANTASY: The Thunder Rolls

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Brad Keselowski won this race last spring. At the time, it was his second consecutive win in Thunder Valley Photo: Getty Images

First of all, "The Thunder Rolls" by Garth Brooks ... great song.

How exactly does it relate to this weekend's race?  Well, where do I begin?

  • The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into Thunder Valley this weekend.
  • Garth Brooks was one of the most legendary country music artists of all time.  This Tennessean track holds the same prestige and is as much of a tribute to the roots of racing, as the Nashville star is to his genre of music.
  • Similar to the heartbreaking song, this paint-trader of a track has been known to dash many dreams in a moment of poor judgment.

The wreckfest that Bristol Motor Speedway is notorious for hosting might not be easy to predict an outcome, but let's take a look at the Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing gameplan and see if we can roll through the storm.

The Track

At a length of just 0.533 miles, the oval of Bristol Motor Speedway is the second shortest track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.  The race gets interesting because of its short length combined with banking that reaches as much as 30 degrees.  Banking to that degree means that the cars hold their turns and use far less brake than at a flat, short track like Martinsville Speedway.  Combining these two factors means that tight, bumper-to-bumper racing throughout the track meets an element of recklessness promoted by banking (i.e. fenders get bent).

X-Factor

The lap-down cars will play a big role in this race from a few standpoints.  The first being that on such a tight track where the nose of the pack catches the tail quickly, it's possible for a compact lead pack to get tangled trying to get around a lapper.  The second is that if you end up in the back at any point, it's easy to start losing laps, and, over the course of 500 circles, it's possible for even some of the better drivers to finish off the pace.  In 2011, only a few weeks before going on a dominating championship run, Tony Stewart finished three laps down at BMS.

Fantasy Strategy

While wrecks are commonplace at Bristol, it's not as much of a wild card as a restrictor plate race, like Daytona.  The biggest difference is the speeds at which the cars travel.  A wreck at Daytona will almost assuredly destroy the car, or, at the very least, ruin its aerodynamic ability to compete.  The cars drive slower at Bristol, which means that the damage tends to be less catastrophic.  Even if the car gets dented, it's possible to keep it running close to the pace, since it's slower than Daytona.  Wrecks happen here, but you shouldn't fear them when setting your lineup.

A-List

Start

  • #2 Brad Keselowski - Mr. Twitter has won two of the last three races at Bristol and looks very good in general right now.
  • #20 Matt Kenseth - He's another driver that's started off the season in impressive fashion.  Last week's race winner has eight top-10s in the last 10 BMS races.
  • #24 Jeff Gordon - He seems to like the short tracks, both here and at Martinsville, and has five career wins at Bristol.

Park

  • #48 Jimmie Johnson - With just one win in 22 Bristol starts, there are going to be a lot of other weeks where Johnson's a better option to win.  Don't even think about using a start on him this week.

B-List

Start

  • #9 Marcos Ambrose - It's never too early to start searching for B-list sleepers, as in a driver that everyone else is sleeping on.  Ambrose has four top-10s in eight races at Bristol, so he could be a hidden gem this weekend.
  • #16 Greg Biffle - His 96.2 driver rating in Thunder Valley is the second-best among B-list drivers, and his 12.2 average BMS finish ranks third on that list.
  • #18 Kyle Busch - The younger Busch brother loves this track.  He once swept the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and truck race in a single weekend and has five NSCS wins in 16 races at Bristol.
  • #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - With only 12 tops-10s in 26 starts at BMS, it's unlikely that Junior wins this weekend, but an 11.8 average finish, which ranks second in the field to only Kyle Busch, makes him a reliable choice.

Park

  • #55 Brian Vickers - Fantasy owners fell in love with Vickers's part-time, C-list starts last year.  Apparently, so did Yahoo!, as it moved him up to the B-list, even though he might only start a half-dozen races.  He could prove to be a solid B-list option when available, but he has just two top-10s in 16 races at Bristol, so this isn't the week.
  • #78 Kurt Busch - With five wins at Bristol, it's possible that the older Busch brother breaks out of his funk of three-consecutive 20-something finishes with which he's started the season.  However, it's more likely that he doesn't, as he really hasn't shown anything in the No. 78 so far in 2013.

C-List

Start

  • #32 Terry Labonte - It's a sign of just how bare the C-list is that Labonte would even be in consideration, but he has a career average finish of 13.1 at Bristol, so there's at least a glimmer of hope.
  • #51 AJ Allmendinger - Truth be told, the Dinger is terrible at Bristol with a career average finish of 27.0.  However, he's one of very few whose name stands out on the C-list, so he's a better choice than many.

Park

  • #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - I'm willing to guarantee that he scores the most C-list points this weekend, but think long term.  There are too many things that can go wrong for a driver that's never raced in a Cup car at Bristol, and you can only start him nine times all season.  Wait on him for a different week.

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Drivers are listed by car number and not necessarily in rank order.

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