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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Bristol (spring)

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Two weeks ago NASCAR visited a short, flat track. Last week, they raced on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway and two different winners graced Victory Lane. The races were more alike than one would imagine because it was a return to normalcy in both cases. Denny Hamlin has traditionally been tough on minimally-banked courses; Jimmie Johnson is at his best on the doglegged ovals, so fantasy owners who went with historical trends benefitted.

The problem this week is that Bristol has a few loose comparatives, but it does not fit into a category that is as well-defined as Martinsville Speedway or Texas. The high banks of Dover International Speedway come closest, but at twice the length, navigating traffic there is marginally easier. The short tracks of Martinsville and Richmond International Raceway identify drivers who can aggressively pass while staying out of trouble.

Historically, Bristol’s records could be relied upon to produce favorites, but that has changed dramatically in the past few years. Last year, no one was able to sweep the top five and only two drivers earned consecutive top-10s. The average of all tracks combined during the last five years has been 1.3 sweeps of the top five and 4.3 sweeps of the top 10. And Bristol is one of the tracks that kept the average low. In 2010 and 2012, no one swept the top five, although 2010 had five sweepers of the top 10. In 2011 and 2013, only one driver swept the top five each season; four swept the top 10. Paradoxically, Dover had the most instances of sweeps last year with three drivers sweeping the top five, six matching top-10s, and 11 capturing two top-15s.

The bottom line is that fantasy players will have to use a little intuition this week, although a new winner seems likely. The four active drivers with the most wins at Bristol during their career each enter the Food City 500 Supporting Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer with winless records in 2015. Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch have five wins apiece, while Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth have three.

Kevin Harvick (2 win / 306 points)
Chase Ranking: first
Last week: first
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 22.60
Richmond: 9.50
Talladega: 17.33

Harvick got right back into the swing of things at Texas with a second-place finish. It was his ninth top-two result in the past 10 races. But when the series recently rolled into a track where he traditionally struggled, Harvick finished eighth at Martinsville. Bristol is bullring that has been unkind to him in the past and fantasy owners can expect him to finish outside the top five once more.

Jimmie Johnson (2 wins / 216 points)
Chase Ranking: second
Last week: fifth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 16.60
Richmond: 18.50
Talladega: 19.50

Johnson is now the only driver other than Harvick who is actually guaranteed to be in the Chase. There is still the possibility that some year NASCAR may have more than 16 winners and someone will miss the playoffs. Johnson remains a questionable value, however, because the team is experimenting with setups that occasionally do not work. Save him for similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks—and there are none of those coming up in the next three weeks.

Joey Logano (1 win / 280 points)
Chase Ranking: third
Last week: second
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 10.20
Richmond: 14.33
Talladega: 25.33

Logano has been a consistently strong value as his sweep of the top 10 in 2015 proves. He still has a bit of a bell curve to his results, however, with top-fives in the first two and two most recent weeks. His best trait at the moment is that he completes races and has a current streak of 24 lead lap finishes. If that streak is going to be in jeopardy anywhere, the bullring of Bristol is that place.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 246 points)
Chase Outlook: fourth
Last week: third
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 15.80
Richmond: 11.83
Talladega: 15.17

A blown engine at Daytona International Speedway keeps Keselowski from being mentioned in the same breath as Harvick, Logano, and Martin Truex Jr. as drivers who swept the top 10. He has actually outperformed those other racers in the past three events with a sweep of the top five and an average finish of 2.7.

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 205 points)
Chase Ranking: fifth
Last week: fourth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 19.60
Richmond: 17.20
Talladega: 21.33

Hamlin is one five unique winners this season and as a result almost certainly part of the Chase. He has been too uneven to be a great fantasy choice with three top-fives compared to three sub-20th-place results in the first six weeks. Texas was the first time that he landed in the middle with an 11th, and fantasy owners want a little more from a driver this high up in the Chase contention rankings.

Martin Truex Jr. (0 wins / 266 points)
Chase Ranking: sixth
Last week: sixth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 22.80
Richmond: 17.50
Talladega: 16.67

It does not matter how one gets there, so long as the journey is complete. Truex had another up and down race, gambled on two tires at the end of the Duck Commander 500, and recorded his seventh top-10 of 2015. His average finish is 6.6 and that makes him an all-around great value no matter which game is being played.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 230 points)
Chase Ranking: seventh
Last week: seventh
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 11.00
Richmond: 13.83
Talladega: 19.00

At Texas, Kahne landed in the same range as he has all year. In fact, an eighth-place finish was slightly better than his previous six attempts that netted a 12th-place average. Consistency provides results on which players can rely and that raises Kahne’s value.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (0 wins / 213 points)
Chase Ranking: eighth
Last week: ninth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 18.20
Richmond: 9.67
Talladega: 17.50

Earnhardt felt as if his third-place finish at Texas got his season back on track—and that may yet prove to be true—but fantasy owners are within their rights to be a little wary. Two of his previous three races landed outside the top 35 and bad luck can take more than a single race to overcome.

Aric Almirola (0 wins / 195 points)
Chase Ranking: ninth
Last week: 10th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 26.20
Richmond: 17.83
Talladega: 19.17

Almirola moved one position up the rankings this week, but he really did not have a very productive Duck Commander 500. His 19th-place finish at Texas was his second-worst performance of the season and he might want to look at how closely bunched are the drivers listed below him. With an average finish of 16.1, it is only a matter of time before he slips outside the top 16.

David Ragan (0 wins / 194 points)
Chase Outlook: 10th
Last week: 12th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 23.80
Richmond: 29.33
Talladega: 13.83

Ragan earned his second top-15 of the season at Texas and is slowly inching his way up the grid. The clock is ticking on Kyle Busch’s return or Ragan’s replacement as a part timer in the No. 18 on the heels of Erik Jones’ strong performance in the XFINITY race last week. Ragan needs to take a bigger cushion with him to Front Row Motorsports than the 18 he currently enjoys over 17th in the standings.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 193 points)
Chase Outlook: 12th
Last week: 14th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 18.40
Richmond: 13.83
Talladega: 22.17

McMurray has had to employ a little strategy in the past several weeks. Gambling produced a second at Phoenix and last week’s sixth at Texas. There is an old adage about living and dying by the sword, however, and McMurray needs to record a race in which he finishes and runs in the top 10 on average.

Matt Kenseth (0 wins / 189 points)
Chase Outlook: 12th
Last week: 11th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 15.40
Richmond: 12.50
Talladega: 11.83

Kenseth is increasingly difficult to handicap. In seven races this year, he earned three top-10s, three results outside the top 20, and a 16th. Two of the top-10s came in back-to-back weeks, but an alarming lack of consistency is plaguing the No. 20 team and limiting their usefulness to fantasy owners.

Jeff Gordon (0 wins / 186 points)
Chase Outlook: 13th
Last week: 16th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 13.40
Richmond: 8.00
Talladega: 20.83

Like McMurray listed above, Gordon had to rely on strategy to earn a fourth consecutive top-10. He is still clinging to a playoff berth after getting off to such a slow start in 2015, but that could all get reversed at Bristol. His five victories there are as many as any active driver although his latest came well back in 2002.

Carl Edwards (0 wins / 185 points)
Chase Outlook: 14th
Last week: Outside of Chase contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 17.40
Richmond: 10.83
Talladega: 23.00

Edwards earned his first top-10 of the season at Texas and now that he has experienced one, he is likely to continue getting them. The pressure is off his shoulders, which should come in handy on a track like Bristol where drivers are in traffic all afternoon.

Casey Mears (0 wins / 178 points)
Chase Ranking: 15th
Last week: 13th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 24.40
Richmond: 26.00
Talladega: 19.83

Mears is slipping down the grid and could drop out this week if he is not careful. In the past three years, Mears has earned only three top-15s on the next three tracks. The good news is that one of these was a 15th in the March 2013 Bristol race. Four of his last five efforts in 2015 ended in results of 20th or worse, so he will need to reverse that trend.

Paul Menard (0 wins / 177 points)
Chase Ranking: 16th
Last week: eighth
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 11.00
Richmond: 16.00
Talladega: 19.50

Crash damage at Martinsville and a blown engine at Texas have all but dropped Menard out of the top 16. Bad luck creates its own momentum, but Bristol should be a track on which he can rebound. He has six top-10s in his last eight starts there, including a ninth in last year’s Irwin Tools Night Race. Right now, his biggest concern will be in outrunning Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer.

Notables Outside the Top 16

Danica Patrick (0 wins / 176 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: 15th
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 25.60
Richmond: 27.25
Talladega: 26.75

Patrick had a much better finish than either Mears or Menard at Texas. What she did not have was a great performance compared to Gordon or Edwards so she got pushed out of the top 16 by a single point. If she can finish one position ahead of Menard or two spots ahead of Mears—while holding Bowyer at bay—she will be right back in the points’ battle.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 168 points)
Chase Ranking: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 11.60
Richmond: 13.50
Talladega: 10.50

Two top-15s in 2015 is not enough to get anyone overly excited, but fantasy owners will take note that one of them came at a short track. Bristol is next on the schedule. Bowyer’s only top-10 came on the restrictor-plate Daytona International Speedway, which could bode well for his Talladega handicap.  

Kurt Busch (0 wins / 144 points)
Chase Ranking: Outside of Chase Contention
Last week: Outside of Chase Contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 20.60
Richmond: 16.17
Talladega: 24.50

Everyone believes Busch is going to have to win a race in order to get into the Chase, but that might not be true. Missing three events, he still lags behind the 16th-place in the points by only 33 markers and has several drivers ahead of him who are liable to fall.

Kyle Larson (0 wins / 135 points)
Chase Outlook: Outside of Chase contention
Last week: Outside of Chase contention
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol: 11.00
Richmond: 13.50
Talladega: 13.00

Larson brought a great record with him to Texas but he left with a 25th-place finish. He was strong at Bristol last year as well with a 10th in the spring and 12th in the fall. Luck is going to play a part this week and he has to start moving in the right direction if he wants to be Chase relevant.

 

Next Three Weeks

Driver

2015 Power Avg.

Bristol 3-yr Avg.

Richmond 3-yr Avg.

Talladega 3-yr Avg.

Kevin Harvick

2.81

22.60

9.50

17.33

Joey Logano

5.76

10.20

14.33

25.33

Martin Truex Jr.

8.00

22.80

17.50

16.67

Brad Keselowski

8.52

15.80

11.83

15.17

Kasey Kahne

9.64

11.00

13.83

19.00

Jeff Gordon

11.28

13.40

8.00

20.83

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

11.57

18.20

9.67

17.50

Denny Hamlin

11.90

19.60

17.20

21.33

Jimmie Johnson

13.08

16.60

18.50

19.50

Matt Kenseth

13.13

15.40

12.50

11.83

Carl Edwards

13.15

17.40

10.83

23.00

Jamie McMurray

16.93

18.40

13.83

22.17

Paul Menard

17.63

11.00

16.00

19.50

David Ragan

21.43

23.80

29.33

13.83

Aric Almirola

21.59

26.20

17.83

19.17

Casey Mears

24.61

24.40

26.00

19.83

Outside of Chase Contention

Kurt Busch

7.54

20.60

16.17

24.50

Kyle Larson

16.32

11.00

13.50

13.00

Ryan Newman

16.91

18.60

9.67

18.17

Clint Bowyer

20.56

11.60

13.50

10.50

Greg Biffle

22.15

12.20

18.17

14.17

Danica Patrick

23.43

25.60

27.25

26.75

AJ Allmendinger

23.86

17.33

14.80

14.33

Tony Stewart

24.06

20.67

13.00

30.00

Austin Dillon

25.21

19.50

23.50

18.00

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

25.82

10.50

22.50

17.50

Justin Allgaier

26.30

18.00

24.50

32.00

Trevor Bayne

29.91

NA

NA

28.00

David Gilliland

31.11

23.20

27.67

17.67

Sam Hornish Jr.

31.71

34.00

NA

24.00

Michael McDowell

32.68

32.20

41.00

31.17

Michael Annett

33.75

32.00

35.00

26.50

Landon Cassill

33.80

26.40

26.33

22.83

Cole Whitt

34.14

35.00

37.00

26.75

Alex Bowman

34.46

32.00

33.00

35.50

Mike Bliss

37.44

43.33

40.80

NA

Josh Wise

37.75

30.60

36.67

30.33

JJ Yeley

37.90

28.00

40.00

38.40

 

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,102 days. Since some races shift dates, the past three-years sometimes occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

 

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.