The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend, and while short tracks can produce some of the most exciting racing, they can make life a little tough for fantasy owners.
Bristol still isn’t the one-lane, bottom-grooved bullring it used to be, but the attrition rate still tends to be higher here than at most of the larger ovals. With that in mind, Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race can be a great opportunity to save some starts from the bigger names in our season-long leagues.
Of course, you do need to keep in mind that the Fantasy Live game at NASCAR.com only runs through the end of the regular season, so budget your starts accordingly. If you have two or three starts remaining with Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick, there’s no reason to save. If you only have one start left with either driver, you have some decisions to make.
For the Driver Group, the decision to leave the big names on the bench this weekend is a little easier. This contest runs through all 36 races, so you still need to be picking and choosing when to be aggressive and when to try to save starts. Using some alternative options at a track that could be a little more violent and a little tougher to predict is my preferred strategy.
Not only to a minimize the chances of wasting a start from one of the top options with this method, but I also have a much better chance and getting a solid finish out of one of the middle-tier drivers at a short track. Yes, the top drivers from the top teams still have the edge, but the bumping and banging-style of racing at Bristol is going to make that gap a lot smaller than it is at high-speed, aero-dependent intermediate oval.
Check out all my season-long Fantasy NASCAR picks for the Bass Pro Shop NRA Night Race at Bristol, and make sure to set all your lineups for before the action gets going Saturday night.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
I have two starts left with three races remaining, and while Bristol often has a higher attrition rate than Darlington or Indianapolis, Busch’s numbers here are impossible to ignore. He owns seven Cup wins at the track, winning the night race last year and the spring race this season. Busch has also earned points in three of the four stages during his back-to-back wins, finishing second or better in two of them. Starting third, he should be in the mix for the stage wins and the race win.
With enough starts left with Larson to use him the rest of the way if need be, it is an easy decision to use him at Bristol, especially after he captured the pole. Larson has led at least 70 laps and finished in the Top 10 in each of the last three races here, and he has finished sixth or better in all four stages between the night race last year and this year’s spring race. It could be a clean sweep for Larson this weekend.
He didn’t earn any stage points and finished 35th in the spring race here, but not before he led 100 of the first 117 laps and appeared to have one of the cars to beat. Blaney was taken out when a couple of lap cars got together and wrecked, but with enough starts to use him in all three remaining races, I don’t mind taking a chance that his luck will be better this time around, especially after his Top 10 qualifying effort and the speed he showed in practice.
Jones picked up his first win a few weeks ago at Daytona, but he nearly got his first Cup win at Bristol last August. Jones led a race-high 260 laps and was the runner-up to Kyle Busch, finishing second and fifth in the two stages in the process. He also finished sixth in Stage 1 in this year’s spring race. Jones showed great speed in practice, especially on long runs, and starting 14th puts him close enough to the front to grab some more stage points.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Normally, Stenhouse is a guy you use to try to save a start from a better driver and hope he comes away with a decent finish, but he’s flat out one of the best at Bristol. In fact, he owns the best average finish over the last 10 races here. Stenhouse had an excellent run in the spring race, finishing 10 and sixth in the two stages on his way to a fourth-place finish. He starts 12th Saturday with a car that was Top 5 on the practice charts on long runs. More stage points could be coming his way.
Garage Driver – Jimmie Johnson
I’ve barely used Johnson this season, but as bad as he has been, he still managed to continue his hot streak at Bristol with a third-place finish in the spring. He has now finished 11th or better in seven of the last eight races here, notching five Top 5s in that stretch. Johnson has also been piling up stage points here, earning them in all six stages in the three races since the start of 2017 and finishing third or better in three of the six. Starting 13th, he is positioned for another solid run. This isn’t about saving starts. It’s about potentially piling up some points.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kyle Larson (A)
I still need to save a couple more starts from the Big 3 over the course of the remaining races, and Bristol is a great place to do just that. Yes, Kyle Busch is great here, but Martin Truex Jr. struggles and Kevin Harvick is more of a steady Top 10 performer than a perennial contender for the win. Instead, I will use Larson, who grabbed the pole Friday has three straight Top 10s at Bristol. Larson led a race-high 200 laps and finished second in the spring race, and he should have no trouble contending for a Top 5 again Saturday night.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (B)
At a track like Bristol that can have a few more wrecks than normal, I’m hoping to save some of the stronger Group B options while still coming away with solid results. Stenhouse me a chance to do just that, and over the last 10 races, his 9.6 average finish here is the best in the series. He only has one finish outside the Top 20 in that span to go with five finishes of sixth or better. He appears to have solid speed again this weekend, and he will roll off 12th Saturday night. His safe floor and high ceiling are exactly what I’m looking for.
Ryan Newman (B)
I went back and forth between Newman and Daniel Suarez, but since both qualified outside the Top 20, I went with the more proven track record of Newman. He has seven Top 15s in that last eight races at Bristol, including back-to-back Top 10s. Don’t underestimate the value of consistency a track like Bristol. I’ll gladly take a Top 15 from him this weekend and save a valuable start from one of the elite Group B options.
David Ragan (C)
Alex Bowman is the top play in this group, but despite his Top 5 run at Bristol back in April, I still want to save my remaining two starts with him for flat tracks like Martinsville and Phoenix. Plus, this may be one of my best chances to get a solid finish out of Ragan. He finished 12th at Bristol earlier this year, and he has back-to-back Top 20s here. Ragan has track position on his side after qualifying 15th, and that should help him hang on the lead lap early and boost his chances at another solid finish.