The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back in action this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway for the second short track race of the 2018 season. The high-banked, half-mile is still one of the more popular stops on the schedule, and if NASCAR and the track succeed in their attempts to make the bottom groove the only way around like it used to be, Bristol could be something really special once again.
For fantasy owners, Sunday’s Food City 500 is a golden opportunity to save starts from the top options in season-long leagues like the Driver Group Game and Fantasy Live. Short tracks level the playing field to a degree in part because they tend to be more unpredictable, but there are also some drivers who are simply better at short tracks than they are at higher-speed ovals. As result some middle-tier drivers jump into the top tier, and some lower-end drivers become valuable sleepers.
At Martinsville a couple of weeks ago, we saw Clint Bowyer go to victory lane and A.J. Allmendinger and Alex Bowman crack the Top 10. Expect a few different names to pop up inside the Top 10 again this weekend at Bristol.
Remember, it is all about maximizing the production of your picks over the course of the season, so when you do decide to use some sleeper picks and unconventional lineups, you want to do so because you have the highest chance of success, not because you are forced to because you are out of other options.
Think about the big picture and give most of the big names a break this weekend.
1. Kevin Harvick, #4 Jimmy Johns/Busch Beer, Stewart-Haas Racing
Harvick has been fast all year, and he has been the model of consistency at Bristol. He is the only driver who has finished in the Top 10 in each of the last five races here, and Harvick has one win and a series-best 4.2 average finish during that stretch.
2. Kyle Busch, #18 M&M’s, Joe Gibbs Racing
He’s had some tire issues and other bad luck at Bristol in recent years, but Busch always seems to be fast here. His win in the night race last season was his sixth victory at the track, and he has led more than 150 laps in three of the last five races. Throw in the fact that he enters the race as the hottest driver in the series, and Busch could carry a fantasy team in any format this weekend.
3. Kyle Larson, #42 CreditOne/DC Solar, Chip Ganassi Racing
Larson has been knocking on the door of a Bristol win, and he delivered two strong starts at the track in 2017. He led a race-high 202 laps and finished sixth here last April, and he led 70 more laps and finished in the Top 10 in the night race. Larson should be a stud in any format this weekend.
4. Joey Logano, #22 Shell-Pennzoil, Team Penske
Over the last 10 races at Bristol, you won’t find a more dependable driver than Logano. During that stretch, he is the only driver with multiple wins, and he also leads all drivers with six Top 10s and 329 points scored. You should be able to count on him in all formats.
5. Erik Jones, #20 DeWalt, Joe Gibbs Racing
Talk about showing a natural feel for a track. In just his second Cup start at Bristol, Jones started on the pole and led a race-high 260 laps, eventually settling for a second-place finish. I think he could have a shot at his first Cup win this weekend, and I expect to use Jones in most fantasy formats this weekend.
6. Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing
Hamlin runs hot and cold at Bristol, but he’s in the middle of a hot stretch right now. He has cracked the Top 10 in four of his last five starts here, logging three third-place finishes. If he manages to not ruin his day with a pit road penalty, Hamlin should be a Top 5 option.
7. Clint Bowyer, #14 Mobil 1, Stewart-Haas Racing
He took the checkered flag in the first short track race of 2018, and I wouldn’t be that shocked if he went back to victory lane this weekend. After all, Bowyer finished second here last April, and we all know how fast Stewart-Haas Racing has been this year. Bowyer is a solid Top 10 option with Top 5 upside this weekend.