The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shop NRA Night Race. If you like bumping and banging, sparks flying, tempers flaring, high impact racing… this is the race for you. It is the first race I ever attended and it should be on each race fan’s bucket list. The race can be seen Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
Since this is a Saturday night race, NASCAR will have a unique schedule this week. There will be two practices Fridays (10:30 AM ET and 12:30 PM ET, both on NBCSN). Qualifying will take place Friday evening at 5:30 PM ET NBCSN, followed by the Xfinity Series Race. Our Driver Group Game picks need to be entered by 8 AM ET Friday morning.
Three drivers dominated the race at Bristol in April. Kyle Busch won the pole, led 117 laps, had a 4.16 average running position and won the race. Kyle Larson qualified 6th, led a race-high 200 laps, had a 3.05 average running position and finished 2nd. He had a great chance to win until he was moved out of the way with 6 laps to go by Kyle Busch. Ryan Blaney had the most dominant car early in the race. He took the lead from Kyle Busch and was on his way to winning Stage 1 when he was caught up in a lapped traffic wreck. The race took two days to complete (because of rain) but as usual, it ended up being a good race to watch.
Race Rewind at Bristol: Food City 500 (2018)
NASCAR used the traction compound at the bottom of the track to create more competitive racing. It was the second year they decided to do so at Bristol. I expect the “grip strip” will be applied this weekend and it will allow racing at the bottom and top of the track (once Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. work in the top groove). This should make passing easier and allow some drivers who start outside the top 10 to have a chance to get to the front.
Here are my picks for Bristol…
Driver Group Game A Picks
Kyle Larson (6): Larson said after the race Sunday, “This was a tough day at one of my best tracks (Michigan) but we will regroup and work hard to make sure we get a win at my favorite track next week (Bristol).” I would not be surprised if he won the race Saturday night. Larson dominated the race at Bristol in April. He qualified 6th, led a race-high 200 laps, spun out twice and finished 2nd. That is quite a day. Larson has a series-best 126.7 driver rating in the last two seasons at Bristol. If I can use an allocation with Larson this week I can use the “Big Three” in all of the remaining races except Talladega. That will give me a huge advantage on the competition.
Kyle Busch (4): The No. 18 team put together nearly a perfect race at Bristol in April. Busch won the pole, led 117 laps and won the race. It was his 7th win in Thunder Valley. Busch has won the last two races at Bristol and led over 100 laps in both of them. This team needs playoff points to keep up with Kevin Harvick. Busch has either won the race or finished outside the top 35 since 2015 at Bristol. It is risky to use him, but he should at least score 10 bonus points for winning the pole Friday.
Group A Driver Rankings: 1) Kyle Busch 2) Kyle Larson 3) Kevin Harvick 4) Joey Logano 5) Denny Hamlin 6) Brad Keselowski 7) Martin True Tr. 8) Jimmie Johnson
Driver Group Game B Picks
Ryan Blaney (3): Blaney came out of nowhere to dominate the last race at Bristol. He had some decent runs in Thunder Valley in his career but nothing suggest he would run down Kyle Busch and lead 100 laps in the race. After the race at Michigan Blaney said, “I cannot wait to get to Bristol next week. My teammates taught me some stuff before the last race and it just clicked in April. I cannot wait to do it again.” I am hoping I do not need to use Blaney this week but I have a feeling he will have one of the fastest cars Saturday night. I want to make sure Blaney is on my team just in case the No. 12 team shows up with the same speed they had in April.
Erik Jones (5): Jones came close to winning his first race in the MENCS in this race last year. Jones won the pole, led 260 laps and finished 2nd. He ran well in April but the results do not show it. Jones qualified 13th and was running 6th when he was caught up in an accident. Bristol ranked as the No. 1 track for Jones in the Xfinity Series. He won the pole for 3 of his 5 races in the lower series and went to Victory Lane twice (one time beating Kyle Busch). Jones knows how to get around this high-banked track.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (6): It’s Bristol Baby, so that means it is time to dig Ricky Stenhouse Jr. out of the closet and put him into our lineups. Stenhouse is really good at this track. One of the reasons why he is so good is because he uses the same strategy Stenhouse used at Daytona… move drivers out of the way until there is no one left but the No. 17 car on the track. Whatever works… I do not care how he gets to the front; just do not dump any of our other drivers out of the way. Stenhouse has competed in 11 MENCS races at Bristol and he has a 10.1 average finishing position. That includes a 4th-place finish in April. I plan to use an allocation with Wrecky Stenhouse this week.
Aric Almirola (7): I have been going with the stats for my picks and it has not been working out too well. I decided I will go with my gut for the last pick in Group A. The stats suggest I use Kurt Busch or Chase Elliott in this spot but I am low on allocations with them. Ryan Newman should also be a great pick but I do not trust the No. 31 team. Almirola continues to rack up top 10 finishes. He qualified 19th and finished 6th at Bristol in April. I have a feeling he will be good again Saturday night.
Group B Driver Rankings: 1) Ryan Blaney 2) Erik Jones 3) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 4) Kurt Busch 5) 6) Chase Elliott 7) Aric Almirola 8) Clint Bowyer 9) Ryan Newman 10) Daniel Suarez
Driver Group Game C Picks
Alex Bowman (3): Bowman has been one of the best drivers on the short tracks this season. He qualified 8th and finished 5th in the April race at Bristol. It is not like he used some sort of strategy to get to the front at the end of the race. Bowman had the 6th-best average running position in the race. I have no problem burning another allocation with Bowman this week.
Darrell Wallace Jr. (7): The last race at Bristol may have been the most impressive race of the season for Wallace. He started 20th and raced his way through the field. Wallace passed Kyle Larson for the lead in the final Stage. The No. 43 team did not use pit strategy to get the lead. Wallace passed the other cars to get to the front. After the race Wallace could not believe his car was that fast. There is no guarantee it will happen again, but I am sure he will be excited to get back to Thunder Valley this week. This will be a good race to burn an allocation with the No. 43 car.
Group C Driver Rankings: 1) Alex Bowman) Darrell Wallace Jr. 3) William Byron 4) David Ragan 5) Matt Dibendetto
Driver Group Game Team
Group A: Kyle Larson (6), Kyle Busch (6)
Group B: Ryan Blaney (3), Erik Jones (5), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (6), Aric Almirola (7)
Group C: Alex Bowman (3), Darrell Wallace Jr. (7)
I will post my final picks for Driver Group Game after qualifying Friday evening.
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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