The Garage Talk Notes always hope Fantasy NASCAR players get the information they need so they can accurately predict which driver will be up front in the race. The one thing the notes cannot do is predict which drivers will have their “Cage Rattled” this week. I expect a lot of beating and banging on the short track in Thunder Valley. All we can do it hope it is not our drivers getting punted into the wall Saturday night. The Bristol Night Race can be seen Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
Teams will have the same tire compound that they had in the April race at Bristol. All three series will have the same type of tire so Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Erik Jones will have some extra time to figure out the tire wear since they are competing in the Xfinity Series race Friday night. Each team will receive three sets of tires for the two practices, one set for the qualifying and nine sets for the race.
NASCAR added the PJ1 traction compound to the top of the track this week. The racing at Bristol is always better when the top and bottom of the track is an option for the drivers. Typically the bottom groove is the preferred way around the track early in the race and the top groove comes in after 250 laps.
NASCAR will inspect the cars Saturday afternoon. Any driver who fails once will be sent to the back and be scored from the back in Fantasy NASCAR. There are 3 races left on the schedule with where NASCAR will inspect the cars after final practice (Bristol, Richmond and Martinsville). There rest of the races will have pre-qualifying inspections.
Chase Elliott: Elliott won the pole at Bristol and Dover this year, so he is very good at qualifying at this type of track. Elliott also has a series-best 114.4 Driver Rating when you combine the races in Thunder Valley and the Monster Mile. Elliott started final practice in qualifying trim and he went to the top of the speed chart. The No. 9 team switched to race trim and Elliott felt the car was “a bit too snug.” After his final run Elliott said, “I’m pretty pleased with it.”
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson is on the outside of the playoff cut line right now. He needs a good run this week. It could happen at Bristol. Johnson has the second-best average finishing position (6.8) and the fourth-best Driver Rating (102.8) in the last five races at Bristol. The No. 48 team spent both practices working on their race trim. Johnson made a lot of long runs and said, “Not bad… It really has speed in clean air but gets too loose in traffic. The more I run the bottom the tighter it gets. I have a little more wheel I can put into it if I need too.”
Alex Bowman: Bowman has been hit or miss at Bristol. He has two finishes in the top 8 and the rest of his finishes have been outside the top 20. He finished 23rd at Bristol in April 2nd at Dover. After a hot start to the summer, Bowman has cooled down since his win at Chicago. Bowman made some long runs and said, “The center rotates really well but I am wagging the tail on the exit.”
William Byron: Byron has had some good runs this summer. He finished four of the last seven races in the top 10. Byron has been much better at qualifying than he has been in the races at Bristol. He qualified 2nd and 5th in the last two races but he finished 16th and 23rd. It is a lot different when there are 38 other cars on the track. Byron liked the way his car got in and out of the corners. He said, “It rates well in the center but needs more grip on exit.”
Kyle Larson: Larson tweeted out this week, “Our 3rd place finish today (at Michigan) really put us in a good place. We are now securely in the playoffs and we can be aggressive with our setups to go for the win at my favorite track (Bristol). Larson has led a series-high 489 laps and finished 2nd in tow of the last three races at Bristol. He is a driver to watch this week. Larson tried to run the top of the track and said, “I can find grip when I run the right-side tires next to the top lane but when I get into the lane the car gets squirrely. The bottom is not bad though.”
Kurt Busch: Busch will have a great chance to add another win to his 2019 resume before the NASCAR Playoffs begin. Busch finished 2nd in the April race at Bristol and won the Night Race last year. He has 6 wins at the track and it would not surprise anyone if he is in Victory Lane again Saturday night. Busch made a long run and said, “It sucks to start off. There are way too much marbles on the track to get any grip. Tight in… tight off….tight throughout the run.” I have never heard Kurt this made on the radio. He said, “The car has no F***** magic in it. It F***** sucks at the bottom… F****** sucks at the top…F**** sucks at the middle. This is the worst piece of Shit I have ever had at this track.” The team told him, “You are on 40-lap tires. Be patient, we will fix it up.
Kevin Harvick: After a slow start to the season, Harvick is starting to heat up. The No. 4 team has won two of the last four races and finished four consecutive races in the top seven. Harvick has been good but not great at Bristol. He usually finishes in the top 10 but he typically does not lead many laps or score many Stage points. Harvick spent a lot of time running the top of the track. The No. 4 team told him, “You are picking up a lot of speed at the top. You are the only driver making gains up there.”
Clint Bowyer: Is Bowyer cursed? The No. 14 team has had the speed to run in the top 10 but Bowyer continues to find trouble. He has a 23.6 average finishing position in his last seven races. He is off limits for me this week, but maybe a trip to his 4th best track will turn things around for him. Bowman complained the car “has no speed on exit.” (That means it takes him too long to get to the gas when he exits the corner)
Daniel Suarez: Suarez is battling his teammate (Clint Bowyer) for the last playoff spot. Stewart-Haas Racing said the two teams will continue to share information but do you really believe the No. 14 team will give the No. 41 team information to help them run well Saturday night? Suarez only has one finish in the top 10 in his five races at Bristol so he needs all the help he can get. When the No. 41 team asked Suarez how his car was he responded, “It’s comfortable.” Sometimes that is better than having pure speed.
Aric Almirola: Good thing Almirola is 86 points above the playoff cutline because he has not been good at Bristol. Almirola has finished 37th, 31th, 6th and 37th in his last four races at the track. The car usually has speed but it is a magnet for the wall. Almirola made some long runs and said, “I have to lift almost all the way through the corners to get it to turn.”
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has two wins at Bristol but his last win was in 2012 on a much different track. Keselowski has not finished in the top 10 since the track was repaved and reconfigured. He has a 24.4 average finishing position at Bristol since the track was changed. Keselowski started practice with a setup they ran last year. He hated the car so they put the No. 22 (Joey Logano) setup in the car. Keselowski said, “Entry and exit are good… little loose in the center… and it is very consistent (Meaning the car is the same at the beginning of the run as it is at the end. That tends to be easier to fix)” At the end of practice Keselowski said something did not feel right with the steering of the car.
Joey Logano: Logano will get some extra seat time this week since he is competing in the Xfinity Series race. Not that he needs it though. Logano has a 6.8 average finishing position, led 314 laps and won two Stages in the last five races in Thunder Valley. Logano really liked his car. He ran 20 laps at the bottom, 20 in the middle and 20 at the top. He said, “The bottom and one lane up are pretty solid. There is absolutely no grip at the top.” Logano was on old tires in final practice. He spent a lot of time trying to rubber in the top lane.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney has been one of the best dominators in the last three races at Bristol. He has led at least 100 laps in each race, score Stage points in all Stages and has a 6.3 average running position in the last three races at the track. Blaney is 95 points above the playoff cutline so another top-five finish could lock him into the playoffs following the race Saturday night. Blaney liked his car. He made a 38 lap run and he told his team, “When I diamond it into the corner it hooks the bottom really well. I think it will be great until traffic gets in the way.” Blaney had smoke pouring out of the car at the end of practice. He said, “The power steering went out.” Blaney said the car is really fast. They will replace the power steering pump and he expects to be fine for Saturday night.
Paul Menard: Menard is the easiest driver in NASCAR to predict. He has finished almost every race this season between 13th and 20th position. His average finishing position in his last five races at Bristol is 17.4. There is a good chance Menard will finish between 15th – 18th Saturday night. Menard said, “It is OK at the bottom but if I get out of that bottom groove at all, the car goes to shit.”
Kyle Busch: Busch will get some extra time to test his skills on the bull ring this week since he is competing in the Xfinity Series race Friday night. Busch has won three of the last four races at Bristol and he led 344 laps. The No. 18 car is almost guaranteed to be up front this week. Busch started off practice by running some slow laps at the top of the track to check the grip. These slow laps will skew his long run lap speeds. Of course Busch had a list of things he wanted changed for his car. It was fast though. He did ask how he compared to the No. 22 (Joey Logano) car.
Erik Jones: Jones will compete in the Xfinity Series race Friday night and that should help him get his rhythm for the Cup Series race. Jones is always better under the lights at Bristol than he is during the sunlight. Jones finished 2nd and 5th in his two night races in the Cup Series. Jones spent time following Kyle Busch and then he went out for another run and passed Kyle Busch (Not sure how fresh the tires were on each car). The only complaint for Jones was that his car built tight through the run. Many of the teams were talking about how fast the No. 20 car is on older tires.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin is on a hot streak right now. He has finished 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 2nd and 5th in the last five races. Hamlin had a good race at Bristol in April. He qualified 5th, led seven laps and finished 5th. I expect his hot streak to continue Saturday night. Once again Hamlin showed up with a lot of speed. He said his car was great at the beginning of the run and the front slid through the corned at the end of the run. The team made changes and Hamlin said, “Much better.”
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex won the race at Dover earlier this season but do not expect that success to transfer to Bristol. Truex has a 24.5 average finishing position in his last four races in Thunder Valley. Crew Chief Cole Pearn said on NASCAR Race Hub this week, “We are not looking forward to the race this week. Bristol is out worst track. We just want to make it through the race in one piece.” Truex started final practice in qualifying trim and posted the 2nd fastest lap. They then switched to race trim and spent a lot of time working on the car (They do not talk much on the radio. They usually discouse their car in the garage so it is hard to get info from them.”
Matt DiBenedetto: The rumors are starting to heat up about Christopher Bell taking over the seat in the No. 95 car next year. This is either going to motivate DiBenedetto to run well or crush him and set this team back. DiBenedetto is not a quitter. He will be extra motivated to win this race at his best track. DiBenedetto unloaded with a lot of speed. He made a lot of long runs and said, “The car is the best I have ever had here. I am really proud of my team to see them work so hard even with all of the noise surrounding us. They really gave me a car to compete this week.”
Daniel Hemric: Hemric qualified 26th and finished 30th in his first Cup Series race at Bristol. He did not have much better success at Dover. He qualified 23rd and finished 25th in that race. The No. 8 team has been better on the larger tracks this season then they have been on the short tracks. Hemric was in qualifying trim in final practice. He posted the 5th fastest laps. His race trim speed was between 15th – 20th.
Austin Dillon: It has been a disappointing season for the No. 3 team. Dillon has a 26.5 average finishing position in his last 10 races. He has not had much success at Bristol either. Dillon only has one finish in the top 10 ((2016) in his 11 races at the track. Dillon started final practice in qualifying trim and posted the 3rd fastest lap. The team then switched to race trim and the car was reported to be lacking grip.
Ty Dillon: Dillon has been much better on the short tracks than he has been on the larger ovals this season. He finished 15th and won Stage 1 in the April race at Bristol. He is definitely a good sleeper pick this week. Dillon was complaining that he needed, “more front turn and the car is lacking lateral grip on entry and in the center.”
Ryan Preece: I really like Preece and hope he can find success in the future but I think JTG Daugherty would be smart to put Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 47 car if he is released by Leavine Family Racing. Preece only has one finish inside the top 15 at a non-Superspeedway track this season. The good news is that it came last week at Michigan. Preece reported the car is, “too bouncy, making the backend hop all over the track.”
Chris Buescher: Buescher is the ultimate overachiever. It does not matter where he is on the speed chart, he will run well in the race. Buescher only finished 22nd in the April race at Bristol but that does not mean he cannot run well. He finished 5th at the track in 2016 while driving for Front Row Motorsports.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse is one of the best drivers at Bristol. He always runs well but he makes too many enemies to finish up front. Stenhouse has a 9.1 average funning position in the last two races at Bristol and a 28.5 average finishing position. If he can play night Saturday night he may be able to finish up front. I doubt that will happen though. Stenhouse did not like his car. He said, “It grinds the corners at the bottom in 1 and 2 and is tight as shit.” The No. 17 team put a qualifying setup in the car at the end of practice and they jumped into the top 10 on the speed chart.
Ryan Newman: Newman is the best points racer in the sport. He currently sits in 15th place in the playoff standings. He needs points to stay ahead of Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Daniel Suarez. Newman finished 9th and scored 7 Stage points in the April race at Bristol. He should have a similar race Saturday night. Newman spent some time trying to work in the top lane. The No. 6 team reported their car was “good.” The No. 6 team put a qualifying setup in the car at the end of practice and they jumped into the top 10 on the speed chart.
Favorites to win Saturday: Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones
Good Sleeper Picks: Matt DiBenedetto, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, Kevin Harvick and William Byron
MENCS Final Practice Speeds
Final Practice 10-Lap Average Speed
Final Practice 20-Lap Average Speed
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