Race: Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race
Date: Saturday August 19th, 2017
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
Time: Green Flag 7:48PM (EST)
Jay Horne, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
Last week Kyle Larson scored his 3rd win of the season and 3rd straight win at Michigan International Speedway in dramatic fashion by overtaking teammates Martin Truex Jr and Erik Jones in a green-white-checkered finish. In recent weeks, Larson has been the only driver that has been able to stand up to the speed of the Toyotas which has been dominated by Joe Gibbs Racing and their Furniture Row Racing alliance. Specifically Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Busch have been the fastest drivers on a near weekly basis and it has been obvious to anyone that the Toyota drivers have the edge in terms of speed. However, the speed from the Toyotas have been most notable at the 1.5-2 mile race tracks where we see the maximum effects of the new lower downforce aero package. This week we turn all focus to Bristol Motor Speedway at the infamous Bristol Night Race for short track racing on a Saturday night.
For those that may be unaware, Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the smallest tracks on the circuit at just mile. Despite the small track size, Bristol has some of the steepest corners in NASCAR with banking ranging from 26-30 degrees. As a result, Bristol is extremely fast with lap times clicking off under 15 seconds per circuit which has helped earn its reputation for The Worlds Fastest Half-Mile. Bristol also has a few more monikers such as Thunder Valley and The Last Great Colosseum which only add to the prestige of this race track. Racing at Bristol is truly a spectacle because you have so many exciting factors such as a huge venue that sits over 160 thousand fans (8th largest in the world) combined with the best of short track racing action. As stated before lap times are extremely fast and when you combine that with the beating and banging of short track racing then it is truly one of the best races on the schedule. As a result these races at Bristol, especially the night race, rarely disappoint in terms of entertainment.
Despite all of the excitement that entails Bristol Motor Speedway, it is still a small track meaning the effects of the lower downforce package will be minimized. Therefore, I dont believe you will see the true advantage from the Toyotas that we have witnessed for most of the season. Now that does not mean that the Toyotas will not perform well, because they still have some of the best drivers that perform at Bristol, but they do not have the advantage in terms of raw speed. Back in April, Jimmie Johnson scored a somewhat surprising victory over the likes of Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick. It was just Johnsons 2nd victory in 32 career starts at Bristol but he capitalized on others mistakes to capture the win. One of the drivers that had mistakes in that race was Kyle Larson. Larson led a race high 202 laps but was hit with a speeding penalty on pit road on the final restart which ended his pursuit at victory. Larson does not have the best history at Bristol if you just look at raw finishes. However, do not let that fool you. He runs extremely well at Bristol and should be one of the favorites again Saturday night. Larsons driving style mirrors Kyle Busch in so many ways and we know how successful Kyle Busch has been at Bristol.
Speaking of Busch, he earned his 18th NASCAR win at Bristol Wednesday night in the Truck Series race. Just 5 of those wins have come via the Cup Series but those 5 wins are tied with older brother Kurt Busch for the most among active drivers. If you consider Rowdys (Kyle Busch) form in recent weeks, this should be another great opportunity for Busch to score another Bristol win on Saturday. With that being said, I will warn anyone that would be looking at Busch in H2H matchups or fantasy lineups that the #18 is usually hit or miss in terms of finishing position. I consider the younger Busch the best overall driver at Bristol but he drives so hard that he often gets into trouble. In fact, Busch has finished 29th or worse in 5 of his last 6 starts at Thunder Valley so do not look to him from a consistency standpoint.
Other drivers that I expect to run well include JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. Kenseth has 4 Bristol victories and I believe this will be one of the #20 teams best opportunities at getting a victory this year before Kenseth leaves JGR. Additionally, I would keep the likes of Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick close on your radar as well. Logano needs a victory to secure his playoff status and he has won 2 of the last 3 Bristol night races. Team Penske has struggled at the bigger tracks in terms of raw speed but they produced a solid short track program thus far this year.
Bowyer is a guy I really like from the middle-range dark horse perspective. His stats are great with a 11.6 average finishing position (2nd best) in last 10 races. Keep in mind, the majority of those finishes come in mediocre equipment with Michael Waltrip Racing and under Harry Scott. Bowyer is in the best equipment, in the #14 for Stewart-Haas Racing, that he has been in years which resulted in a runner-up finish back in April at Bristol. Therefore, I feel he has an excellent opportunity to score his 1st Bristol win. Last by not least, Harvick has also been extremely stout in recent trips to Bristol with finishes of 2nd, 7th, 1st, and 3rd in his last 4 starts. Harvick is never talked about much on the practice charts or any race hype for Bristol. However, he typically finds a way to be in contention by the end of these races. So keep him in mind!
My Pick to Win:> Kyle Larson
Middle-Range Pick: Clint Bowyer
Dark Horse Pick: Ricky Stenhouse Jr
Get your wagers down on Jay’s picks or take advantage of some juicy matchup odds at Bovada!
I did not mention Ricky Stenhouse Jr earlier on purpose. Stenhouse scored his first two wins of his Cup Series career this year at the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega. However, do not overlook his short track skills. He has the best average finishing position (10.4) of any driver over the last 10 races and that includes two runner-up finishes. I have watched Stenhouse on several occasions closely at Bristol and he does a great job of charging the corners under race conditions which gives him the opportunity to pull alongside drivers to execute passes. Many drivers can post fast laps in practices at Bristol when they are not around other cars but few know how to race at Bristol like Stenhouse so he should be considered on everyones betting lineups considering his generous odds.