Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Food City 500
Resurfaced in 2007, Bristol Motor Speedway will undergo a smaller change this year. The SAFER barrier in Turns 2 and 4 have been extended, narrowing those turns by nearly three feet. The new variable banking, still the steepest among the tracks on the schedule, was part of the makeover and opened the race track up, reducing the physical racing a bit. Less room in these turns may or may not restore some of that action, but Bristol remains among the most popular venues in NASCAR. The half-mile length gives those that qualify at the back of the field little separation from the front of the field and in danger of going a lap down quickly.
Location: Bristol, Tenn.
Drivers to keep an eye on
Although Hamlin has never taken the checkered flag at Bristol, he owns the best average finish (4.0) over the last two years among drivers that started all four races. During that time, Hamlin finished no worse than sixth and has never finished outside of the top 15 in eight career starts, minus a DNF due to an engine problem. Although Hamlin's best finish of the 2010 season is only 17th, he appeared to get back on track at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Hamlin held an average running position of seventh but finished 21st after experiencing a tire issue. Regarded as an elite driver on flat tracks, which make up the next two races, Hamlin has made the step banks of Bristol a successful prelude.
In last year's Food City 500, Montoya finished a career-best ninth at Bristol. The brash Columbian was in line to top that in the August race until a flat tire late in the race caused him to finish 24th. Montoya held an average running position of eighth and spent 92.6 percent of the race in the top 15, both better numbers than he complied in March. Coming off a season-high third place at Atlanta, JPM has the momentum and the recent history to slide his way into a solid finish at Bristol.
In his short Cup career, Ambrose owns a pair of top-10s at two tracks, but only one is a road course. The lone oval is Bristol, and the results were no fluke. Last year, the Aussie spent a combined 91.4 percent of laps in the top 15, holding average running positions of sixth and ninth. After starting the season with two DNFs, Ambrose has rebounded with finishes of 14th and 11th in the last two races. Look for things to keep improving this week for Ambrose.
In the last five Bristol races, Newman has finished in either the sixth or seventh position on four occasions. Like Ambrose, Newman also suffered two DNFs to begin 2010. In the last two races, he has finished in 18th and 17th. Not stellar, but a good sign Newman is capable of contending for yet another top-10 at Bristol.
Currently sitting 11th in the standings, Speed has been one of the biggest surprises to start the 2010 season. Speed is a swift play not only because of the hot start but a strong, although limited, history at Bristol among several levels of NASCAR. In last year's August Cup race, Speed started third and finished 11th. He finished 28th in the March Cup race but took eighth in the Nationwide Series event. Back in 2008, Speed captured the pole and finished third in the Truck Series. The clock hasn't struck midnight yet, so keep your stock in Speed.
Temper your expectations
Coming off a win at Atlanta, the older Busch brother, a five-time winner at Bristol, must be a great play this week, right? Not exactly. Busch's last trip to Victory Lane at Bristol came in 2006, and he owns only two top-10s in the seven races since. Over the last two years, his 11.3 average finish is rather pedestrian. This season Busch has been a bit of a boom-or-bust driver, with two top-10 finishes, but two others outside of the top 20.
Edwards owns two victories at Bristol, the August races of 2007 and 2008. However, in those March races he finished 12th and 16th, respectively. Last year, Edwards was mediocre in both races, finishing 15th and 16th, respectively. Edwards was decent in the first three races of this season, with finishes ranging from ninth to 13th, but was parked last week for getting revenge on Brad Keselowski. It's uncertain if Edwards' three-race probation will affect his driving, but Bristol, where aggressive driving tends to be a must, is not the place to find out.
Although Stewart has one win at Bristol to his credit, his overall performance there has been very inconsistent and unlucky. Stewart led over 250 laps in the March races of 2007 and 2008 but finished outside the top 10 in each. He did pick up finishes of fourth and eighth in the following August races, but Smoke stumbled in 2009 with finishes of 17th and 33rd. Over the last three races, Stewart has decent finishes, but nothing that would suggest he's prime to break out at Bristol.
After finishing sixth in the Daytona 500, Truex has seen several promising runs spoil. An engine problem struck him early at Auto Club Speedway and a late wreck ruined a good run at Atlanta. In last year's August race at Bristol, Truex was running sixth at the halfway point before blowing a tire and finishing 22nd. In eight career starts, his 25.0 average finish is without a top-10. Running into misfortune, Truex has been better than his finishes, but odds of a turnaround at Bristol appear unlikely.
Before he fully retires, Waltrip will enter a small number of races this season. This week he will drive as a substitute for Michael McDowell and attempt to qualify one of the two cars fielded by Prism Motorsports, which has a technical alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing. Since 2007, Waltrip's average finish was only 27.8 in his own equipment, and switching to a bottom-tier ride does not brighten his outlook.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. Follow @EricMcClung
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