Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Irwin Tools Night Race

by Eric McClung on August 24, 2011 @ 16:50:47 PDT


Resurfaced in 2007, Bristol Motor Speedway added new variable banking and remained one of the steepest tracks on the schedule. The added room allows cars to run one of several lines but has reduced the physical racing that has made the track so beloved. Still, Bristol remains among the most popular venues in NASCAR for its two Cup events, this week's night race in particular. The half-mile length gives those that qualify at the back of little separation from the front of the field and in danger of going a lap down quickly, although many of the top drivers can move to the front with ease regardless of starting position.

Location: Bristol, Tenn.
Shape: Oval
Length: 0.533 miles
Laps: 500
Turns 1-4: 26-30 degrees
Front stretch: 5-9 degrees
Back stretch: 4-8 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Kyle Busch | No. 18 Wrigley's Doublemint Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

There's no way getting around the fact you have to start Busch at Bristol. He's won four of the last five races, and five times since 2007. In the last 11 starts in Thunder Valley, Rowdy owns a ridiculous average finish of 4.7, failing outside of the top 10 just once. In 2011, Busch leads the series in points, wins, top-five finishes and has led twice as many laps as the closest driver.

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Over the last four races at Bristol, Kenseth has not finished outside of the top 10 while collecting a pair of top-five finishes and holding an average running position of at least 13th. In fact, his career average running position of 11.2 at the site is good for second among all drivers. Kenseth is coming off a 10th-place result at Michigan International Speedway, another track where he runs very well, but the numbers show he ran much better than that. He'll continue to be a force this week.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 Bass Pro Shops/Realtree Outfitters Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Along with his first win of the season and three other top-five finishes, Newman has been riding high over the last six races. He heads to Bristol where he's finished in either the sixth or seventh spot in four of the last six races and registered a 10th-place result earlier this season in March. Newman also led a career-high 26 laps while holding an average running position of at least 10th for the sixth time in the last eight.

Kurt Busch | No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

By crashing in two consecutive races, Busch suddenly finds himself eighth in points after sitting third back in mid-July. Bristol is a site the elder Busch brother can certainly use to get back on track. He has won here five times, although none since the track was resurfaced. However, Busch owns eight straight top-15 finishes with four consecutive top-10s in Thunder Valley.

Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

In three career Cup starts at Bristol, Keselowski owns an average finish of 16.7 with an average running position of 18.51. With the way he's running right now, does it really matter? Keselowski has finished first, second and third in the last three races and has six top-10s over the last eight. In just the last four races, he's climbed from 23rd to 12th in points. Forget the stats, when a driver is performing this well just go with it.

Greg Biffle

Greg Biffle | No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Don't let Biffle's 20th-place finish last week at Michigan International Speedway fool you, he ran very well. After qualifying on the pole, he led 86 laps and held an average running position of seventh. On the outside looking in, The Biff needs a win pronto to have a shot at making the Chase. At Bristol, he's finished eighth in the last two races after scoring four-place results in each of the two prior races. His career average running position at Bristol, 11.5, is third among all drivers.

Paul Menard | No. 27 Sylvania/Menards Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

After failing to record a top-15 finish in his first seven attempts at Bristol, Menard qualified fourth and finished fifth in March while leading 35 laps. In addition, he missed spending the entire race in the top 15 by just one lap. While Menard hasn't been the most consistent driver on a week-to-week basis, he's the option to target among lower-tier drivers.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Despite holding an average running position of 13th or better in four straight starts at Bristol, Truex has been unable to record a top-10 finish. In March, he led a career-high 63 laps but finished 17th for the second straight time at Bristol. Unable to make the correct adjustments, Truex began to free fall around the midway point of the race and went a lap down at one point. Such problems have been an issue in Truex's camp for a while now. If they can finally run a clean race, Truex is more than capable of a strong finish here.

Temper your expectations

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 Amp Energy/Bristol 50th Anniversary/National Guard | Hendrick Motorsports

Mediocre is the word to describe how Earnhardt is running lately. In the last five races, he owns a single top-10 with four other finishes from 14th to 16th. At Bristol, Earnhardt has finished 14th or better in five straight races but hasn't held an average running position better than 14th since 2008. Overachieving has been something Earnhardt has been doing for much the season. Perhaps he'll luck out again this week, but there are preferable picks out there.

Tony Stewart | No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Office Depot Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Smoke is not happy right now. He's sitting in 10th, on the Chase bubble and in danger of going winless for the first time in his 13-year Cup career. Stewart has only recorded two top-fives and nine top-10s this season, well below his typical numbers at this point. Even though he's run well, occasionally, at Bristol, Stewart has only one finish better than 17th over the last five starts.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's 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. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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