Fantasy NASCAR preview: Sharpie 500

by C.J. Radune on August 19, 2009 @ 16:30:00 PDT


Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the most exciting tracks at which to watch a race, whether in person or on the couch. It is one of the shortest tracks on the circuit and has the privilege of being the steepest-banked track that NASCAR runs on. The summer version of the race is run under the lights, adding some great visual effects to the proceedings.

The high banking results in speeds that other tracks of similar length just can't match. The drivers more often than not end up exchanging more paint than positions. Tempers commonly flare, and occasionally some of the fiercest rivalries are born out of a Bristol race. The track was repaved, and a wider racing line is now present after years of single-file racing. The key to winning on this track is staying out of trouble, and the best way to do that is to stay at the front of the field, making qualifying very important.

Location: Bristol, Tenn.
Shape: Oval
Length: 0.53 miles
Laps: 500
Turns 1-4: 36 degrees
Front stretch: 16 degrees
Back stretch: 16 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Marcos Ambrose | No. 47 Clorox/Kingsford/Bush's Beans Toyota | JTG Daugherty Racing

Ambrose has been a revelation this season. It was only a matter of time before the Australian rookie found his feet in NASCAR Sprint Cup, and he seems to be turning up the heat now. With three top-five and six top-10 finishes to his credit in 2009, it looks like Ambrose will become a fixture in the sport shortly. In his first Bristol start Ambrose scored a top-10 finish. That is nothing short of amazing considering the Australian was raised on road racing. Ambrose is 17th in points at the moment and should rebound at Bristol from a rough outing in the Carfax 400 last weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 AMP Sugar Free/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
Junior lines up well for Bristol

Earnhardt was desperate to have a good race after struggling most of this season. He raced solidly to his second top-five finish of the season in the Carfax 400, leading six laps en route. If that bit of momentum stays with Earnhardt he could be poised for a great run at Bristol. The team built him a new car, and it proved to be a big help last weekend. His average finish in the last five starts is 9.8, and his career average finish in 19 starts is 11.8. Earnhardt is very consistent at Bristol Motor Speedway, and this weekend should prove to be the same for fantasy players. Prepare yourself for a good Earnhardt weekend.

Clint Bowyer | No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Bowyer really turned his 2009 finishes around in the last three races. After a somewhat disappointing season so far, he is on the heels of three straight top-10 finishes and four top-10s in the last five races. Bowyer is on a tear and seems to have fixed whatever ailed the team earlier this year. Bowyer also has a stout record at Bristol Motor Speedway. His average finish in the last five Bristol starts is 6.8. He has a grip on Bristol and is a solid fantasy option for the Sharpie 500.

David Reutimann | No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Reutimann, in need of a strong run, produced one at Michigan International Speedway last weekend. He earned his seventh top-10 finish of the year. Reutimann's career average Bristol finish is 19.0 in three races. He has steadily improved, though. His best finish at the track was in March's Food City 500, finishing that race 12th after qualifying sixth. In last year's Sharpie 500 he qualified second. Reutimann obviously knows how to get around this track quickly but falls back during the race. Can this weekend be the time he changes that trend? Reutimann could be a good fantasy option in the Sharpie 500.

Bobby Labonte | No. 96 Ford | Hall of Fame Racing

Labonte scored just one top-five finish this season so far. It hasn't been a great year for the veteran, but he has found some success at Bristol Motor Speedway in the past. He has never won at the track, but his average finish in 27 career starts is 19.3. He scored three top-fives and nine top-10s in that time period, and his average finish in the last five races at the track is 22.6. Labonte can work through the Bristol madness while keeping his nose clean and that is important for fantasy owners. Labonte could be a third or fourth pick for fantasy players in the Sharpie 500 Saturday night.

Temper your expectations

A.J. Allmendinger | No. 44 Hunt Brothers Pizza Dodge | Richard Petty Motorsports

Despite a top-20 run at Bristol Motor Speedway in March, Allmendinger's average finish at the track is horrible despite finishing 16th there earlier this year. In four career starts at the track he started last twice and has an average finish of just 31.3. Allmendinger has put some good races on the board this year, but Bristol isn't the place fantasy owners should be looking to for more promise from the Californian. Allmendinger doesn't have the pedigree that would indicate future Bristol success, nor do his past results change that picture. It would be best for fantasy owners to look elsewhere for options this weekend.

Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

Brian Vickers, Red Bill Racing
Vickers' momentum may not last

Vickers scored his first win of the season last weekend in the Carfax 400 after starting from pole. It was Vickers' sixth pole of the season and the ninth time this year he led a race. Unfortunately, Vickers has a history of not performing well on the high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway. His average finish in 10 career starts is 26.0. His average finish in the last five Bristol races is 27.2. While Vickers is a solid option at some tracks, Bristol is not one of them. Avoid relying on Vickers for fantasy points this weekend; his recent success may not transfer to this track.

Jamie McMurray | No. 26 Irwin Vise-Grip Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

McMurray hasn't scored a top-10 finish since May 2. The Roush Fenway Racing touch also didn't grace him in Michigan, where he should have had a strong run. Instead, he finished a lowly 32nd while his teammates went on to some strong performances. McMurray's Bristol record is not good either. His average finish in his last five Bristol starts is 25.4. His performance at the track is erratic: 2007, 26; 2008, 43 and 12; and 2009, 37. That isn't good for fantasy players. Avoid using a spot on your roster with McMurray this weekend if at all possible; there are much better options out there in most cases.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

A strong qualifying effort at Michigan International Speedway ended with another mediocre result for Truex in the race. He started the Carfax 400 fifth but finished 21st. The story doesn't get any better for Truex at Bristol Motor Speedway. Truex's average finish in the last five Bristol races is 24.4 while his average start is 16.2. Despite finishing 11th in '07 and 13th in '08, Truex has never scored a top-10 result at the short Tennessee track and often finishes outside of the top 20. Fantasy owners need some consistency in their lineups, and Bristol is a hard track for Truex to have a good run at. Those reasons make Truex a weak fantasy option for the Sharpie 500.

Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Johnson is a driver that should warrant a spot on anyone's fantasy roster any given weekend. This weekend should not be different, but beware of Johnson's potential lack of upside. Johnson's statistics at Bristol Motor Speedway aren't the best by his lofty standards. He did pull out a third-place finish in the Food City 500 earlier this year, but don't be fooled. Johnson's average finish in his last five Bristol starts is 18.2. While Johnson isn't the best option to have in your lineup this weekend, he should probably still be there. Make sure you cover yourself with more consistent Bristol racers, though.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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