Fantasy NASCAR preview: Irwin Tools Night Race

by Eric McClung on August 18, 2010 @ 17:05:00 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, the night race in particular, in NASCAR. The half-mile length gives those that qualify at the back little separation from the front of the field and in danger of going a lap down quickly.

Location: Bristol, Tenn.
Shape: Oval
Length: 0.533 miles
Laps: 500
Turns 1-4: 36 degrees
Frontstretch: 16 degrees
Backstretch: 16 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch
Busch looking for another Bristol win

Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&M's Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

As one of three drivers that will run in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races, Busch will get plenty of seat time this weekend at a track he has been very successful at. In addition to going for a third straight win at Bristol in the Truck Series, Busch is a three-time winner in the Cup car at this track, including a sweep last year. Back in March, Busch rallied from a 38th-place starting position to finish ninth. After putting together a streak of eight finishes in the top-10 earlier this season, including two wins and three other top-fives, the younger Busch brother owns just two top-10s in his last nine starts. Yet there is no better track for Busch to rebound at than Bristol.

Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite/Vortex Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

Back in March, the older Busch brother led a race-high 278 laps and finished third. He was leading when a late caution flag for debris was waved. A call for four tires placed Busch in the fifth position for the final restart, but he was unable to reclaim the lead he held for 56 percent of the day. Busch is a five-time winner at Bristol, although he has only done it once in the Blue Deuce, which came back in 2006. Prior to nearly winning in the March, Busch had just two top-10 finishes in the previous seven starts at the site. Qualifying on the outside pole played a big part in the dominating performance. Should Busch lock down a similar position on the grid this week, he could spend his Saturday night living the high life.

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Even with his win at Pocono Raceway and the Roush revival in high gear, Biffle is receiving little respect among owners in most fantasy games. Over his last four races, Biffle has three top-fives with an average of 44 laps led in each. In last year's night race, Biffle qualified from the outside pole and finished fourth with an average running position of eighth after leading 76 laps. Despite qualifying 25th for the March event, Biffle held an average running position of sixth and led 78 laps en route to another fourth-place result. Teammate Carl Edwards may have two career wins at Bristol and an average finish of 4.3 over the last five races, but The Biff is the better value.

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

From 2007-08, Bowyer had an average finish of 5.3 at Bristol, including two third-place finishes. In last year's night race, Bowyer held an average running position of 10th but would finish 21st after getting involved in several wrecks. An engine failure that occurred after completing just 56 laps kept Bowyer from ever having a chance back in March. Currently battling Mark Martin for the 12th and final spot to make the Chase, Bowyer can gain a lot of distance if he can rekindle his past success at Bristol.

Marcos Ambrose | No. 47 Little Debbie Toyota | JTG Daugherty Racing

Last year in his first two career Cup starts at Bristol, Ambrose finished 10th and third. He held average running positions of sixth and ninth while spending a combined 91.4 of the laps running in the top 15. Back in March, Ambrose qualified a career-best ninth but finished 33rd after getting involved in a wreck. Prior to the incident, the Australian had worked his way back into the top-10 despite two pit road speeding penalties. It has been a rocky season for Ambrose, but his ability to work through the field at Bristol earns him deep sleeper status.

Temper your expectations

Mark Martin | No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Hendrick Motorsports driver Mark Martin
Martin needs a good finish

In 2009, Martin started from the pole seven times, including both events at Bristol. He would finish sixth and second in those events, but don't except a good starting position or a good finish out of Martin this week. Since the garages of the No. 5 and No. 88 were merged during the offseason, Martin's speed has vanished. In March, he qualified 13th and finished 35th after being put into the wall. Martin was running well that day but has not that looked sharp for much of the season. Last week at Michigan International Speedway, forceful driving caused Martin to tag the wall on Lap 4 and ruin his car. Afterwards, he admitted that he'll need to keep driving aggressively in hopes of making the Chase. Known over his long career as a conservative driver, Martin's attempt at aggressive driving backfired last week and could very well again this weekend.

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

The last two starts at Bristol have not been kind to Kahne. In last year's night race, he qualified 29th and finished 28th. Back in March, Kahne started 24th and finished 34th after experiencing engine problems. In a span of four races that covered the 2007 night race through the 2009 March event, Kahne had three finishes of seventh or better, including a runner-up performance from the pole. However, Kahne's best tracks are intermediates, and with plenty of those left on the schedule it's wise to keep him reserved in favor of those events, particularly in allocation formats.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

While Earnhardt has two straight top-10s at Bristol and an impressive 11th average finish at the site, those statistics will likely only cause him to be overvalued for Saturday night's event. Last week at Michigan, another track Earnhardt has been quite successful at, he qualified 38th and finished 19th while never running higher than 15th. That finish was his best over the last five races but not encouraging enough to suggest Earnhardt is anything but an extremely risky selection for Bristol and likely beyond.

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

He has run better at Bristol than his 24th average career finish would suggest, but hold off on Truex for the time being. He held an average running position of 10th in last year's night race and appeared to have a top-five car until cutting a tire late in the race. In March, Truex finished 12th and held that same average running position. Over his last five races, Truex has three finishes of 11th or better and could be turning his season around. Still, he has been a tease before with stretches of good runs before only to fall on his face over the next several starts. If your league allows you to change picks prior to race day, closely monitor Truex in practice sessions and qualifying before making your decision. Otherwise, wait this one out.

Elliott Sadler | No. 19 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

With his departure from RPM coming at the end of the season, Sadler is looking to land a ride anywhere on a major NASCAR touring series next year. To better his chances of attracting eyeballs, Sadler is doing triple duty this week at Bristol. While the extra seat time is not a bad thing, Sadler has an average finish of 23rd in 24 career Cup starts at Bristol and no top-10s since 2005. The reason some fantasy owners may believe he's a Saturday night sleeper is two-fold. He's a past Bristol winner, albeit back in 2001, and is coming off a top-10 finish last week at Michigan. Keep in mind that's his first top-10 all season and came because his new crew chief, Todd Parrott, gambled and had Sadler stay out late in the race. Parrott engineered several such finishes for Matt Kenseth earlier in the season but don't bank on two straight with Sadler behind the wheel.

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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.

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