Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Jeff Byrd 500 presented by Food City

by Eric McClung on March 16, 2011 @ 17:18:52 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, the fall 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.

While Bristol is classified as a short track, the unique banking makes it more of a standalone venue. The other sub one-mile sites, Martinsville Speedway and Richmond International Speedway, are flat surfaces, thus not good for performance comparisons.

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

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

Although Kenseth's pair of wins in Thunder Valley came prior to the repaving, he's finished 11th or better in six of the eight starts since. Over the last three, Kenseth owns a fifth-place result from last year's spring race and two other 10th-place results, with an average running position that has not dipped below 11th. If you want a boring, conservative and safe pick for Bristol, strongly ponder over Kenseth. After all, he has made a career of being safe, conservative and boring.

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

Despite rarely qualifying well at Bristol, Busch knows how to make passes along the high banks and stay up front from a long time. In fact, he has led more than 280 laps in three of the last five races. Going back to 2006, Busch has finished worse than ninth just once in 10 starts. Winning four of those races, including three of the last four, Busch has also twice finished as the runner-up. Coming off a blown engine last week, Rowdy should roar back to life and back up toward the top of the standings quickly.

Jamie McMurray | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

After winning last year's Daytona 500, Jamie Mac hit the skids for the better part of three races until he landed in Bristol. He held an average running position of ninth with over 83 percent of laps spent running in the top 15 in each start. McMurray would go onto finish eighth in the spring and third in the fall event. With only one lead lap finish through three starts this season, McMurray is looking for another Thunder Valley surge to get back on track.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Ryan Newan, Stewart-Haas Racing
Off to a strong start

Coming off consecutive fifth-place finishes, Newman is one of only two drivers with a pair of top-fives now three races into the season. Another such result would give Newman his first top-five at Bristol since 2004. That's not to say he hasn't come close. In fact, Newman has finished in sixth place a total of three times over the last five starts. Thanks to a strong record of qualifying at the site, Newman has spent over 99 of his laps in the top 15 in those four races.

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

While Montoya has yet to win on an oval, he looked great while finishing third at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with an average running position of fifth. At Bristol he has run 10th or better in four consecutive starts and finished a career-best seventh in last year's fall race, never dropping below 13th at any point. Bad late-race lack spoiled two of those runs into finishes of 25th or worse, but that only masks his value. So far JPM looks like the 2009 Chase driver and not the one that kept self-destructing a year ago.

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

After two disasters to start the season, Reutimann added another reputable finish to his intermediate track resume at LVMS. While Bristol is a much different venue, Reutimann has begun to figure out more than just cookie-cutters. In last year's fall race, he finished as the runner-up with an average running position of third. He ran 99 percent of his laps in the top 15 and led 25 laps.

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

It may come as a surprise but Earnhardt's top track in terms of average finish (11.5) is Bristol. Dating back to 2002, he has finished outside of the top 15 only twice in 18 attempts. Last year, Earnhardt finished seventh and 13th, with an average running position of 14th in each start. Earnhardt comes into Bristol with a pair a top-10s after a wreck cost him a similar finish in the Daytona 500. While loop data suggests he has been a bit of an over-performer, look for Earnhardt and his new team to craft yet another solid finish.

Marcos Ambrose | No. 9 DeWalt/Stanley Tools Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

In 2009, the Australian was extremely impressive during his first two career starts at Bristol, finishing 10th and third, respectively. After running sixth in the spring, his average running position in the fall event was ninth. Last year, however, was a different story as Ambrose did not finish on the lead lap in either Bristol start. Similar performance issues triggered him to switch teams where things have quickly improved. Last week, Ambrose qualified on the outside pole and finished fourth.

Temper your expectations

Jeff Burton, Richard Childress Racing
A safe choice?

Jeff Burton | No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

With four straight top-10s in the spring race at Bristol, Burton may look like a safe bet. However, he has started this season off exactly how he finished 2010, and that's not a good thing. Over his last seven starts, Burton has an average finish of 30th with three DNFs. Until he turns it around, consider Burton an YPNM driver: your problem, not mine.

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

In 16 career starts at Bristol, Biffle owns an impressive average finish of 10.8. The last three have all been top-10s, including two fourth-place finishes with over 75 laps led in each. So what's the problem? After a change to the fuel can this past offseason, Biffle's team has been struggling to get his car filled with fuel during pit stops, ruining some good runs in the process. Effective this week, a new gasman will take over fueling duties, but it's perhaps best to make sure they've finally have this critical piece of service fully resolved before making the investment.

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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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