Bristol hopes to beat weather tonight

By Jeff Cogliandro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

August 18, 2018 12:25 PM

The NASCAR series makes its second annual trip to the Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. On Friday, NASCAR made the decision to move the race up by one hour (3:30 p.m. ET), due to the possibility of rain. Having the threat of rain in the forecast always adds a layer of unpredictability to our handicapping. With the possibility that the race could be a run to the end of the second stage, it can limit the level of trust placed in what we have learned over the weekend.

With just three races remaining until the playoffs begin, Bristol is a chance for the drivers who are well situated to improve their standing as the sun sets on the summer months, and the 2018 regular season. Bristol offers a unique opportunity to shake up the playoffs if one of the “Desperate Dark horses” can get a win. We are referring to Daniel Suarez, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard. All of them must get a win to make the postseason, and a longshot case could be made for each of them. We will get further into each of them, but it should be noted that likely the biggest challenge they will face is the early portion of the race and the struggle of pit road.

Without taking the weather into consideration, when analyzing this weekend at Bristol, it’s pretty clear that Kyle Busch, and Kyle Larson are the two best cars heading into the race. Both qualified very well and they each displayed excellent speed on the long runs in happy hour. Bristol is a track where starting upfront and away from traffic is an advantage. However, the biggest advantage might be the pit selection of the top 4-6 cars that will have a premier pit stall. Bristol is a very tight racetrack for 41 of these bulky machines and often pit road is where trouble can occur. Being able to quickly whisk in and out of a pit stall is something that can’t be overlooked at Bristol. Below are some of the statistics that are germane to our handicapping this week.

* In the last twelve races at Bristol there have been an average of 135 position changes from the starting top 15, to the top 15 finishers.

* The top six starting spots have produced (65%) of the winners at Bristol

* Only 5% of the winners at Bristol have started 21st or deeper.

* Avg. winning starting position is 7.7 in the last twelve races at Bristol

* Kyle Busch has won the last two races at Bristol, after 3 consecutive DNFs

* In the last 5 races at Bristol, Kevin Harvick leads all drivers with an adjusted plus/minus of 16.5

Let’s examine each of the main contenders for this week’s race.

Kyle Busch (plus 250): Kyle Busch has been feast or famine in the last 5 Bristol races with either a win or DNF in each of them. Busch looks outstanding this weekend and is the car to beat provided he can stay clean. Lined up in the 3rd position, Busch was able to secure one of the top pit stalls to further aid his speedy crew. Going into the race, Busch and Kyle Larson look to be the best.

Kyle Larson (3-1): The pole winner and the winner of the Xfinity race, Kyle Larson is off to a stellar weekend. Larson himself has said that Bristol, along with Homestead are his two favorite tracks. Although he has let a number of victories slip away at Bristol, this could be one of his best chances to win. Larson’s ability to run the high groove may well become his path to victory tomorrow night.

Kevin Harvick (9-2): It’s not often this season that Kevin Harvick flies under the radar on a race weekend, but with other drivers attracting attention its appears to have happened. Starting in the 6th position, Harvick has not particularly dominated the speed charts so far this weekend. However, we do know that former winner has five top 10 finishes in a row at Bristol. When the late race action picks up, expect Harvick to be in contention.

Ryan Blaney (8-1): In the spring race at Bristol, Ryan Blaney led 100 laps before having an accident that ended his day. His car appears to pick up well in the middle of the corner so far this weekend as Blaney looks to be amongst the top 8 cars going into the race. Overcoming trouble, both on the track and pit road will likely dictate if Blaney is truly in contention for the win. While he looks to be strong, the price is too low considering his true chance to win.

Erik Jones (10-1): Lined up back in the 14th spot is Erik Jones who will have his work cut out for himself. If he can run clean, then expect him to threaten the best cars for the win. From a lineup perspective there appears to be at least 8 cars lined up in front of Jones that are not up to his quality this weekend.

Denny Hamlin (10-1): Starting in the 7th position, Denny Hamlin will have to conquer his challenges on pit road that he has had all year. Bristol is not a track where a driver can usually afford to get sent to the back for a pit violation. Endorsing Hamlin at odds this low is not something I can do considering he has not displayed top 5 qualities this weekend.

Brad Keselowski (12-1): Starting just outside the top 10, in 11th position is Brad Keselowski who could be showing signs of coming around this season. After a second place finish last week at Michigan, Keselowski will try to get his first win of the season. He looks to be very similar to several drivers who are competing for a top 5-10 spot. There has been no real indication that he is in the same class as the Kyle’s this weekend.

Martin Truex Jr. (12-1): Although short tracks are not the speciality of Martin Truex Jr., he is expected to likely out race his qualifying effort of 17th position. He performed well in both practice sessions but was hurt by a poor qualifying effort. Like so many others who are starting deep in the field, Truex will have to avoid the numerous danger zones at Bristol. Considering his starting spot, Truex is priced correctly.

Clint Bowyer (15-1): Rolling off in the 16th position is Clint Bowyer. For so many driver’s this week, their starting spot sadly but typically defines their ceiling in terms of penetrating the top 3. Bowyer could work his way up near the front only to be met with pit road traffic and delays. Starting deep at Bristol is nothing new to Bowyer as he has an average qualifying position of 19.8. In addition, Bowyer has been absent on the most critical of speed ratings this weekend which makes him a pass.

Chase Elliott (15-1): Armed with the confidence of his first win and now qualifying in the second position, Chase Elliott will try to keep it going in the right direction. Having earned a top starting spot at Bristol has provided his team with a valuable pit selection for the race. Elliott has not been blazing so far this weekend but he will have all the advantages needed to get his second win. At 15-1 Elliott hits value if playing against the favorites.

Joey Logano (15-1): After being blocked in traffic during his qualifying effort, Joey Logano will start in 19th position. Logano is normally one of the best qualifiers at Bristol but on Saturday night he will have to be amongst the group that tries to charge to the front. While Logano is faster than his starting position, he has not been in the top 7 of best cars so far this weekend. The odds on Logano are fairly priced consider what he would need to do to win.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (15-1): The first of the major dark horses in Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who will be starting from a modest 12th position. Stenhouse who must win in order to make the playoffs has had two top 5 finishes in the last five races at Bristol. He is one of the drivers that will be very aggressive this weekend, and it would not be surprising to see him and Kyle Busch renew their clash. Please shop this selection as he is right on the bubble of value. If playing the outsiders, Stenhouse should make the cut.

Kurt Busch (20-1): The former Bristol winner looks very sharp this weekend as he is littered all over many of the critical handicapping metrics. Showing an improving practice trajectory into the top 5 on the long runs, Busch looks to contend with his younger brother for the win. Starting in the 9th position, he appears to be a top 5 car headed into the race. Considering his overall situation, Kurt Busch hits value, even if betting on the favorites.

Daniel Suarez (75-1): The second of the “win or go home” dark horses, Suarez is doing the best racing of his young NASCAR career. However, starting deep in 19th position, Suarez would likely need to be the benefactor of either Mother Nature or a race that more closely resembles a destruction derby. Performing very well, especially in happy hour there is little doubt that Suarez is outfitted amongst the best, however he will need to overcome the dangers we have chronicaled this week.

Paul Menard (100-1): Starting in 4th position this is perhaps the longshot with the best analytical track value in Paul Menard. While it would take a breakdown of the race for Menard to win, he does clearly have a major boost on pit road. With this advantage he will likely be able to capitalize off of strategic maneuvers should his team elect to try. Based on his starting spot, pit stall, weather forecast, and desperation level, Menard should be included on a ticket to win when playing the longshots.

Although we accurately picked Kevin Harvick to win last week, in our matchup plays we went 0-2. This was after Joey Logano had to make a pit stop before the race began due to a shock issue that sent him to the rear of the field. Additionally, Erik Jones struggled all day to gain his footing after spinning early, which was followed by another track incident. Our record now stands at 45-29 this season as we head into what has evolved into a unpredictable Bristol race. Below are the matchups that made the cut this week. Please beware that these picks could change based on developments prior to the race. As always please keep up to date for any race day news.

Erik Jones (-110) over Martin Truex Jr. (-110)

Jones has been stronger at Bristol than Truex in his young career, and he performed better on the speed charts, especially during happy hour. I look for him to rebound after a poor performance last week.

Kurt Busch (-115) over Clint Bowyer (-105)

Kurt Busch looked good over the long runs during happy hour. Bowyer has not shown the same type of speed so far this weekend, and will need to pick it up in order to compete with Busch. At the price listed above, this matchup hits value.

Chase Elliott (-135) over Clint Bowyer (plus 115)

Neither Chase Elliott or Clint Bowyer have been amongst the top 3 cars so far this weekend in practice, but Elliott has the advantage of starting and pit position. Additionally the traffic that Bowyer will encounter is major cause for concern when considering the stout drivers who are lined up in front of him.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-110) over Aric Almirola (-110)

This selection is living a little dangerously as Stenhouse could push it too hard and end his day early. From all indications Stenhouse has a faster car than Almirola in addition to his overall sustained Bristol success.

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