The NASCAR Food City 500 from Bristol Motor Speedway has been moved up due to weather and will now begin Sunday at 12:30 PM ET/9:30 AM PT.
The weather was sunny and warm during the practice sessions on Saturday from Bristol Motor Speedway. However, as referenced above there is a very good chance of rain Sunday, which could shorten or delay the race. Considering what we saw last week with the massive temperature swings between the practice sessions, it’s hard to put a lot of stock into what occurred today. Cold weather would stifle some or much of the information that was provided during the practice sessions on Saturday. Employing the lessons learned from last week we will temper our outlook on the education that was provided to us today.
Let’s get right to the contenders for the weekend and try to get a better understanding of how teams have progressed over the weekend. There is still important the information to our handicapping, even if we do not know how highly applicable it will turn out to be.
Kyle Busch (plus 150): Starting from the pole, Kyle has a great chance to win his second race in a row. He has led over 2,000 laps at Bristol and with Harvick starting in the rear this gives him a sizeable advantage over who was considered to be his biggest challenger. While he deserves to be the favorite to win, these miniscule odds offer no value. It offers even less value when considering the possibility of rain becoming a factor.
Kyle Larson (4-1): Kyle was the only one who showed the ability to run the top groove during the practice sessions. Larson has run well in the past at Bristol, but this year he is off to a slower start than what was anticipated. Larson has to show the ability to stay out of trouble and Bristol is a tough place to accomplish that task. If Larson can stay at least somewhat clean, he should be a top contender for the win. If his odds were to float up, there could be value on Larson, but at 4-1 he is a tough sell. As always, shop for the best price.
Erik Jones (5-1): From opening at 12-1, Jones has really tumbled. There is no doubt that he looks good at Bristol, but he might be just on the outskirts of the top 4 or 5 cars. He was fastest over a 10-lap average in 2nd practice, but I would warn against reading too much into that average with weather approaching. Jones is one of the major benefactors of Harvick being sent to the back and now Kurt Busch joining him. Even with these top contenders having trouble, it does not warrant odds this low. Jones begins to garner some value when exceeding 8-1.
Kevin Harvick (5-1): Harvick has been uncomfortable all weekend as his car has been “jumpy” and hard to handle. He will start in the back and will be forced to use a pitstall that is not optimal. If weather is drastically different for the race, there is a chance that his car will handle better. When considering that only one winner has come from this deep in the field over the course of 113 races, there is no way a wager on Harvick to win can be endorsed.
Denny Hamlin (7-1): Hamlin progressed throughout Saturday to finally become at least marginally happy with his car. However, starting 25th, he will have to likely enjoy some good fortune in order to be in winning contention as the race comes to a close. 7-1 is too short for a driver who is only somewhat happy with his car in direct sunlight.
Martin Truex Jr. (7-1): This is not Truex’s best shot to win. He is starting 26th and in the last four races at Bristol only has one top-10 finish. Truex was 14th quick over a 10-lap average in happy hour practice. There is no doubt that he has the ability to improve his car and progress throughout the field. However, Denny Hamlin while offering little value is more worthy of 7-1 odds.
Brad Keselowski (8-1): Keselowski has benefitted from a very good qualifying effort to start third on Sunday. Additionally, he has progressed as well as anybody over the course of the weekend. Keselowski has not performed too well at Bristol in the last 4 races but could rebound this weekend. This is another one of the instances where seeing the weekend practice has really helped define Keselowski’s position.
Chase Elliott (8-1): Starting 16th and fast all weekend, Chase Elliott looks to be on his way to an improved performance for both himself and Hendrick racing. Elliott was fourth quickest over a 10-lap average in happy hour, and is likely to quickly move up in the early portion of the race.
Joey Logano (9-1): Logano is starting in good spot and he has a solid recent history at Bristol. In final practice, Logano was in the top 10 on long runs. There is simply too much of a log jam when handicapping the drivers who are 10-1 or less this week to platform Logano.
Kurt Busch (10-1): No chance. Busch had a hard impact to his car at the very end of happy hour and will have to go to a backup car. Having no track time in a backup car, and now having to start in the rear, there is no way 10-1 can be considered.
Jimmie Johnson (15-1): Starting 16th, Johnson was the fastest over a 20-lap run in happy hour and looks to progress during the race. While I do not consider Johnson to be amongst the top 3 contenders, he may find himself in the mix as the race comes to a close. This is not a track that should be affected by the Chevy issues that we have seen at the larger speedways. Johnson is not the type of driver who necessarily needs week-over-week progression to get a win. He has the team behind him to crash Victory Lane as he has become a relative handicapping afterthought by the odds-makers. When considering a longshot, Johnson could be the guy to stun NASCAR this week.
Ryan Blaney (15-1): Blaney is another one of the relative longshots that is starting in top 5 spot, and has shown good weekend progression. Both Blaney and Johnson are sort of forgotten this weekend with the massive traffic of drivers at odds of 10-1 or less. In the same manner as Johnson, both he and Blaney are live long shots this weekend.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (45-1): Stenhouse is still the best value on the board even at odds of 45-1. His team was very happy with the car in the second Saturday practice, and therefore he decided to play it safe in happy hour. This is the best possible news to hear from a team that really excels on specialty tracks such as Bristol, Talladega, and Daytona. Now starting third with Kurt Busch having to go to the rear puts Stenhouse in a prime starting spot to get the win. He has an average starting spot of 22.5, compared to an average finish of 10th in the last four Bristol races. This plus 12.5 position progression tells the story of driver who knows how to get around a very tightly contested Bristol track.
Below we will look at the driver matchups that have made the cut this weekend.
Kurt Busch ( 120):
Ryan Blaney (-140): With Blaney running well all weekend and Busch being forced to use a backup car, Blaney is the selection here. Blaney is on a weekly career progression and tickets will be cashed during this period and beyond.
Kurt Busch (-120):
Clint Bowyer (even): Bowyer has better race progression over the past four races at Bristol. When you figure in starting spot and Busch’s car trouble, Bowyer becomes the logical choice. This is a situation in which we are playing against Kurt Busch due to his misfortune at the end of happy hour and the weekend progression of his matchup drivers.
Martin Truex Jr ( 130):
Kyle Busch (-150): Starting on the pole with outstanding practice session, Busch is the selection here. As mentioned above this is not one of Truex’s best tracks and Busch has been dominate in the last four races at Bristol.
One area of concern worth noting. If the race is more than two stages complete and there is a threat of rain, the race could be won by an extreme long shot or even a field driver.
Top #25 Bristol Power Ranking - Food City 500
- Kyle Busch
- Kevin Harvick
- Kyle Larson
- Denny Hamlin
- Joey Logano
- Chase Elliott
- Erik Jones
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Brad Keselowski
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Jimmie Johnson
- Ryan Blaney
- Kurt Busch
- Clint Bowyer
- Jamie McMurray
- Aric Almirola
- Daniel Suarez
- Michael McDowell
- Ryan Newman
- Austin Dillon
- Bubba Wallace Jr.
- William Byron
- Kasey Kahne
- Chris Buscher
- A.J. Allmendinger