Bristol Preview: By the Fantasy NASCAR Numbers

Scott EngelCorrespondent IMarch 20, 2009

FONTANA, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 Carhartt Ford, races Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, and others during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway on February 22, 2009 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)

After a week off, with extra time to prepare for your fantasy baseball drafts, it’s time to get back to the business of setting your Fantasy NASCAR lineups.

It’s been no easy task throughout the first four events, yet it’s too early in the season to get discouraged. While there have been some significant surprises, such as the opening win by Matt Kenseth, and the resurgence of Kurt Busch, past trends should go a long way towards helping you lock in your squad for the Food City 500.

Kenseth has cooled off in the past two events, with a Driver Rating of 55.3 and an Average Running Position of 28.0. Yet Bristol Motor Speedway is the perfect venue for him to channel a turnaround.

He has won twice at the site, with seven top-five finishes and 11 top-10s in 18 starts. Most notably, he leads all competitors in Driver Rating (105.5) in the past eight races since Loop Data was first recorded by NASCAR in 2005. During that span, he also leads all drivers in Laps in the Top 15 (3,534 or 88.1 percent), and is second in Average Running Position (8.4) and Fastest Laps Run (223).

Earning his third victory of the season, though, may prove to be a daunting task for Kenseth. It may be difficult for any driver to deny Jeff Gordon of a long overdue victory this weekend.

Gordon has displayed outstanding momentum early in the schedule, and is clearly building towards a win, which simply can’t evade him for much longer. Gordon has two second-place finishes in his past three races, and is a five-time winner at BMS.

His DR of 103.2 is third-best since ’05, and he leads all drivers in Average Running Position (8.2) during that span. He also ranks second in Laps in the Top 15 (3,454, or 86.1 percent), and Quality Passes (148).

NASCAR defines Quality Passes as passes of cars in the Top 15 while under green-flag conditions. Combining Gordon’s early success this season, with past history, makes him a strong fantasy pick for this week and a prime candidate to end up in Victory Lane.

If Gordon is seriously challenged for the win, it may not be Kenseth, but Kevin Harvick that pushes him the hardest. Often, it seems like you never know which version of Harvick will show up in any given week, but judging by his past results at BMS, you’ll see the “Happy” one this week.

Harvick finished second and fourth at BMS last season. He has nine top-fives, and 11 top-10s in 16 Bristol starts. Since ’05, he ranks second in FR at Bristol (103.7), and third in Average Running Position (9.7), Laps in the Top 15 (3,243, 80.9 pct.) and Quality Passes (147). Harvick may not lead for many laps, but expect to see him near the top of the field at the end of the race.

The one prominent driver to avoid this week is Jimmie Johnson. He is not only off to a disappointing start in 2009, but Johnson also has not been impressive in his recent starts at BMS. He has not finished in the top-10 in any of the past four races at Bristol, and has placed outside the top 20 in four of his past seven races at the site.

Johnson has an average finish of 17.4 at BMS, making the site his fourth-worst track on the Sprint Cup circuit in that category. The stat that really puts an exclamation point on “reserve” fantasy status for this week, though, is his DR (73.0). It’s Johnson’s lowest rating at any track on the circuit.

Jeff Burton is the defending champion of this event, but he only has an average finish of 18.5 at BMS, with eight top-fives, and 12 top-10s in 30 starts.

Carl Edwards won the second Bristol race last year, but he has four top-10s in nine BMS starts, with a DR of 92.0 (eighth-best), so he may not be a strong contender to earn a victory this time.

The Atlanta winner, Kurt Busch, will be poised for another strong run. He also has five BMS victories, with nine top-10s in 16 starts. Busch has bounced back nicely early in 2009, and even if he doesn’t make a run at a second consecutive win, he’ll be a very good fantasy selection again this week. Look for him to finish in the top-five.

Greg Biffle has seven top-10s in 12 Bristol starts, so he will be a solid fantasy selection for the event. He leads all Drivers in Quality Passes (166) at the site since ’05.

Kyle Busch is a very strong start, too. He has five top-10s in eight BMS starts, and finished second in the fall race at the site in 2008. Tony Stewart has the fourth-best DR at Bristol since ’05 (102.3).

It’s very important to note that this is the final race in which the top 35 in owner’s points will be based on 2008 results. After the BMS event, those drivers not in the top 35 will have to qualify on time for the weekly race fields.

You should give strong consideration to drivers who are in dangerous positions in the standings, especially when you are looking for mid-range or bargain picks. Mark Martin sits in the wobbly 35th position, as bad luck has plagued him early in ’09. Martin has a DR of 73.9 at BMS, and has only one top-10 finish in his past 12 Bristol races. Yet a major sense of urgency should propel him to a solid finish.

Sam Hornish Jr. is 31st, and his DR of 46.0 at BMS suggests you should steer clear of him at all costs. Ryan Newman (32nd, 82.8 DR), should deliver a respectable finish. Joey Logano (33rd) makes his BMS debut and will challenge for a top 25 spot.

Aric Almirola sits in 36th, and his DR of 67.6 is 21st among all drivers, making him a top value choice for this week. The best lower-tier driver to pinpoint, however, is David Reutimann. His DR of 67.7 is 20th-best since ‘05, and he has finished 29th and 25th in his two Bristol starts.

For my full top 25 for Bristol, plus additional analysis on this week's event and our BlogTakRadio podcast fully previewing the race, visit right here.