Two of the biggest pillars of driver selection in daily fantasy NASCAR are track history and current form. Knowing where drivers sit on both of those spectrums is going to make our lineups look a whole lot nicer at the end of the race.
By looking at which drivers have excelled at this week’s track in the past and those who are currently racing well, we can know which drivers are in line to be good plays for the slate. That’s what we’re going to try to do today, dividing drivers into those two buckets with noteworthy track history or noteworthy current form.
Clearly, this isn’t to say that all of these drivers will be great plays in this race. A lot of that will be dictated by where they start and the scoring history at that track. To read more about what strategies we need to deploy based on starting position, check out this week’s track preview.
Later in the week, once qualifying is in the books, we’ll go through the top plays for the race based on all of these factors. But which drivers should we be keying on for the time being? Let’s check it out. Here are drivers we should monitor for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race.
Kyle Busch (FanDuel Salary: $15,500): Kyle Busch is an elite NASCAR driver, so there are lots of places that he has dominated in the past. That’s just a byproduct of being as good as he is.
But at Bristol, that dominance reaches a whole new level.
Busch is an eight-time winner here, including trophies for three of the past four Bristol races. He has led at least 70 laps in 6 of the past 10, and he led at least 150 laps three times in that span. Basically, if Busch finishes the race, he’s probably at the front.
That caveat about finishing is important, though. Busch has finished off the lead lap in five of the past nine races at the track, meaning it has been truly feast or famine. This is not to say anything ill of Busch; he’s legitimately unreal here. It’s more to show that anybody can get caught up in the high-variance beast that is Bristol. As such, don’t feel as if you have to lock any certain driver into your lineup because anybody can wreck; however, if you do lock in someone, it should likely be Busch.
Kyle Larson ($11,500): Kyle Larson has been knocking on the door of a huge breakout for a while now. After a third-place run last week, he now has top-fives in four of the past seven races. There may not be many places better for him to get his first win since 2017 than Bristol.
Larson has called Bristol his favorite track, and that affection shows up in his results. His 489 laps led here in the past five races are more than any other driver in that span, and he has turned it into two runner-ups and four top-10s. A win is fully within his range of outcomes.
Current form does matter even at tracks as unique as Bristol, which is why it’s important that Larson has been running better recently. You could argue his turnaround started in Dover, which is another high-banked, concrete track like Bristol, as Larson notched a third-place finish there. Combined with his history at this track, Larson is absolutely a mid-tier driver who is capable of running up front and leading laps on Saturday night.
Ryan Blaney ($11,000): Ryan Blaney has run three races at Bristol while driving for Penske Racing. He has led at least 100 laps in all three races, including a race-high 158 this spring. That would seem noteworthy in a section dedicated to course horses.
Blaney’s average running position in all three of those races was sixth or better, but it didn’t always result in a great finish. In the spring, he pitted late while others stayed out, leading to a fourth-place run. Last year’s night race saw him finish seventh. And in the spring last year, Blaney had led 100 of 117 laps when this happened.
Basically, his luck has been doodoo, so even with all of those laps out front, he has just one top-five finish to show for it.
The current form is there for Blaney, too, with a seventh-place average running position last week in Michigan and six top-10s in his past nine races. As long as Blaney doesn’t run into trouble again, we should expect him to be running near the front by the end of the race.
Jimmie Johnson ($8,800): Whenever you talk about Jimmie Johnson’s history at a track, you basically have to ignore what happened prior to 2018. He has struggled the past two years, and because of that, he’s currently on the outside looking in for the playoffs. But even recently, Johnson has had strong cars at Bristol.
In the three Bristol races since Johnson’s downturn really took hold, he has three top-10 finishes. That includes a third-place run in last year’s spring race where he had a seventh-place average running position. His average running position was 10th for the two races after that, and those aren’t bad marks for a driver in this salary range. Even when wiping out the success Johnson had here during his dominant seasons, he still looks pretty enticing.
Johnson has finished 15th or worse in five straight races, and he has been 30th or worse three times in that span. Current form is very much not on his side. But he did have good speed in practice in Michigan, and he showed in the spring that he can still run well in Bristol. As long as the lap averages in Friday’s practices paint Johnson in a positive light, we should be willing to consider him here as a value option.
Chris Buescher ($7,200): Chris Buescher has had some great runs in 2019, showing growth in the driver but also gains in the equipment underneath him. But Bristol was a spot he ran well at even before they made those gains.
Buescher got his second career Cup Series top-five in Bristol back in 2016, a fifth-place run legitimized by a 14th-place average running position. Last year in the night race, Buescher restarted fourth with 22 laps to go, but contact with Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson cut down a tire, sending Buescher back to a 19th-place finish. His average running position was 14th there, as well.
We’ve seen Buescher at Bristol just once with his improved equipment, and once again, a tire issue masked an elite run. Buescher had an 11th-place average running position — the second-best mark of his career — before finishing 22nd. He enters Bristol riding a streak of 12 straight top-20 finishes, including three top-10s and seven top-15s in that time. For a driver in this salary tier, that’s unparalleled consistency. As long as Buescher continues to qualify in the back half of the field, he’ll keep on being a reliable value play with more upside than most of his similarly-salaried peers.
Ty Dillon ($5,500): In the extreme low-dollar department, you’ve got a couple of options. David Ragan ($4,000) — who just announced this will be his final year as a full-time driver — has had a top-20 average running position in four straight Bristol races. Bubba Wallace ($6,000) had a 13th-place average running position here in the spring of last year and actually led laps under green. But let’s take a second to talk about Ty Dillon.
Dillon was impressive this spring, actually winning the opening stage of the race (largely because Clint Bowyer made a gaffe in choosing the inside lane on a late-stage restart, but a stage win is a stage win). He had a 13th-place average running position for the race and finished 15th, one of his better runs at a non-pack-racing track this year.
Dillon hasn’t been bad of late, either. He was not among those who ran out of fuel late at Michigan, helping boost him to an 11th-place finish, but he also had a 19th-place average running position for the full race. He was 16th in New Hampshire, another track — like Bristol — that de-emphasizes equipment. We likely shouldn’t expect Dillon to claim another stage win Saturday night, but a top-15 run from someone in this salary tier would go a long way toward building a competitive lineup.
Denny Hamlin ($13,000): Denny Hamlin has been on an absolute heater of late. He has had a top-six average running position in four straight races, and all four have been relatively unique tracks. Bristol is different from all four of them, but it does bode well for Hamlin this weekend.
It’s not just that Hamlin is running well, either; he’s cashing that in with top-end finishes. He led 113 laps in New Hampshire, won in Pocono, finished third in Watkins Glen, and was runner-up in Michigan while having the fastest car in the race.
Hamlin’s history at Bristol isn’t anything jaw-dropping, but he did finish fifth here in the spring race, and he has a win in his past. But that doesn’t matter all that much. Speed is speed anywhere, and Hamlin has been at another level of late. We have to view him as being among the top-tier drivers entering the weekend with how strong he has been.
Kurt Busch ($10,600): Because Kurt Busch is a recent winner at Bristol, we probably should have put him in the section on track history. But that win came with a different team, meaning an examination of his current form is more relevant. Thankfully for him, even that says he’s a driver we need to monitor.
The finishes for Busch are fully underwhelming, but they’re also deceptive. He has had a top-nine average running position in three of the past five races, but in two of those, he finished outside the top 15 due to late issues. He won the other race, besting little brother Kyle in a tight finish. Busch has run well since then, and it will eventually lead to good results.
In Busch’s first race with Chip Ganassi Racing at Bristol, he finished second behind Kyle after starting 27th. His teammate, Larson, has mopped up here. The new team shouldn’t push us off of Busch, nor should the middling finishes recently.
Paul Menard ($7,300): Entering the weekend, three of the top four drivers in my model drive for Penske Racing (Blaney, Joey Logano ($13,500), and Brad Keselowski ($12,500)). Paul Menard — not surprisingly — isn’t in that tier. But he does have similar equipment with Wood Brothers Racing holding a technical alliance with Penske, and if we’re into those other three, Menard deserves a bit of chatter as a potential value option.
Menard is similar to the aforementioned Buescher where he has had good consistency all year long. He has notched six straight top-18 finishes, and he has finished outside the top 20 just four times all season. At a track where attrition is so high, that’s pretty desirable.
The issue with Menard is upside. He has just two top-10s in that stretch, and for someone who tends to qualify fairly well, that’s a red flag. One of those top-10s, though, came in Bristol when he started ninth, inched his way as high as third at one point, and finished sixth. It was easily his best run of the year, and all of the Penske cars were equally fast.
Menard will be a low-upside option if he qualifies at the front, and that’s typically how things go for him. But if he were to fail post-qualifying inspection or slip up in qualifying, putting his official starting position further back, then he’d be a strong option in this range.
Matt DiBenedetto ($7,000): Matt DiBenedetto has four top-10s this year; all of them have come within the past eight races. And while the four tracks are all different from Bristol, they share one key similarity that will benefit DiBenedetto on Saturday night.
The common thread for all four tracks is that they put more emphasis on the driver than the equipment. DiBenedetto was fourth and sixth at the two road courses, which require plenty of off-throttle time. The same is true at the flat track in New Hampshire.
You’re not off the throttle in Daytona, but it’s another spot where equipment is a bit less important than the driver who is wielding it. When they went to a faster track in Michigan last week, where drivers can almost hold it wide open, it shouldn’t have surprised that DiBenedetto finished just 20th.
DiBenedetto showed he could compete at Bristol back in the spring, putting up impressive numbers in practice and turning his 12th-place average running position into a 12th-place finish. He’s in the same bucket as Buescher where they’re good drivers in improving equipment, and that’s the exact type of play we should actively seek out in a race like this.