This week’s race: Irwin Tools Night Race
Traditional Name: Southeastern 500
Other Notable Names: Sharpie 500, Goody’s 500, Busch 500
It’s Bristol Baby!
Those three words send shivers up NASCAR fans’ spines and can make fantasy owners just a little weak in the knees. Danger lurks around every corner and drivers often put the car in carnage, but for those who get it right, there are few more satisfying moments than winning on this bullring.
A dozen active drivers have won on this track, but half of them have only a single victory. A few more have two or three wins, which underscores just how difficult it can be to find Victory Lane—and just how special that is. There is a reason why so few drivers have multiple wins; Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, and Kurt Busch have combined for 15 wins during their careers. Each of them has five victories and the competition to take sole possession of the active record will be fierce. None of them will take possession of the all-time win’s total anytime soon. Even if they went on a miraculous run, it would take more than three years to catch Darrell Waltrip and his total of 12.
For the moment all fantasy owners care about is this week. Handicapping the Irwin Tools Night Race is not as easy as one would imagine on a rhythm track. Four drivers enter the weekend with back-to-back top-10s, but only two of them have streaks longer than two races. Equally impressive, the two drivers with long streaks are not the ones normally associated with short track racing, so players who do their homework have a great opportunity to differentiate their roster from the competition.
10 best drivers at Bristol
Over the past six races, these drivers have the best average finish.
1. Brian Vickers
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 8.50
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 21.0 in 20 starts
Players’ eyes are not deceiving them: Vickers is the driver with the best record during the past three years at Bristol. If one looks only at the races contested for Michael Waltrip Racing, he has a perfect record of top-10s and an average of 6.0 in five races. Before joining the Cup series, he was incredibly strong in Nationwide competition and he has finally found the groove in the elite division as well.
2. Kasey Kahne
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 11.33
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 17.0 in 21 starts
One thing that makes Kahne’s six-race average so impressive is that it includes a crash-induced 37th-place finish in his first attempt with Hendrick Motorsports. That is his single poor performance in the past eight races; all of his other attempts ended 11th or better. And yet, he is still considered to be a better value on unrestricted, intermediate speedways and could sneak up on the fantasy competition this week.
3. Clint Bowyer
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 11.83
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 16.0 in 17 starts
Bowyer shows a good mix of raw strength and consistency at Bristol. He had a three-race, top-10 streak to his credit entering last year’s edition of the Irwin Tools Night Race, but could manage only a 14th. This spring he backed that up with a 15th in the Food City 500. Players can expect another finish in the high single digits or low teens this week, which will not secure his position in the Chase, but could help win this week’s fantasy contest.
4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 12.00 (3 starts)
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 12.0 in 3 starts
Stenhouse is another driver whose name does not get called out very often on the top of a chart such as this—and Roush-Fenway Racing power is usually associated with unrestricted, intermediate speedways. The driver of the No. 17 shocked the field this spring with a second-place finish to his teammate Carl Edwards, but he had been consistent on this track last year with a 16th-place finish in the spring and an 18th in the fall.
5. Brad Keselowski (tied with Logano)
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 13.17
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 14.3 in 9 starts
The last six Bristol races have been feast of famine for Keselowski. He won back-to-back races in fall 2011 and spring 2012—then crashed and fell more than 65 laps off the pace in his next attempt. He rebounded to finish third in last spring’s Food City 500 and then crashed in the Irwin Tools Night Race and finished 30th. This spring, he averaged out those results and finished 14th, so it is anyone’s guess what Saturday night’s race holds.
5. Joey Logano (tied with Keselowski)
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 13.17
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 19.9 in 11 starts
Logano has only two top-10s at Bristol, but they both came in the Irwin Tools Night Race with a fifth last year and an eighth in 2012. This is a track that has different characteristics from spring to fall because the August race has traditionally been run under the lights, while spring is a daytime affair. Logano’s 20th-place finish this spring should not keep fantasy players from selecting him this week.
7. Matt Kenseth
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 13.67
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 12.5 in 29 starts
Kenseth’s most recent Bristol win came in this race last year. That kicked off a streak of eight straight results of 12th or better and included two more victories. This week, he does not have nearly as much momentum going. Kenseth has suffered crash damage in the last two oval races and finished 38th each time. If he stays out of trouble, the No. 20 could be a good value, but too much is on the line to automatically assume he will have an incident-free race.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (tied with Ambrose)
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 13.83
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 12.0 in 29 starts
There might be something in Earnhardt’s genetic makeup that predisposes him to run well at Bristol. His father had nine victories on this track and rarely finished outside the top 15. Junior has only one win, but he has finished worse than 16th only five times in 29 starts. The issue this week is going to be price since the driver of the No. 88 is one of the most expensive in the field and he has scored top-10s in fewer than half of his career starts and in only 25 percent of his latest eight attempts on this track.
8. Marcos Ambrose (tied with Earnhardt)
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 13.83
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 14.9 in 11 starts
Conventional wisdom says that road course drivers are supposed to excel on flat tracks. Ambrose has never subscribed to that notion and has always been better on the high banks of Bristol. He finished in the top 10 in his first two starts on this track and has two more such finishes in the latest two races there. Altogether, he has finished 10th or better in more than half of his attempts on this bullring and that makes him one of this week’s top sleepers.
10. Denny Hamlin
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 14.17
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 15.5 in 17 starts
Hamlin is another driver who has been hit or miss in recent seasons. His last six starts at Bristol ended in three top-10s and three results in the 20s. What makes him appealing this week is that one of his strong runs was a victory in the 2012 Irwin Tools Night Race, but since that is also his only top-five since 2009 he is not an automatic pick.
Others of Note
12. Jeff Gordon
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 14.83
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 15.5 in 17 starts
Prior to last week’s impressive win by Gordon at Michigan, his latest victory on that track came in 2001. Both the 2001 and 2014 wins came from the pole. Gordon’s most recent win at Bristol was in 2002—and it also came after he won the pole. If the No. 24 starts first this week, there is a better-than-average chance that he will finish there as well.
13. Jimmie Johnson
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 15.33
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 15.4 in 25 starts
Johnson is this week’s cautionary tale about putting too much faith in momentum. From 2009 through 2012, he scored seven top-10s in eight Bristol races. His single victory and only earned pole came in that span of races—and then the success dissipated like smoke. None of his latest three starts began among the top 10 or ended in the top 15 and he has failed to finish on the lead lap in any of those events.
14. Kyle Busch
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 15.67
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 10.9 in 19 starts
If Johnson did not hammer the point home about the difficulty of putting faith in momentum, Busch might. He won four of five Bristol races from 2009 through 2011. He has sustained crash damage in four of his last six attempts on the bullring and finished sixth and second in the other two events. Busch is the consummate all-or-nothing driver and fantasy owners must assess their stomach for risk before activating him.
15. Greg Biffle
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 15.83
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 12.0 in 23 starts
In the past six Bristol races Biffle has been consistent, but not overly strong. He has finished on the lead lap in five of those races and scored top-15s in two-thirds of his starts, but he has only one top-10. Even that single top-10 was a modest one; he finished ninth in last year’s Irwin Tools Night Race after starting 29th.
18. Ryan Newman
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 16.67
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 17.0 in 25 starts
Bristol should fit well into Newman’s wheelhouse. This track is built for fire hydrants like him and Cale Yarborough, and yet Newman has only earned a single top-five in 25 starts. The good news is that he rarely misses by much and has top-10s in slightly more than half his starts, which makes him a decent value in games where he is priced right.
19. AJ Allmendinger
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 16.75 (4 starts)
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 25.7 in 12 starts
Momentum cannot always be relied upon, but it can be a powerful force. In 12 starts, Allmendinger has yet to crack the top 10 at Bristol, but he has earned three top-20 finishes in his last four attempts—and he is coming off a victory at the Glen and a top-15 at Michigan. Equally impressive, his three top-20s in this track came for three different teams including the lightly-funded No. 51 of James Finch.
20. Jeff Burton
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 19.80 (5 starts)
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 18.2 in 40 starts
For the second consecutive week, Burton will substitute for Tony Stewart. By the numbers, it would not seem as if this would be one of his best opportunities since he sustained crash damage in four of the last seven events including his most recent three. Since he struggle last week at Michigan, however, there is some hope that he will rebound this week and have an emotionally impactful strong run.
22. Carl Edwards
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 21.33
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 15.2 in 20 starts
Edwards finished second at Bristol in 2011; he won his third race on that track this spring, but in between he has been much less powerful. From the spring 2012 Food City 500 through last fall’s Irwin Tools Night Race he scored only one top-20 in four starts. With this week’s formal announcement that he will leave Ford to join what Jack Roush has identified as the evil empire (Toyota), one has to wonder if he is still getting the best equipment and fantasy owners have a right to be concerned.
23. Aric Almirola
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 21.80 (5 starts)
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 26.1 in 11 starts
Both Richard Petty Motorsports drivers performed well this spring at Bristol. Almirola crossed under the checkers third with Ambrose in fifth, but the driver of the No. 43 was much less accustomed to being at the front of the pack on this track. That was only his second top-10 and fourth top-15 in 11 starts, which is not much of a recommendation to start Almirola this week.
24. Kurt Busch
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 22.17
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 14.8 in 27 starts
Last week’s race is an object lesson for players who want to start Busch. He is an immensely talented driver, but he lacks control at key moments of a race. He was racing Joey Logano for the lead late in the Pure Michigan 400 and slammed the wall. Two of his last three Bristol attempts also resulted in crash damage and he finished outside the top 25 each time. When he stays out of trouble he is a great value, however, and the other event during the past four races ended in a top-five.
25. Kevin Harvick
Last six races average finish at Bristol: 22.50
Career avg. finish at Bristol: 14.3 in 27 starts
Rhythm tracks like Bristol follow patterns. A driver often describes a moment when a switch seems to flip and they run well for an extended period of time. Occasionally the switch gets flipped off, however, and that is what happened to Harvick in 2009. Before then, he scored nine top-fives in 16 starts. In the 11 races since, he has only one top-10.
Driver: 3-Yr Avg. / Starts
1. Brian Vickers: 8.50 / 6
2. Kasey Kahne: 11.33 / 6
3. Clint Bowyer: 11.83 / 6
4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: 12.00 / 3
5. Joey Logano: 13.17 / 6
5. Brad Keselowski: 13.17 / 6
7. Matt Kenseth: 13.67 / 6
8. Marcos Ambrose: 13.83 / 6
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 13.83 / 6
10. Denny Hamlin: 14.17 / 6
11. Paul Menard: 14.33 / 6
12. Jeff Gordon: 14.83 / 6
13. Jimmie Johnson: 15.33 / 6
14. Kyle Busch: 15.67 / 6
15. Greg Biffle: 15.83 / 6
16. Jamie McMurray: 16.00 / 6
17. Martin Truex Jr.: 16.50 / 6
18. Ryan Newman: 16.67 / 6
19. AJ Allmendinger: 16.75 / 4
20. Jeff Burton (#14): 19.80 / 5
21. Tony Stewart (not entered): 20.80 / 5
22. Carl Edwards: 21.33 / 6
23. Aric Almirola: 21.80 / 5
24. Kurt Busch: 22.17 / 6
25. Kevin Harvick: 22.50 / 6
26. David Ragan: 23.17 / 6
27. David Gilliland: 23.50 / 6
28. Casey Mears: 24.00 / 6
29. Danica Patrick: 25.25 / 4
30. Landon Cassill: 27.80 / 5
31. Travis Kvapil: 28.17 / 6
32. David Stremme: 28.80 / 5
33. JJ Yeley: 31.50 / 6
34. Dave Blaney: 33.00 / 6
35. Josh Wise: 33.40 / 5
36. Reed Sorenson: 35.00 / 3
37. Michael McDowell: 35.50 / 6
38. Joe Nemechek: 38.67 / 6
39. Ryan Truex: 42.00 / 2
Most caution flags: 20 (three times), 2003 Sharpie 500, 1997 Food City 500, 1989 Valleydale Meats 500
Fewest caution flags: 0, 1971 Volunteer 500
Average number of caution flags per race: 8.9
Final Caution, last five races:
March 2014: Lap 500 of 503: caution laps inadvertently tripped.
August 2013: Lap 448 of 500: 8-car accident in turn 3 (Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Ken Schrader, Brad Keselowski, Casey Mears, and David Stremme)
March 2013: Lap 456 of 500: 1-car accident in turn 3 (Jimmie Johnson)
August 2012: Lap 436 of 500: 2-car accident on frontstretch (Danica Patrick and Regan Smith)
March 2012: Lap 479 of 500: 1-car accident in turn 3 (Tony Stewart)
Most caution laps: 167, 1965 Volunteer 500
Fewest caution laps: 0, 1971 Volunteer 500
Average number of caution laps per race: 62.9
Leading the way
Most leaders: 16, 1989 Valleydale Meats 500
Fewest leaders: 1, 1973 Southeastern 500
Average number of leaders: 6.7
Most lead changes: 40, 1991 Valleydale Meats 500
Fewest lead changes: 0, 1973 Southeastern 500
Average number of lead changes: 12.9
Last five winners at Bristol (starting position):
March 2014: Carl Edwards (12)
August 2013: Matt Kenseth (5)
March 2013: Kasey Kahne (2)
August 2012: Denny Hamlin (8)
March 2012: Brad Keselowski (5)
Worst starting position for race winner: 38th, Elliott Sadler 2001 Food City 500
A race at Bristol has been won by the pole sitter 22 times and from the front row 35 times in 107 races.
Active winners at Bristol:
Kurt Busch: 5
Kyle Busch: 5
Jeff Gordon: 5
Carl Edwards: 3
Matt Kenseth: 3
Brad Keselowski: 2
Jeff Burton: 1
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 1
Denny Hamlin: 1
Kevin Harvick: 1
Jimmie Johnson: 1
Kasey Kahne: 1
Tony Stewart: 1
First time winners at Bristol:
2002: Kurt Busch, Food City 500
2001: Elliott Sadler, Food City 500
1990: Ernie Irvan, Busch 500
1986: Rusty Wallace, Valleydale 500
1979: Dale Earnhardt Sr., Southeastern 500
Running at the End
The following active drivers have been running at the end of every Bristol race they started:
Kyle Busch (19)
Paul Menard (14)
AJ Allmendinger (12)
Marcos Ambrose (11)
Brad Keselowski (9)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (3)
Justin Allgaier (1)
Michael Annett (1)
Alex Bowman (1)
Austin Dillon (1)
Kyle Larson (1)
Cole Whitt (1)
Jamie McMurray had been running at the end of all 22 races he started until he wrecked 50 laps from the end of the Food City 500 this spring.