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Aug 17, 2018

Best Bets - Bristol

Be sure to follow VegasInsider.com on Twitter @TwitVI for the latest NASCAR updates and trends. Daniel E. Dobish can be followed on Twitter at danieledobish.

Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.

The MENCS returns to Bristol Motor Speedway for the second time this season for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. The green flag drops at the "Last Great Colosseum", a.k.a "The World's Fastest Half-Mile" at 6:46 p.m. ET and will be televised on NBCSN. The race was moved up slightly due to the potential of weather popping up and affecting the race later in the evening.
 
All eyes will be on Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch (3/1), as he looks to continue the dominance of the 'Big Three' on Saturday night. Busch, Kevin Harvick (17/4) has Martin Truex Jr. (10/1) have combined to win 17 of this season's 23 races, including Busch's checkered flag at Bristol back on April 16 in the Food City 500. In fact, Busch will be 'gunning' (see what I did there with the NRA tie-in? lol) for his third consecutive race at the track former driver and FOX commentator Darrell Waltrip likened to "racing in a blender."
 
Busch has posted a 103.8 Driver Rating across his past five starts at Bristol, according to NASCAR's Loop Data, leading a circuit-best 529 laps during the five-race span. While he has a 22.8 Average-Finish Position (AFP) during the stretch, thanks in large part to his awful luck in 2016 when he posted a pair of DNFs, he does have the back-to-back wins to make him the favorite. Harvick actually leads everyone with a 109.6 Driver Rating over the past five starts, leading 155 laps, but running a circuit-best 92.0 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. While the fans of NASCAR might want to see someone break up the Big Three monopoly, Bristol might not be the place where they'll get their wishes. Bettors and fantasy players will keep rolling with the likes of Busch and Harvick, and they'll probably be cashing winners again on Saturday.

Furniture Row's Truex hasn't been as dominant at this track, and is probably a good reason his odds are much longer than the two favorites. He is ninth among all drivers with a 92.3 Driver Rating, leading 116 laps during the past five starts at Bristol. However, he has managed to run just 57.1 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, and he has a rather mediocre 19.2 AFP during the span. Over his past 10 starts at Bristol he has cracked the Top 10 just once, and that was an eighth-place run in the night race back in 2016. Even in his championship season of 2017 he was a rather marginal 21st in the spring race and 30th in the summer run. As such, he'll struggle mightily to live up to his high DFS price tag, and he isn't worth eating the chalk at the betting window.

If anyone is to break up the Big Three monopoly, Vegas feels Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson (4/1) might have the goods. Like Busch, Larson had his mechanical or crash issues in a three-race span from the summer of 2015 through the 2016 campaign. However, since the spring race in 2017 at Bristol, he has been as dominant as anyone on the half-mile track. Larson posted a sixth-place showing last spring, a ninth-place run in the night race last summer and he was a runner-up earlier this season in Thunder Valley. As such, if you want to be somewhat of a contrarian and go against the Big Three, Larson is the guy you'll want to build your fantasy squad around.

Roush Fenway Racing's Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (22/1) could also be someone to crash the Big Three party, and he might potentially burst the bubble for one of the fringe Chase pursuers in the process. Stenhouse has posted nine Top 10 finishes so far this season, including a fourth-place showing at Bristol back in April. There is something about Thunder Valley that agrees with him, as he has six Top-10 showings over his past nine starts at the track, including a runner-up in the night race back in 2016, and the spring run in 2014. While he has never won in 11 tries at Bristol, he has four Top 5s, six Top 10s and an AFP of 10.2, leading all active drivers in that category. While he has never ticked off a single lap in his career at the front of the pack at this track, he also has zero DNFs.

Time is running out for Hendrick Motorsports driver and seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson (20/1). He could potentially miss the Chase, although he is still 92 points clear of the line at the moment. That all could change if someone like Stenhouse rises up and snags a checkered flag, putting him in a desperation battle with teammate Alex Bowman (40/1) of all people. And don't look now, but Bowman could be another potential sleeper to interfere with Johnson's playoff plans. He posted an impressive fifth-place showing in the spring race. Johnson has two career wins at Bristol in 33 starts, and his 13.3 AFP is third-best among active full-time drivers. The good news for Johnson is that he has led 914 laps at the track while posting just one DNF. But dominant historical numbers are one thing, but this season has been a struggle for the 48 team and he is a risky proposition for both bettors and fantasy players alike.

Never sleep on the Fords from the Penske Racing stable, either, especially at Bristol. Brad Keselowski (12/1) won the back-to-back Bristol runs in the summer of 2011 and the spring of 2012, and he has four Top 5s in 17 career starts. While he has never had a DNF in his career at the track, it has been hit-or-miss over the years for the driver of the No. 2. His career 18.2 AFP ranks 21st among all driver in Saturday's field. Teammate Joey Logano (14/1) checks in seventh in Driver Rating (99.6) over his past five starts at the track, and he has a victory as recent as the Irwin Tools Night Race in Aug. 2015. In fact, he won back-to-back night events at Thunder Valley in both the summer of 2014 and 2015. His AFP in 19 career starts is better than Kes, as he has a 16.2 AFP with four Top 5s, eight Top 10s and just one DNF while running out front for a total of 523 laps in his career at the short track.

Don't forget about JGR's Denny Hamlin (10/1) or Erik Jones (14/1), either. Even Daniel Suarez (75/1) is worth keeping an eye on, especially for fantasy players. Hamlin has one win under his belt in 25 career Bristol starts, posting seven Top 5s and 12 Top 10s with 611 laps and a 15.3 AFP. Over his past four outings at the track he has an impressive 7.5 AFP, so he isn't a bad cheaper alternative to the Big Three. Jones diesn't have a lengthy history in a Cup car at Bristol, but he did record a runner-up finish last season in the night race behind his teammate in the No. 18. Suarez continues to get better on this run, too, posting an 18th in the spring race in 2017, 15th in the summer night race last season and an 11th-place showing back in April. If his upward trajectory continues, a Top 10 showing would more than satisfy DFS players nabbing him at a mid-tier price. 

Others worth watching include Chase Elliott (14/1), although he was a Cup career-worst 29th in the spring race. Ryan Newman (100/1) always seems to lurk at this track, and has 18 Top 10s in 33 career starts with a respectable 15.8 AFP. Stewart-Haas Racing's Clint Bowyer (14/1) and Kurt Busch (20/1) are also flying a bit under the radar this week. Bowyer has a strong 15.0 AFP in 25 career starts with 12 Top 10s and 137 laps led at Bristol, while the elder Busch has won five times in 35 career starts with a 15.1 AFP and 1,062 laps led. It's amazing his odds are so long, so there is some value there despite the fact he hasn't been running as well as he can lately.

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