Following Brad Keselowski’s victory at Richmond, NASCAR heads west ever so slightly. The final leg of the first round of the playoffs commences at the high banks of Bristol this Saturday evening. Let’s jump into this week’s NASCAR DFS preview and gauge expectations for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race.
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Playoff Update Following Richmond
Before I go any further, you may wonder why you should even care about the playoffs. I mean, it’s not like the playoff drivers are the only ones competing. Simply put, it comes down to motivation. Knowing that drivers like 15th-place Matt Dibenedetto (-25) and 16th-place Ryan Blaney (-27) basically need wins to advance to the next round is worth knowing.
Speaking of those two, following back-to-back disappointing finishes at Darlington and Richmond, both find themselves in such a large hole that only a win can save them. Just above them sits rookie Cole Custer, who is eight points out, while William Byron is only three points out of the final transfer spot.
On the other end of the spectrum, the only real problem to solve is the order of nine through 12. Kyle Busch sits in ninth with an 18-point cushion. Meanwhile, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch only enjoy a seven-point lead while Clint Bowyer is just three points above Byron for that final spot. The rest of the playoff field has either clenched or would need an unlikely 40th-place finished followed by a driver in 13th through 16th winning the race to lose their spot.
Bristol in the Spring
Unlike Richmond last weekend, we actually have past race data to look at for this Saturday. On May 31, the Cup Series went to Bristol for the Food City Presents the Supermarket Heroes 500. What I remember most about this race was not my Blaney ownership, which looked great early and then cratered on lap 200. No, it was the incessant cautions. In fact, that day saw 17 cautions, the most any Bristol race had seen since the spring 2006 event.
That race was so riddled with cautions, over 100 laps worth, that the average green flag run only lasted 22.1 laps. To be honest, we shouldn’t be surprised that scenario could happen at Bristol considering its length and banking. Even if we return to a normal number in the single digits, it will be quite the contrast compared to last weekend at Richmond.
The one thing that should stick with you is how much the optimal lineup changed in the final 10 laps. With 10 laps to go, Joey Logano made a move on Hamlin that cut down his tire. Going from first to 17th, suddenly Hamlin’s 131 laps led didn’t matter nearly as much. After restarting with five to go, Logano was on his way to victory before Chase Elliott tried to pass him with two to go. Instead of making the pass, Elliott plowed himself and Logano into the wall as the pair finished 21st and 22nd, respectively.
Keselowski maneuvered around the wrecking pair to win the race. Behind Keselowski were Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson, both drivers who started in the 20s. In a span of 10 laps, the optimal lineup went from a three- or four-dominator build to a two-dominator and place differential lineup.
Fall 2018 Bristol
Obviously there are caveats in saying drivers who were good in the spring should excel this Saturday evening. Perhaps if you wanted to go back to lap 490 before the final chaos started, you could. However, the biggest difference between that race in May and Saturday’s is the day versus night part. The majority of Saturday’s race will be run under the stars. Therefore, before we give too much credence to the race in May, let’s look at the fall 2018 race.
In the 2020 750-horsepower package, we continue to find ourselves looking back to short track races in the 2018 season as better corollaries than last season. The 2018 Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race saw Kurt Busch take the lead late (477) from teammate Clint Bowyer. Coincidentally, those 24 laps Busch would go on to lead were the only laps he led all night.
While this race was cleaner than our spring 2020 race, you might remember this race for what happened on lap 3. Fifteen cars were caught up in pileup along the front stretch. Nearly all of those involved would continue to race. Yet, that should always be warning to us just what is capable of happening at Bristol.
NASCAR DFS-wise, we saw four dominators that evening. Those four main lap leaders all led at least 95 laps apiece, while no one led more than 121 laps. Pole sitter Kyle Larson was disappointing that evening with just 17 totals laps led despite finishing second. Only one of those dominators (Chase Elliot, two) started better than 10th. That is quite the contrast to our spring race where the lap leaders all started top 10.
Five hundred laps will be our longest race of the season, tied with the previous Bristol and Martinsville races. It also gives us a glut of dominator points. Therefore, with so many dominator points up for grabs, our need for them increases. At a minimum, you’ll need three on DraftKings in cash and possibly four in tournaments. When a fourth driver leads 10% or more of the race at Bristol, the laps led number falls around 70.6 on average. Combine those laps led with the fastest laps and they could easily end up with enough dominator points to become optimal.
On FanDuel, lineups should be centered around two lap leaders on the low end with three at max. Remember, with no consideration to fastest laps on FanDuel, we’re looking at just 50 bonus points for laps led. Regardless of whether DraftKings or FanDuel, you will undoubtedly have to get comfortable with rostering a punt plays. If you go with a four-dominator build, you’ll probably end up with two punts. While that kind of lineup construction seems scary, it has been optimal in the past.
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