Following Martin Truex Jr.’s victory at Richmond, NASCAR heads to Bristol Motor Speedway to close out the first round of the playoffs. Let’s review this past weekend’s NASCAR DFS stats, how the playoffs stand in a make-or-break week for several drivers, and what to expect for NASCAR DFS at Bristol in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race.
NASCAR DFS Bass Pro Shops Night Race Preview
Truex Clinches His Seat in Round 2
Despite his victory in Richmond, the night did not get off to a resounding start for Truex. After Kyle Larson failed technical inspection in the pre-race hours, Truex loosely inherited the lead. Perhaps with an itchy foot on the gas pedal or forgetting that Denny Hamlin was now the driver who had to cross the finish line first, Truex jumped the initial green flag and had to fall to the back. Truex’s mistake turned out to be just a minor setback, as he took the lead on Lap 132, albeit just for a lap before Larson and Christopher Bell passes him.
Following long stretches of green flag runs due to a race that saw only two real cautions (both single-car accidents), Truex finally grabbed the lead for good on Lap 351. He set sail from then on, lapping all but nine vehicles in the process and winning over Hamlin by over a second and a half. Although Truex missed 100-plus laps led, this was still the eighth time in 10 races at Richmond that Truex had led a substantial number of laps. Furthermore, Richmond made a case for track-history truthers, as he showed up with diminishing dominator potential based on how the previous races in the 750-horsepower package had gone since the first Darlington event.
With his victory, Truex now has a guaranteed seat in the second round of the playoffs, joining Hamlin, who stamped his ticket the previous Sunday in Darlington.
Round 1 Culminates in Bristol
Not having to worry about results in Bristol is fantastic news for Truex, who has an average finish of 22.3 there since 2018. However, for the bulk of the playoff field, the need to perform well or beyond expectations is on their shoulders. Single digits separate Kyle Busch, currently in 10th, from Alex Bowman in 13th — the first driver out.
Starting at the top, Larson has locked his way into Round 2 via his 98-point lead over 12th place. He has traditionally performed very well at Bristol throughout his career, but with Bristol having very little, if any, correlation to Martinsville or Phoenix, chances are the No. 5 team is going to go out looking for a win instead of a testing ground. Sitting in fourth is Joey Logano with a 40-point cushion over 12th. While not guaranteed a spot, Logano needs anything better than 22nd on Saturday evening to assure him of his place in Round 2.
Ryan Blaney (+28) and Kevin Harvick (+25) are in seats 5 and 6 with notable leads over the final cutoff spot. Blaney’s last two races did him a great deal of securing his place where he is now, while Harvick continues to play the points game in a season where the speed continues to elude him, even in the playoffs. Chase Elliott, Bell and Brad Keselowski made up spots 7 through 9, as they all have a double-digit point lead over Kurt Busch and Bowman. Busch and Bowman have identical playoff points, but Busch has the tiebreaker.
Bringing up the rear are the Bowman, Tyler Reddick, William Byron and Michael McDowell. With only 8 points separating Aric Almirola in 11th from Reddick in 14th, these final seats should change position quite a lot during Saturday’s 500-lap event. McDowell’s departure from the playoff grid was all but a given two races ago in Darlington, especially for a driver on a team that may not even exist next year in the Cup Series. As per Byron, opening the playoffs with subpar finishes of 18th and 15th is disappointing. His 18-point gap to Busch in 12th means he is going to need a career night in Tennessee and a little help from drivers currently ahead of him.
The Last Great Colosseum
As stated earlier, the third race in the 2021 playoffs and the final race in the first round get underway this Saturday evening in Bristol. Technically, this will be NASCAR’s first visit to the high-banked, half-mile oval, as this spring’s Bristol race was the infamous dirt race. Those digging into the research should keep the Bristol dirt race results out of their DFS process. That would be akin to adding Charlotte roval results to Coke 600 research. Just because a race happened at the same track in no way means it is a corollary, especially when talking about a spring dirt race versus a typical September afternoon-into-evening race on the Bristol asphalt.
Regardless, with no spring Bristol Motor Speedway race to hearken back to, the process goes back to nearly a year ago on Sept. 19 in the 2020 Bass Pro Shops Night Race. In that event Harvick led (226) almost half of the 500 laps en route to victory, as just six drivers managed to finish on the lead lap. Kyle Busch finished second and showed that he could still be a contender even in a down-season. Busch’s 159 laps led came even after starting at the rear for multiple failures during technical inspection. Furthermore, Erik Jones, who finished third that night, also had to go to the rear for failing tech. Let last weekend at Richmond and last year’s event be a reminder that with 500 laps a good driver in good equipment can make his way through the field.
Harvick and Busch were the stories of that Saturday night, as they showed the best long-run speed, with them leading all but two of the final 370 laps. Harvick’s victory also broke a streak of two straight wins by the pole sitter at Bristol. That night’s pole sitter, Keselowski, was an early factor, leading 82 of the first 106 laps. However, Keselowski experienced issues throughout the night, finishing in 34th.
DFS Implications for Bristol Motor Speedway
Projecting Bristol Motor Speedway is tough. It can be a lap turner, or it can become a race of attrition. That previous night race from 2020 only had three actual cautions. Compare that to the spring race in 2020 that saw 15 yellow flags thrown. With this track’s high banks and short nature, this should be a track where drivers are turning others or getting turned themselves. Considering the stakes of good results at Bristol (i.e., advancing into Round 2 of the playoffs), DFS players should expect a race bordering on nine or more cautions this Saturday. If attrition is probable, the punt plays have potential upside, especially in lieu of the next point.
Second, there is the whole 500-laps factor. Alongside Martinsville, this will be the most dominator points available for the taking all season. Nailing dominators will be of utmost importance. The only issue is deciding how many to roster. In that fall 2020 race, three drivers were dominators, but only two were worth rostering, as the third dominator (Keselowski) finished 34th after starting first. In the previously mentioned spring race, five drivers led at least 10% (50 laps) or more of the race. This same scenario happened in the fall 2019 race, as five drivers led 50 or more laps, but not all of them ended up optimal.
At the low end DFS lineups have to have a baseline of at least two dominators. With five of the last eight Bristol races having at least four drivers lead 50 laps, then tournament lineups should match that with four dominators. Although, this strategy is better preserved for 150-entry tournaments on DraftKings. With dominator points de-emphasized on FanDuel, maxing out at three projects to be the better lineup strategy. While rostering four may seem impossible to squeeze into one DraftKings lineup, the punt plays will make these lineups viable. That said, those employing this strategy absolutely need the punts to make it to the end and pick up double-digit place differential in the process.
The safe bet will be playing two dominators on FanDuel while going with three on DraftKings. This should give DFS players enough bullets to fire off at nailing the top lap leaders while not feeling disgusting about how they backloaded the roster to make playing their potential dominators possible. That said, salaries will dictate just how aggressive people can be with their lineups and whether a four-dominator build has any real viability.
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