Commentary

Good, Bad and Ugly: The Bristol night race

Updated: August 22, 2008, 8:50 AM ET
By Mark Garrow | Jayski.com

Mark Garrow provides driver trends for Saturday's Sharpie 400 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Key:

* A driver needs to qualify for the race based on time.
# A driver is eligible for the champion's provisional.

• Allmendinger has two starts here. He didn't qualify for the spring race this year but made both races in 2007 with finishes of 40th and 35th.
• I've been on the Allmendinger bandwagon for almost the past two months, but this is where I'm probably going to get off. I really don't think Bristol is a good fit for him right now.

• He finished eighth here in the spring and once again is filling in for Mark Martin in the 8 car.
• Almirola was the big surprise in the first race earlier this year; a few people might have guessed correctly, but not many and not me. I thought there was no way a rookie could run like that with only one previous race at Bristol. Do I think he can do it again? Probably not, but I'll keep a close eye on qualifying and practice, because he was rock solid throughout the weekend in March. So, if he starts to give off that feel again, we'll be ready. I'll give Almirola this much -- he didn't look like a rookie in the spring, and if he drives that smart and aggressive again, who knows.

• Of all the drivers in Saturday's field with 10 or more starts here, Biffle has the best average finish (9.7). He has seven top-10s and four top-5s in 11 starts and has finished all but two of the total possible laps here.

• Biffle is driving the same car he drove to a third-place finish at Las Vegas earlier this year.
• I like Biffle a lot going into this race and believe he can snag a top-5 and should be a lock for a top-10. And his Stock Car Challenge value of 22.0 should be on the rise after this race and next weekend at California.

• Blaney has made 15 Cup Series starts at the .533-mile track during his career and has finished as high as 14th (2006).
• How can you look for much out of Blaney this weekend? He has no top-10s at Bristol, and his average finish is 27.4, no doubt helped by his past three finishes of 23rd, 31st and 34th.

• Bowyer is driving the same car he drove to a third-place finish here in the spring.
• In five Cup starts here, Bowyer boasts three top-10s, including back-to-back third-place finishes in the past two races, and hasn't finished worse than eighth in the past three races.
• This is a tough call, despite Bowyer's past success at Bristol. This team is not running very consistently, finishing 19th or worse in four of the past five races. No doubt Bowyer and his crew could get it right Saturday night, but qualifying and practice should tell just where they are. This is another team we'll be working hard to scope out on race day.

• Burton is driving the same car he drove to a sixth-place finish at Texas and an eighth-place finish at Dover this year.

• In 29 Cup starts at Bristol, Burton has posted one win, eight top-5s and 12 top-10s.
• Like his teammate Bowyer, Burton has been struggling lately, with one top-10 in the past nine outings. But he could get it right at Bristol. He won here earlier this year and should be a top-10 lock. One knock against Burton for SCC is his value of 22.8, which is fifth-highest and might not be a good fit for those folks holding on to, say, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch.

• Busch has five wins and nine top-10s in 15 starts here with an average finish of 14.3. He finished sixth in the 2007 fall race and 12th this past spring.
• He's a hard guy to get a handle on because he once was almost unbeatable here but has become mortal again the past couple of years. I've ranked him 14th because he's not the sure-bet top-10 he used to be. Still, if he practices well, his SCC value of 18.1 will be very enticing. I've dipped in and grabbed him a couple of times this year, and he's paid off with a top-10. Who knows -- I might end up doing that again.

Kyle Busch

• Kyle won at Bristol in the debut of the Car of Tomorrow. He has earned four top-10s in seven career starts here. The team will be bringing chassis No. 160, the same car with which it won in June at Dover.
• My prerace ranking is third, and this team is capable of winning on any racetrack. However, his short track performance this year has been a little messy. Busch didn't fare that well in the first Bristol race or Martinsville, but he did finish second at Richmond. He's a hard guy to get rid of if you're holding him and a tough guy to buy because of his price.

• Carpentier has never started here but practiced here briefly in the spring prior to qualifying being rained out. He also ran the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race here Wednesday night.

• In 17 starts at Bristol, Junior has one win, seven top-5s and 10 top-10s. He has led 743 laps. He scored the win in 2004, when he rallied back from starting 30th and led 295 laps.
• Junior is the driving the same car he drove to a fifth-place finish here earlier this season.
• I think Junior is a lock for a top-10, but I'm not sure about a top-5. Like Burton, his SCC value of 22.8 makes it hard to "buy" Junior right now, especially if you have any of the three drivers above him at 24.0.

Carl Edwards

• Edwards is the most recent Cup Series event winner and the defending winner of this event. His average finish at Bristol is 15.4.
• Edwards has won here in all three of NASCAR's series and is driving the same car he drove to a runner-up finish at Dover.
• This is a very good track for Edwards, and he's second in my rankings behind Kevin Harvick. If you already have Edwards, hold on, because he'll be bad to the bone next week at California, too.

• Elliott finished this race 25th in fall 2007. Prior to that, he had not raced here since 2003.

• Gilliland has completed 69.5 percent of his possible career laps at Bristol. His best finish is ninth, in this past spring's race.
• His SCC value of 15.8 will give you some cap room, and we'll be keeping a close eye on him during practice. He could wind up being one of our top "budget" picks this week.

• Five-time Bristol winner Gordon won four consecutive spring races from 1995 to 1998, but his most recent win here was in 2002. Along with his five victories, Gordon has five poles, 12 top-5s and 18 top-10s in 31 starts.
• I ranked him 13th coming in because he was 11th here in the spring and his team is not performing as well now as it was then. This team is under the gun in a big way, and it could be hero or zero time. His SCC value is dropping, now down to 21.8, but still not low enough to take on that kind of risk.

• Gordon has 15 starts here with an average finish of 27.1.
• Zero top-10s and one top-15 says it all. Buyer beware!

• Hamlin finished sixth here in the spring but finished dead last in fall 2007. In five starts, he has an average finish of 16.6. He's driving the same car he drove here this spring and finished third in at Phoenix.
• I ranked Hamlin ninth. Without getting into trouble, he should be a top-10 car and could run better than that. He lost an engine a year ago, but in the races before and after that one, he led 275 laps. His value has dropped to 21.9, making him a little more attractive. However, I also will say this: Team morale is not what it needs to be, and sitting on the bubble in 12th to make the Chase doesn't seem to be bringing out the best of Hamlin. He said last week that even if he and his team made the Chase, they would be just a waste of space. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Kevin Harvick

• Harvick is driving the car he drove to top-10s at Fontana and Atlanta.
• In 15 Bristol starts, Harvick has one win, seven top-5s and nine top-10s. Additionally, he has led 390 laps and has a 9.9 average finishing position.
• Harvick is a top pick. He's decided not to run the Nationwide Series race to focus on the Cup shootout, and I like that decision. He has top-5s in the past four spring races here, but his finishes in the past three fall Bristol races are 37th, 11th and 16th, which has to give you pause. In any case, RCR's short-track program is rock solid, and I think Harvick is top-5 material.

• Earlier this season, Hornish started seventh and finished 29th at Bristol.

Jimmie Johnson

• Johnson has made 13 starts at Bristol, posting two top-5s and six top-10s. He has an average finish of 16.2.
• This is the week I'm selling on Jimmie Johnson. This is not a very good track for him, so I'm going to use his 24.0 SCC value to go after drivers I'm more comfortable with, who have better chances to finish in the top 10. I can bump up a little to take Edwards, who should be in very good shape here and at California, or drop down to take Harvick and bank some money to make another move or two.

• In nine starts at Bristol, Kahne has one top-5 and three top-10s. After starting from the pole in fall 2007, Kahne led 305 laps en route to a runner-up finish.
• The new track configuration has fit Kahne nicely, with him earning a second and a seventh on the concrete surface. I've ranked him fifth coming in because he should be a lockdown choice for a top-10. His 20.3 SCC value also is pretty attractive right now.

• In his previous Bristol starts, Kenseth has two wins, seven top-5s and 10 top-10s. He is driving the same car he drove to sixth at Darlington.
• In the past 13 2008 starts, Kenseth has had only two bad runs -- the rest were top-12s. Plus, he won the Bristol night race in 2005 and 2006, and was 10th this past spring.

• Kvapil has an average finish of 22.6 at Bristol. His best finish is seventh.

• In 31 starts, Labonte has 10 top-10s, three top-5s and an average finish of 19.2. He finished eighth in the 2007 fall race.
• He's been average to mediocre on the short tracks in '08. His past four finishes at Bristol were 23rd, 22th, 8th and 38th. Still, with a SCC value of 16.8, we'll be keeping a close eye on him during practice to see whether he might develop into a "budget" pick this week.

• Marlin has 45 starts here with 18 top-10s, three top-5s and an average finish of 15.2. Marlin's last race here was in spring 2007, when he finished 30th.

• In 11 Sprint Cup career starts, McMurray has one top-5 (third) and four top-10s. His average finish is 20.1.
• He's driving the same car he drove to 10th at Dover.
• In his past four starts, he's begun to run well, averaging a 10th-place finish. He has a good SCC value at 18.9, but he has only one top-10 in the past seven races at Bristol, having finished 24th or worse in all others, including 43rd this past spring.

• Mears earned his only top-10 at Bristol in March 2007, during his first season with Hendrick.
• He has just four top-10s this year. It's hard to believe those stats of a Hendrick Motorsports team. His average finish at Bristol is 28.4.

• Menard is driving the same car he drove at Bristol earlier this season. He was running as high as 12th in that race until he was caught up in a late-race wreck.

• Montoya earned the outside pole in fall 2007 in just his second attempt at the .533-mile track and went on to finish 17th. This past spring, he scored his best finish, 15th.
• Montoya is a possible top-15 car at Bristol, and with a SCC price of 17.4, he is somewhat attractive. If he qualifies well, give him some consideration.

• Nemechek has 25 starts here with an average finish of 28.3.

• Newman has one top-5 and six top-10s in 13 starts at Bristol. He is driving the same car he drove to a sixth-place finish at Richmond.
• He's been feast or famine on the short tracks this year. He had poor runs at Bristol and Martinsville but was sixth at Richmond. He's been 39th and 33rd in the past two spring races at Bristol, but in the fall races, he's finished eighth and seventh. That fact, coupled with a somewhat attractive SCC value of 19.5, makes him a player this weekend.

• Petty has 49 starts here with nine top-10s, two top-5s and an average finish of 20.8.
• Petty finished 20th in fall 2007 and 28th this past spring.

• Ragan is driving the same car he drove to a 15th-place finish at Dover.

• He's coming on strong, with top-5s in two of the past three races. The race in which he didn't score a top-5 was Watkins Glen, and no one figured him to do well there. Bristol could be another roadblock for the second-year driver, who's close to making the Chase. Ragan's best finish in three Bristol starts is 21st, and that came this past spring. I thought he was very attractive at Michigan, but he probably is too risky this week.

• Reutimann posted a top-20 in the spring Bristol race after starting from the rear of the field.
• With his SCC value of 15.7 and the fact that he's a good little road racer, we need to keep an eye on Reutimann during practice and qualifying because he could turn into a good "budget" pick. If he qualifies well, he'll certainly be more attractive.

• Riggs has nine starts here, with two top-10s, a top-5 and an average finish of 24.1. He finished 18th in in fall 2007.
• He finished 15th at Michigan, perhaps making him at least a little attractive this weekend. His average finish in the past two races at Bristol is 20th. If he could run a top-20, he'd be a good value pick.

• Sadler recorded his first Cup win at Bristol in the 2001 spring race. In his 20 total starts, he has three top-5s and four top-10s.
• He finished 19th at Bristol in the spring, but this team is way better than it was then and he had a great run last week. His SCC value is attractive as well. I see him as a top-15 car, which again would be a nice payoff at his price. Keep an eye on his qualifying effort, because when he's qualified well at Bristol, he's finished well.

• Sauter has three starts here with an average finish of 27.3. He finished this race 42nd last year.

• Schrader has plenty of experience at Bristol, with 46 Cup starts and 11 top-10s.
• He's been 11th and 13th in his two most recent Bristol night races. Just a little food for thought on a guy with a rock-bottom value of 11.7.

• Skinner has 16 starts here with a top-10 and an average finish of 26.1. The last night race Skinner participated in here was in 2003, when he finished 18th.

• Smith has two starts here with an average finish of 25.5 and has completed all but six of the total possible laps.

• His best finish at Bristol was in August 2007, when he scored a 15th-place finish. Altogether, he has four starts with the one top-15 finish.

• In the past three spring races here, Stewart has led a whopping 769 of the 1,510 laps. His finishes, though, have been a disappointing 12th, 35th and 14th.
• Stewart has six top-10s and a win here, but since his win in 2001, he has only four top-15s.
• I rank Stewart 10th. He's like Gordon -- a little risky to buy for this race in SCC with a value of 22.6. Still, he has been on a tear lately, with three top-5s in the past five races. Stewart always has the potential to come up big at Bristol, but it just hasn't been happening lately and that makes him too much of a question mark.

• Truex has five starts here with an average finish of 23.4.
• He basically has been a top-15 car with his regular crew chief Kevin "Bono" Manion suspended. He's been 11th and 13th in the past two Bristol starts. He probably is overpriced in SCC (20.5) for a likely top-15 effort.

• In eight starts here, Vickers has an average finish of 26.4. He missed this race last year and finished 39th this past spring.
• I really loved Vickers last week, but a week later, I'm giving the ring back. This team has been pretty solid lately, but its short track performances have been terrible. I recommend a sell and to look around for something a little better. He probably will be back in my good graces at California.

• During his career at Bristol, Waltrip has one top-5 and eight top-10s. His average finish is 19th.
• Call me crazy, but with a 13.4 SCC value and a potential top-20, Waltrip needs to get a little attention this week.

Mark Garrow covers fantasy racing for ESPN.com.

Mark Garrow

Fantasy Racing
Mark Garrow covers fantasy racing for ESPN.com.