- Kevin Rounce
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The Little League World Series is coming to a conclusion this weekend. It's a great event (showing on ESPN and ABC!) that showcases young baseball players. Little League is a great organization that promotes teamwork and good sportsmanship. Winning becomes almost secondary as everyone is looking for kids to have a great time playing a game they love.
However, I would not expect the Sprint Cup boys to display the same sense of fun and good sportsmanship this weekend. Bristol Motor Speedway just doesn't have the room, especially with the Chase for the Cup coming up in just three mere races. There is no (perceived) place on the track for a lot of niceties. The bump-and-run will become quite common.
A half-mile track with a lot of banking, Bristol often sees great racing, but it also requires hugging the bottom of the track to be truly successful. There have been some prime examples of that, such as when Kurt Busch performed a bump-and-run on Matt Kenseth to win the spring 2006 event. The two circled bumper-to-bumper for a few laps until Busch finally decided to move Kenseth a little in order to pass him. Later in the same race, Kenseth performed the maneuver on Jeff Gordon, although Gordon ended up going for a spin and finished 21st.
With so much pressure starting to pile on these teams, patience likely will be short and tempers could easily flare. There have been many a fight at the fall night race at Bristol. Thankfully, there was no fight for me to wrest this preview away from Christopher Harris, who is busy enjoying a well-deserved vacation. So, I'll guide you through who the top dogs are at Thunder Valley.
"Given to Fly" (The Favorites)
(Last Race: Matt Kenseth, 5th; Jimmie Johnson 17th)
Christopher Harris' top pick for the race is Tony Stewart. I've looked at that every way I can, and I don't see it. However, when you look at guys who both race well at Bristol and are on a hot streak, I'm going with Carl Edwards, the defending champion, who led 182 laps in this race last year (second to Kasey Kahne's 305). Edwards is on a roll, with four top-2 finishes in the past six races. He's a very safe choice for the race if you're looking for a top driver.
Kevin Harvick was second in the spring race as Richard Childress Racing went 1-2-3 at this short track. Harvick has three top-5s in the past five Bristol races and he's really starting to run well. If you take away the mess at Indy (and really, who doesn't want to?), Harvick has four top-10s in a row. He's really gotten this team rolling. He's currently eighth in points but wants to solidify his place in the Chase. He could easily compete for a win this weekend.
Kasey Kahne, as mentioned previously, was pretty dominant in this race last year. Normally not a strong racer at short tracks, Kahne actually has a good history at Bristol. It's likely due to the high banking at Bristol and the ability to get some higher speeds off the turns. Kahne ran into some bad luck at Michigan with a motor, but prior to that he'd been running pretty well. I'll take the history at this track over the most recent performance.
David Ragan is probably a happy man as he looks ahead on the NASCAR schedule. There are no more road courses. He's been 14th or better in five of the past six races, with the lone exception being a 30th at Watkins Glen. Bristol is a high-banked track that will suit him a lot better than a place like Martinsville. His best finish at Bristol is the 21st he scored in the spring, but he should be better than that Saturday night.
The true sleepers are no longer around in NASCAR, so you have to find guys who will at least give you a decent finish. My top guy will be Aric Almirola, who finished eighth in the spring race at Bristol and 23rd at Loudon (although that's a tricky finish to consider). He clearly has a little something going at short tracks right now. I think he could finish right around the top 20 on Saturday night. Could he flame out? Sure, but I believe.
To go out further on a limb, how about Patrick Carpentier, who still has to qualify for this race? I'm not saying he's gonna challenge for a top-10, but he has three top-20s in the past five races and that team seems to be heading in the right direction. He's a cheap option in salary cap leagues, and if you want to take a flyer, he could be worth it.
"Not for You" (Avoidance)
(Last Race: Clint Bowyer, 20th)
There's not a lot of obvious choices this week, but I tell you whom I'll be avoiding. Ryan Newman has some great finishes at Bristol, but lately he's been boom or bust. In the past seven Bristol races, he has three top-10s and four finishes of 30th or worse. At this late stage in the fantasy season, are you prepared to take that chance? Perhaps if you were trailing and you needed a few of those risky options. But if you are looking for a good, safe option, look elsewhere.
Kevin Rounce is an editor for ESPN Fantasy Games.
Kevin Rounce previews Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Bristol and thinks the red-hot Carl Edwards will shine once again.