The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series continues on this weekend with the final scheduled Saturday night race of the season, the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The drivers have 500 laps to complete under the lights here in “Thunder Valley” on Saturday, and we’re bound to see plenty of beating and banging with so much on the line for many of the Playoff drivers.
We did race here at Bristol earlier in the year, but don’t forget: that was on the dirt track. Honestly, it’s hard to even consider any of the data from that race worth much. If you’re looking for similar track data to look into this weekend from races in 2021, take a look at the steeper tracks such as Dover (more correlation, in my opinion), Homestead, and even Darlington.
*Please note: the picks and suggestions below are my opinions and strategy for the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest. These are not meant to sway your thinking in any way, but rather give you insight into the drivers I am most likely to pick on race day.*
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Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest Picks for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol
Kyle Larson ($12,500) – You’ll be hard pressed to find any statistic that doesn’t point you toward Kyle Larson being a great pick this weekend. Looking back at the four races here from 2017 and 2018–remember, Larson didn’t race at Bristol in 2020 due to his suspension–he had average running positions of 3.5, 4.5, 3.1, and 6.6…and that was in worse equipment than he’s in now. On similar tracks this year–Homestead, Darlington, and Dover–Larson has had average running positions of 4.8, 7.3, 3.0, and 1.5. Need I say more? Kyle Larson starts 5th on Saturday night, and while he’s never won here at Bristol, he’s finished 9th or better in five of his last six starts and has also led nearly 550 laps over that span as well. He could easily win the first two Stages this weekend, lead the most laps, and win the race.
Kyle Busch ($12,300) – Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Kyle Busch is the man at Bristol Motor Speedway. With eight career victories at this race track, Rowdy owns 33.3% of the wins here among active drivers, and if you add in his brother Kurt’s wins, the Busch Brothers have 58.3% of the wins here among active drivers. On Saturday night, Kyle Busch will be a threat to win the race, and he has some place differential potential as well since he starts back in 9th. He’s finished 4th or better in six of the last seven Bristol races, and led 100+ laps in both events here last season.
Kurt Busch ($9,500) – In case you didn’t do the math before, Kurt Busch is a six-time winner at Bristol Motor Speedway, and with him starting back in 15th, that makes him a great option in this Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest. The Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolets have had incredible speed over the last few months, and there’s no reason to think they’re going to slow down this weekend at Bristol. As far as Kurt goes, he’s finished 9th or better in five of his last seven Bristol starts, and even won the fall race here back in 2018. At just $9,500 in Slingshot salary on Saturday night, he’s a great play in this game.
Chase Elliott ($11,800) – The fall race at Bristol is where Chase Elliott really turns things up a notch, as he’s finished 7th, 5th, and 3rd in the last three races here in August/September. Additionally, Chase has led 23+ laps in each of the last five Bristol events, and has won three of the last four Stages. Surprisingly, last year’s Cup Series Champion hasn’t gone to victory lane in “Thunder Valley” (except for the All Star Race last season) but that should change sooner rather than later. Looking at the Dover race this year, which I consider the most similar track to Bristol that we’ve ran at in 2021, Elliott finished 3rd and had a 5.6 average running position. He’s a “Risky” Slingshot pick on Saturday night because he starts up in 4th, but Chase has legitimate top 5 potential and could even win the race.
Ryan Blaney ($10,600) – Bad luck has often been an issue for Ryan Blaney at Bristol Motor Speedway, but you can’t ignore the speed that he has had at this race track over the years. When looking at laps led, Blaney is actually 8th-best among active drivers with 439 laps led at Bristol, and 2nd in that category among drivers that haven’t won here (only Kyle Larson with 641 laps led has more). Blaney did post a career-best 4th-place finish here back in 2019, and he’s wound up 13th or better in five of his last seven Bristol starts. What you really have to like about this #12 team is how they’re running lately, though, with top 5s in five of the last eight races. Even last week’s 10th-place run at Richmond was a very good night for Ryan Blaney at his worst track.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. ($7,900) – Here’s a fun statistic for you: among active drivers at Bristol Motor Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is 7th-best when it comes to top 5 finishes. No, that’s not a typo. Bristol has been a good track to Stenhouse, especially prior to the 2019 season; in the 12 races here from 2013 to 2018, Ricky finished inside the top 5 four times and also had 6th- and 9th-place finishes to his credit. Unfortunately, if you’re looking at recent races, Stenhouse isn’t going to stand out because he’s ended up 24th or worse in each of the last five Bristol events, with each of the last four ending with him in 33rd or worse. We might as well call him Risky Stenhouse, Jr. because this is a big gamble, but Stenhouse has pretty big upside this weekend under the lights.
“Race Winner” Pick = Kyle Larson or Kyle Busch – If you listened to this week’s podcast episode of Stacking Dennys, you know that RotoDoc and I agreed that it’d come down to one of the Kyles on Saturday night. Now I just have to figure out which one I want to go with…