Chasing Bristol

·13 min read

“It’s Bristol, Baby.”

There isn’t a lot of playoff data where Bristol Motor Speedway is concerned, but most experts believe this has the potential to be a disruptor. It is easy to get in trouble on a high-banked, .5-mile oval where lap times are near the 15-second mark. It’s easy to collect another driver, but it these races lack the same degree of carnage as the carburetor-restricted superspeedways.

Still, this is not a course drivers want to visit needing a good run. And with the points as tight as they are between fifth-place and 13th, no one is truly safe. An early accident involving any of those drivers could drop them below the cutline. Simple mathematics suggests that the higher one is in points, the safer they are – not because of the buffer, but since there are more opportunities for someone below them to make a mistake.

Conversely, drivers like Alex Bowman and Tyler Reddick who are in sight of 12th in the standings can afford to be a little patient in the first two stages to see if anything happens to improve their position. Note that says ‘can’ afford to be patient. We don’t really expect they ‘will’ be.

Projected to make the Championship

Denny Hamlin (1 win / 8 stage wins / 2,127 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +425
Power Ranking: 1 (5.05)
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 11.60
Las Vegas: 13.50
Talladega: 13.33

We know how badly Hamlin wanted to win during the regular season; otherwise, it would seem that he was sandbagging and waiting for the playoffs to begin. The Round of 16 includes many of his best tracks in terms of career average finishes and that helps with the perception that he’s improved greatly. He has made the most of this opportunity so far by adding eight playoff bonus points in the first two races, which is going to help him advance through the rounds.

Kyle Larson (5 wins / 13 stage wins / 2,151 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +225
Power Ranking: 2 (5.54)
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 9.00
Las Vegas: 6.40
Talladega: 28.50

Larson is the only driver locked into the Round of 12 based on points. All of the hard work during the regular season that amassed 53 bonus points is paying huge dividends and will likely get him all the way to the Championship Round without very much angst. There are still a few more wins in this driver before the season is over and for now he can concentrate on making certain the team is firing on all cylinders.

Chase Elliott (2 wins / 3 stage wins / 2,072 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +750
Power Ranking: 3 (6.81)
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 9.60
Las Vegas: 18.33
Talladega: 17.83

Elliott is not out of the woods yet, despite the fact that the PointsBet Sportsbook lowered his odds from +900 to +750 after last week’s top-five at Richmond. He survived the Federated Auto Parts 400, but his mistake in the pits could have had much bigger implications. Couple that with a bad decision in traffic at Darlington Raceway and Elliott is his own worst enemy.

Martin Truex Jr. (4 wins / 5 stage wins / 2,113 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +600
Power Ranking: 5 (9.74)
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 20.80
Las Vegas: 8.83
Talladega: 24.33

Truex is extremely happy this week that he does not have to worry about his performance. The reason for that is he has not earned a top-10 in his last seven attempts on the paved high banks of Bristol and has not earned a top-five since 2012. That is surprising considering just how strong he’s been on the big sister concrete oval of Dover International Speedway.

Projected to Advance to Round 3

Ryan Blaney (3 wins / 4 stage wins / 2,081 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1200
Power Ranking: 4 (8.45)
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 14.80
Las Vegas: 9.17
Talladega: 13.33

Blaney needs a solid run at Bristol to ensure he moves onto the next round. And that is probably what he will get: just a solid, no frills run. In his last seven attempts on this track, he finished between seventh and 13th five times. His outliers were an accident-induced 40th-place finish last spring and a fourth in 2019. Look for a result on the high side of the single digits and plan accordingly.

Kyle Busch (2 wins / 5 stage wins / 2,061 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1000
Power Ranking: 7 (11.81)
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 6.20
Las Vegas: 8.83
Talladega: 22.00

PointsBet upgraded Busch’s odds from 12/1 to 10/1 this week, which is in line with the strength he showed at Richmond before incurring a speeding penalty. One week removed from his Darlington incident, he seem to be channeling that passion in a more positive manner and we think that is going to take him further through the playoffs.

Joey Logano (1 win / 5 stage wins / 2,093 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1000
Power Ranking: 8 (12.66)
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 11.00
Las Vegas: 13.50
Talladega: 17.00

Logano is another of several drivers who saw his odds improve this week, from +1400 to +1000. That suggests bettors were taking advantage of his longer line. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right and Logano is ranked sixth in any event, but a tightening of the odds from fifth-ranked Ky. Busch and ninth-place Brad Keselowski underscores just how competitive finish results between the top drivers has become.

Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 0 stage wins / 2,078 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1200
Power Ranking: 6 (11.24)
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 14.80
Las Vegas: 13.83
Talladega: 19.50

We’ve moved Harvick up the order slightly – and to be quite honest, it is with some nervousness. He is strong enough to continue to outrun many of the playoff contenders and Talladega Superspeedway in the Round of 12 is going to take some of the better teams off the board. For the moment, it seems unlikely that he is going to win a stage or a race and his lack of bonus points will come into play in a seriously negative way soon.

Projected to Advance to Round 2

Christopher Bell (1 win / 0 stage wins / 2,070 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +2000
Power Ranking: 9 (12.74)
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 18.50
Las Vegas: 17.00
Talladega: 28.33

The race out of the Round of 16 is increasingly looking like a ‘last man standing’ affair. Sitting eighth in points, Bell is no more likely to make a mistake than Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, or Kurt Busch and he’s racing for the organization with the most momentum for now. Getting to the Round of 12 and racing his way past the top eight drivers will be an entirely different matter for the Young Gun, however.

Kurt Busch (1 win / 3 stage wins / 2,053 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +3000
Power Ranking: 12 (12.91)
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 6.80
Las Vegas: 18.33
Talladega: 20.67

Busch is tied in points with Bowman, but he may be one of the few drivers happy that Bristol is an elimination race. This track has been a great to him in the recent past. He earned his sixth victory in the 2018 Night Race, finished second the next fall, and swept the top 10 in his next two starts. Any niggling doubt about his advancement belongs to a 15th-place finish last fall, but Chip Ganassi Racing is currently showing a lot of power and that will help him score another single-digit result.

Alex Bowman (3 wins / 0 stage wins / 2,053 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +2500
Power Ranking: 17 (16.65)
Points’ Standings: 13
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 19.80
Las Vegas: 13.50
Talladega: 21.83

It’s hard to imagine that two of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers will fail to advance to the Round of 12. Bowman needs only a slight improvement over several of the playoff contenders to clear this hurdle and the organization has run well enough to give that to him. The field has caught up to HMS, however, and it seems fairly likely that his 15 playoff points will not help him get further up the chart.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 2 stage wins / 2,066 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +1600
Power Ranking: 19 (17.24)
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 14.40
Las Vegas: 7.00
Talladega: 17.17

Keselowski has managed to take advantage of other drivers’ misfortunes, but a seventh at Darlington and 13th at Richmond is not enough to generate momentum. While he managed to finish in the top 15 in both of those events, he’s seemed listless in recent weeks. It’s hard to ignore the fact that he is a short-timer with Team Penske and may already be looking forward to his new opportunity with Roush Fenway Racing.

Projected to Fail to Advance to Round 2

Tyler Reddick (0 wins / 3 stage wins / 2,048 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +7000
Power Ranking: 11 (12.83)
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 20.00
Las Vegas: 26.00
Talladega: 11.33

Reddick is running out of steam at an inopportune time. He slipped out of this week’s Power Rankings top 10 in large part because he has only one single-digit result in the last four races on oval tracks. As the other playoff contenders stepped up their performance, Reddick got pushed into the teens and that will not be good enough to get him into the second round.

William Byron (1 win / 3 stage wins / 2,035 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +3000
Power Ranking: 15 (14.75)
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 21.20
Las Vegas: 19.17
Talladega: 15.17

Byron is another driver for whom the tide turned quickly. He went from being a regular top-five contender to earning only one such finish on an oval since Pocono Raceway this summer. He is in the danger zone in points largely because of an accident at Darlington, but he barely cracked the top 20 at Richmond last week and just doesn’t seem to have the same energy. He can rebound, but the top 16 are going to dominate the top 10 this week, so making up ground on the competition is going to be difficult.

Aric Almirola (1 win / 0 stage wins / 2,056 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +7000
Power Ranking: 20 (18.71)
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 26.20
Las Vegas: 17.00
Talladega: 11.50

Stewart-Haas Racing is improving and that is one of the reasons we elevated Harvick – but for Almirola, it will probably be too little, too late. In his last 18 races, (a rolling half-season), Almirola has two top-five finishes including an impressive win at New Hampshire. Those are his only top-10s, however, and results of 14th through 17th in the past four events makes him low hanging fruit that can be plucked by a driver below him in points.

Michael McDowell (1 win / 0 stage wins / 2,015 points)
PointsBet Championship Odds: +50000
Power Ranking: 30 (26.37)
Points’ Standings: 16
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Bristol (paved): 25.20
Las Vegas: 26.17
Talladega: 23.67

The only way for McDowell to advance is to win – and that certainly won’t happen this week. If you think we’re wrong, his race odds at Bristol are +50000. He could go out with a bang, however, because he has been solid in his last two Bristol attempts in 2020. He finished 14th in the spring there and 10th in the fall. He is listed on another book with +1100 odds to finish in the top 10.

Power
Rankings

Power
Avg.

|

Points
Standings

Points

PointsBet
Odds

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

|

Bristol

Las
Vegas

Talladega

Projected Top 4

1

5.05

|

2

2,127

+425

Denny Hamlin

1

8

|

11.60

13.50

13.33

2

5.54

|

1

2,151

+225

Kyle Larson

5

13

|

9.00

6.40

28.50

3

6.81

|

7

2,072

+750

Chase Elliott

2

3

|

9.60

18.33

17.83

5

9.74

|

3

2,113

+600

Martin Truex Jr.

4

5

|

20.80

7.00

24.33

Projected to Make Round of 8

4

8.45

|

5

2,081

+1200

Ryan Blaney

3

4

|

14.80

9.17

13.33

6

11.24

|

6

2,078

+1200

Kevin Harvick

0

0

|

14.80

13.83

19.50

7

11.81

|

10

2,061

+1000

Kyle Busch

2

5

|

6.20

8.83

22.00

8

12.66

|

4

2,093

+1000

Joey Logano

1

5

|

11.00

6.33

17.00

Projected to Make Round of 12

9

12.74

|

8

2,070

+2000

Christopher Bell

1

0

|

18.50

21.33

28.33

12

12.91

|

12

2,053

+3000

Kurt Busch

1

3

|

6.80

18.33

20.67

17

16.65

|

13

2,053

+2500

Alex Bowman

3

0

|

19.80

13.50

21.83

19

17.24

|

9

2,066

+1600

Brad Keselowski

1

2

|

14.40

4.67

17.17

Projected to fail to Make Round of 12

11

12.86

|

14

2,048

+7000

Tyler Reddick

0

3

|

20.00

26.00

11.33

15

14.75

|

15

2,035

+3000

William Byron

1

3

|

21.20

19.17

15.17

20

18.70

|

11

2,056

+7000

Aric Almirola

1

0

|

26.20

17.00

11.50

30

26.37

|

16

2,015

+50000

Michael McDowell

1

0

|

25.20

26.17

23.67

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three years race total occasionally varies. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Power Rankings formula includes finishing results in the past 45 days as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the number, the stronger the driver.

Power Rankings After Richmond 2
Chasing Richmond
Chasing Darlington