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NASCAR DFS: Food City 500 Preview

The NASCAR Cup Series is done with the West Coast swing. This weekend, NASCAR heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for some true short-track racing! And the best part? There’s no dirt! After a three-year experiment of racing on dirt at Bristol each Spring, NASCAR scrapped the idea. It was fun the first time. But Bristol isn’t a true dirt track. True Bristol fans have to be excited about this weekend. Bristol is a short track, but unlike last week, they’ll run the intermediate aero package. Christopher Bell claimed his first win of the year at Phoenix. Now we go to Bristol where he’s sure to garner attention. In fact, he likely won’t be the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver to make the column. Here are the drivers to consider as part of the early Food City 500 preview.

For those unfamiliar, Bristol Motor Speedway is a half-mile short track in Eastern Tennessee. It’s considered the Last Great Colosseum. It’s an impressive structure with seating all around the track. The best part is we don’t have to endure the short-track aero package. Despite the small size, Bristol features some banking. The cars seemingly turn laps in a bull ring. But there’s little run-off and we do see an abundance of cautions and errors on pit road. On top of all that, we get 500 laps. Dominator points will play a massive role here. Last Fall, three drivers led over 100 laps. The same can also be said for the race in 2022. Nailing the dominators will be vital. Let’s take a look at this week’s drivers ahead of qualifying.

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Food City 500 Preview: The Top Picks

Christopher Bell (#20 Toyota)

Without a doubt, Christopher Bell has arguably been the best at Bristol in the NextGen car. In the two natural Bristol races in this vehicle, Bell has driver ratings of 134.6 and 131.0 while leading a total of 330 laps in both races. He also finished top five in both contests. And screw it, while we’re at it, he won last Spring’s dirt race at Bristol. He will already have plenty of attention for DFS because of last week’s win. But even if he didn’t dominate Phoenix, he still would’ve appeared in the Food City 500 preview. I assume he’ll qualify well. Moreover, it would surprise no one if he led 100+ laps on Sunday.

Kyle Larson (#5 Chevrolet)

We should probably just get comfortable with the fact that Larson and/or William Byron will always be included in the preview article each week. They’re both in the elite tier. In Larson’s last nine races at Bristol, he’s finished sixth or better in seven of them. He won here in 2021 and was the runner-up last Fall. Over this nine-race sample size, he’s led 780 total laps. Last week was a bit of a dud from arguably the Cup Series’ best driver. I’m not expecting that to happen for two consecutive weeks.

Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota)

Chalky? Sure. He’s easy to include in the Food City 500 preview. What do you want me to do? I expect a strong race from the Toyotas. Hamlin won this race in the Fall with a 130.8 driver rating and 142 laps led. He’s raced here 34 times in his career with three wins and 10 finishes in the top five. He’s led over 100 laps on numerous occasions and we just saw all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers lead 50+ laps at Phoenix last week. Both Bell and Hamlin are getting 5-1 odds to win on DraftKings Sportsbook while Larson is at 4-1. It’ll be interesting to see how these shift after qualifying.

Food City 500 Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them 

Ty Gibbs (#54 Toyota)

He’s officially been upgraded from a sleeper/value. He was $8,000 last week at Phoenix and had a great showing. He led 57 laps and finished third behind Bell and Chris Buescher. Gibbs’ DFS price continues to climb. And his betting odds continue to shorten. His first career win is coming and it could come at Bristol. Joe Gibbs Racing has had plenty of success here throughout the years. Kyle Busch has won here. Denny Hamlin has won here. Bell won a dirt race here. Even Gibbs grabbed a top-five finish here in the playoffs last year. In that same race, he led over 100 laps. He’s trending in the right direction, especially after last week.

Chris Buescher (#17 Ford) and Brad Keselowski (#6 Ford)

Speaking of Buescher, he does lay claim to one of the wins at Bristol in the NextGen era. According to Ryan with iFantasyRace, Buescher is one of three drivers to finish top five in both Bristol races in the NextGen car. Buescher won here in 2022 and then had three wins last year. He’s almost coming off a solid run at Phoenix last week finishing as the runner-up. And while we’re at it, let’s just include teammate/boss, Brad Keselowski. Kez led over 100 laps here in the Fall of 2022 and has performed fairly well at Bristol in the NextGen era. Additionally, he has three career wins at this track and both these drivers looked great last week. RFK Racing is a team moving to the forefront of all the Fords.

Chase Elliott (#9 Chevrolet)

When we previewed the Bristol race last Fall, Elliott ended up in the same section. He’s been fine in the NextGen car at this track. He was the runner-up in 2022 and finished seventh last Fall. He was far more dominant in the Gen6 car where he led at least 20 laps in six straight races. Despite the good finishes here, he doesn’t have an official win. But the Hendrick cars look consistent each week even if Elliott has been quiet this year. But he possesses the upside to go out and lead 100+ laps in this race if he qualifies well. We can’t sleep on the former Cup Series champion this weekend.

The Sleepers and Values

Michael McDowell (#34 Ford)

He may not be a value, nor much of a sleeper. However, this is really the only spot I could squeeze him in. Considering he’s 60-1 on DraftKings Sportsbook for the outright win, I’ll give him some love as a sleeper. McDowell doesn’t care if there’s dirt on the track or not. He loves racing at Bristol. He finished sixth last Fall with a 108.3 driver rating and he was 11th the year before. In the three dirt races at Bristol, he never finished worse than 12th. It’s been a decent start to the 2024 season for McDowell. Has he overqualified the car? At times, yes. And that tends to take him out of DFS consideration. But we desperately need drivers to maintain the lead lap at Bristol. McDowell has proven he can certainly do just that.

Todd Gilliland (#38 Ford)

We don’t have a ton to go off of with Gilliland. However, in the two NextGen races at Bristol (sans dirt), he’s started P30 in both races and finished 16th and 18th. We know he’ll be cheap, and we have to like that he’s shown he can move up. We’ve also touched on his teammate, Michael McDowell. Front Row Motorsports now has a technical alliance with Team Penske. And as far as a simple eyeball test goes, these cars have looked more sporty. Bristol was never a great track for him in the Truck Series. But to his credit, he at least logged three top-10 finishes in four races.

Ryan Preece (#41 Ford)

This is risky, obviously. His teammates, Noah Gragson and Chase Briscoe, have made more noise lately. I could include them but they both finished well last week. The week prior, Gragson finished sixth at Vegas. Plus, Gragson’s won here twice in the Xfinity Series and Briscoe finished first or second in his final three Xfinity races at Bristol. So I’ll touch on Preece. He has plenty of experience running a Cup Series race at Bristol. For starters, in this race in the Fall, he started P17 and finished 12th. In six Cup Series races here, he’s gained at least five spots of PD. In three of those races, he’s gained double-digit PD points. He doesn’t carry much win equity, but I love the value. I love the play even more as a pivot off his teammates who will be more popular.

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