August 22, 2008

Well race fans, it's finally here -- the long awaited Sharpie 500. The last three weeks drivers and fantasy owners have been tested on a wide array of tracks. From the Long Pond straightaway of Pocono, to the twists and turns of Watkins Glen and the wide open spaces of Michigan, each track has posed a unique challenge. But none of those tracks will prepare the teams for what lies ahead Saturday night as the series takes to the high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway.

While the tight confines of Bristol under the lights are a fan's dream, it can be a nightmare for fantasy team owners. With laps run in a matter of seconds, your team's success can change in the blink of an eye. That being said, don't hang up the towel and resign yourself to defeat just yet. It's important to be out front and to have a good pit stall, so qualifying will be key this week. Make sure to keep a close eye on Friday's results. And as always, having the right mix of drivers on your roster will help you succeed.

So without further ado, let's take a look at the favorites, sleepers and longshots heading into Saturday night's Sharpie 500.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Five straight races outside the top 10 may have Junior Nation a bit on edge coming into this weekend's race. But fear not, Junior fans and fantasy players, all signs point to a turnaround for the No. 88 team this weekend. Bristol should prove to be a good remedy for a team that has struggled in recent weeks. With four straight top-10 finishes, and three of those in the top 5, Junior is poised for a strong finish Saturday night.

Tony Stewart: Still winless the season, but currently hiding a mini hot streak, Stewart is looking to get into victory lane as he tries to exorcise some of the demons from Bristol races past. In the last three and a half years, Stewart has close to half of the laps run at Bristol on three occasions. In each of those races, ironically all held in the spring, something has come between Stewart and closing out the deal. In the fall race, he hasn't led a lap since 2001, but in an odd twist of fate his finishes have been better under the lights instead of the sun as of late. In the last two night races, he has posted a big goose egg in the laps led department but has finished in the top 10. Certainly Stewart would love a win to get the monkey off his back and to solidify his Chase position, but win or not; he is a good bet for a top 10 finish.

Greg Biffle: Which driver has the best average finish at Bristol in the last 10 years? OK, I gave it away with already listing Biffle's name, but seriously, how many of you would have guessed that? Being under the radar is the same approach that Biffle seems to be using when it comes to making a bid for the Chase. He's not making a lot of noise right now, but an average finish of tenth in the last five races have the Washington State native up to seventh in the standings and right in the thick of the race to the Chase. At Bristol he's not flashy, but he's consistent. He hasn't led any laps since the spring race of '06, but he has three straight top 10s to his credit. Biffle might not be on your radar now, but you should start paying attention.

Jeff Burton: Another driver you might not automatically associate with Bristol but you should, is Burton. In the three races run at Bristol with the CoT, no driver has scored more points there than the driver of the No. 31. He dominated the night race in '06, leading 263 laps before ultimately settling for a ninth place finish. Back in March of this year, he lead only two laps but they were the ones that counted as he took his first, and so far only, win of this season. Currently fifth in the standings, his Chase spot is likely safe; but right now the team is far from heading into the post season on a high note. In the last nine races, he has just one top 10 finish which came at the debacle that was Indy when he ended the day in ninth. It's that recent bout of poor finishes that keep him out of the favorite category.

Jeff Gordon: Gordon is a driver that usually comes to mind when plotting your strategy for Bristol and with five career wins there, that's no surprise. But what is a surprise is the fact that Gordon is suddenly in danger of dropping out of the top 12 and making the Chase. After a shockingly dismal performance at Watkins Glen and a crash at Michigan that resulted in a 42nd place finish, Gordon is just 56 points ahead of Chase bubble driver Denny Hamlin with just three races left before the Chase starts. His last win at Bristol came in the Fall of '02 and broke a winless drought of 31 races. Saturday he has hopes that his sixth win at Bristol will end his current 28-race winless streak. After an 11th place showing in the Spring and a 19th place finish in this race last year, that could be a tall order for a team that suddenly finds itself struggling. But with his past history at Bristol, he's worth the gamble.

Clint Bowyer: Last year Bowyer was perhaps the biggest surprise in the Chase for the Championship, keeping pace with the Hendrick juggernaut until late in the season before ultimately finishing the season in third place. However, if the Chase started this week Bowyer would be on the outside looking in. He's just 26 points behind Hamlin for the final spot in the Chase, but he has David Ragan hot on his tail and tied with him in points. Since winning at Richmond in week ten, Bowyer has scored just three top-10 finishes which really doesn't give you much confidence to put him on your team. But with three straight top 10s at Bristol, he definitely earns a second look when it comes to putting together your roster. However, unless you can squeeze him in without taking one of the bigger names off your lineup I wouldn't go out of my way to give him a coveted spot.

"I'm looking forward to Bristol because I've had some success there, and it's good short track racing. Although I like racing at the Michigans and Atlantas because they are fast and you can choose your groove, I've grown up racing at short tracks and just like them. We did good last time at Bristol so hopefully we can be consistent and finish next weekend out from start to finish." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.

From the hottest ticket on the circuit, to one of the ... well, less popular tickets in town. After the bumping and banging in Bristol, the series heads west for it's final trip to Fontana for a Labor Day celebration.

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