The NASCAR Cup Series' return to dirt racing hasn't gone according to plan. Adjustments were already made to tire allotment and stage length following Friday's practice. Mother Nature halted track activities at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday, canceling the Truck Series event and the heat races for Sunday's Food City Dirt Race.
No Truck Series race means that a handful of Cup drivers pulling double duty to gain some experience on the dirt will not have any extra laps under their belts before the Cup event. Meanwhile, the lack of heat races forced NASCAR to set the field by their typical qualifying formula.
I already expected the race to border on a wreck fest, and I think the lack of heat races only increases that chance. With that in mind, I am approaching this race almost like a superspeedway event.
For the most part, I am avoiding big names and most drivers who I may need to use every start for in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game. I am also giving a preference to series regulars who have particularly extensive dirt racing backgrounds in these contests.
I am still giving an edge to the dirt racing crowd for Slingshot, but again, I am using somewhat of a superspeedway strategy and stacking the back. I'll be honest. I don't know exactly what to expect on the track Sunday, but I feel we will see many cautions and plenty of attrition. I think leaning into the place differential category as much as possible will be the safest and most effective strategy.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Bell has been enjoying a solid start to 2021 in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing, but I still wouldn't place him in the weekly fantasy starter category. With that in mind, I have no problem using this dirt racing ace in a potentially chaotic race. Bell is a former winner at Eldora in the Truck Series, a USAC champion, and a multi-time winner of some of the country's most prestigious dirt races. He should have a shot at the win and a bunch of stage points.
While you can question his natural ability, you can't question Dillon's passion for racing. On his way to the Cup Series, he has spent plenty of time at dirt tracks, and he picked up a win at the Bristol Dirt Nationals last week in preparation for Sunday's race. Dillon is also a former winner at Eldora in the Truck Series, and all his experience should give him a leg up on the competition. I think he is a legitimate top-10 threat, and Dillon won't have this type of upside very often.
Reddick made a name for himself as a dirt racer before making the jump to stock cars, and his background was evident when he picked up a couple of top-5s in his Truck Series starts at Eldora.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
He still dabbles in sprint cars and midgets, and Stenhouse is no stranger to slinging mud at dirt tracks. He also has a solid record at Bristol, albeit the traditional oval. A top-15 starting spot certainly won't hurt his chances, and this is a rare opportunity to grab a strong result from Stenhouse outside of a superspeedway.
Briscoe has plenty of dirt racing starts under his belt, and the experience translated well to the Truck Series dirt track events at Eldora. He posted a 3.7 average finish in three starts, winning the 2018 event and leading a race-high 93 laps in 2019. I think Briscoe is a top-10 option with top-5 upside this weekend. This a great spot to try to steal a start out of the rookie.
Garage Driver – Kyle Larson
As I said in the introduction, I am not too comfortable risking starts from any of the top drivers this weekend. However, Larson's dirt racing prowess is on another level, and his long-run speed in practice jumped off the charts. He has to start in the back after an engine change, but if he goes out and sweeps the first two stages Sunday and appears to be unstoppable, I want him available.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Ryan Blaney (A)
I already Blaney as the No. 1 Group A driver in my rankings coming into the weekend, and that was before he posted some of the strongest times in practice on Friday. He might not have grown up racing in dirt series, but I refuse to believe the son of Dave Blaney, one of the best dirt racers of my lifetime, hasn't picked up some pointers over the years.
Christopher Bell (B)
Bell's dirt racing resume speaks for itself with a USAC midget championship, and three Chili Bowl Nationals wins under his belt. He has also shown that his skill can translate to NASCAR, winning a Truck Series event at Eldora. I expect Bell to be a major contender for the win Sunday, and I don't think that will be the case too many times this season.
Austin Dillon (B)
Dillon has an extensive background in dirt racing, and he won the Bristol Dirt Nationals just this past week and showed top-10 speed in practice Friday. He also isn't a driver I plan to use the full allotment of starts, which makes the decision to use him this weekend even easier.
Stewart Friesen (C)
His equipment worries me a bit, but Friesen might have the most dirt racing experience of any NASCAR regular. He has won hundreds of dirt races, and he has finished in the top 3 in the last three Truck Series races at Eldora, winning the 2019 event. In what could be a wild race, I am going with Friesen's experience. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chase Briscoe are two series regulars in this tier with plenty of dirt racing chops.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Chase Elliott ($11,900)
I thought about using decorated dirt racer Christopher Bell from the 15th spot, but I decided to go the conservative route and use Elliott, who starts outside the top 25. He doesn't boast a lot of dirt track accolades, but he is one of the top drivers for one of the top teams, and he has the place differential category working in his favor.
Tyler Reddick ($10,500)
Not only does Reddick have one of the more extensive dirt racing resumes among series regulars, but he is set to start back in 29th after qualifying was rained out. He checks my two most important boxes for this contest.
Kurt Busch ($10,300)
Busch might not be a dirt track veteran, but he is one of the most versatile drivers in the series today. He is also starting back in 28th, so he is in a prime position to earn some place differential points. Busch is a low-risk, high-upside play in this format.
Chase Briscoe ($9,500)
He has plenty of dirt racing experience, and he was a major player for the win whenever he raced at Eldora in the Truck Series. The rookie's background should work in his favor, and starting 25th, Briscoe also has a big chunk of differential points to gain.
Ty Dillon ($7,400)
His older brother, Austin, has had more success at the dirt, but Ty has made some starts himself. He was a regular top-10 threat at Eldora in the Truck Series events. I don't think he can push for a top-10 this weekend, but a mid-pack finish isn't out of the question. Rolling off dead last, he has nothing but upside in the place differential category.
NASCAR guru Brian Polking has been committed to producing Fantasy NASCAR coverage for nearly a decade and written countless articles for his devoted audience who swear by his advice year after year.
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