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Tuesday, March 23, 2004
Food City 500 Fantasy Preview

By Bryan Van Stippen

By Bryan Van Stippen

The keys to finishing the race at Bristol are to stay up front and be patient. Bristol measures just a half of a mile around, leaving little room for a driver to make a mistake. If there is a crash in turn 1 a driver in turn 3 will quickly be involved in the wreckage if they are not paying attention. The track is made of concrete and does not change much during the race and does allow for side by side racing - we are certain to see plenty of accidents. Even the winner of the race will have damage on their car. Pit selection is important; qualifying up front will make a difference.

With three wins in the last four races here Kurt Busch is the favorite heading into the race. Busch has been consistent this season finishing no worse than 16th in the five races run while averaging a 10th place finish. Busch ranks fourth among active drivers with an average finish of 12th place here after he struggled his rookie season with a 42nd and 25th place finish (2001). Still with the three wins and four consecutive top 10s Busch has the best average finish in the last four races of any driver in the series (2nd).

The current points leader, Matt Kenseth, and Busch's teammate has been tough here as well recently. In the last four races Kenseth has not finished outside the top 6 positions - only Busch and Kenseth average a top 5 finish over that span. Kenseth struggled last week at Darlington but was still able to hold onto the points lead. Look for him to rebound this week at a track he loves to race at.

In six races here Kevin Harvick has just one finish outside the top 10 and that came in his first race at the track. Harvick has three top 5s and a pair of runner-up finishes in the last five races with a career average finish of eighth place. Harvick has had his problems this season with just two top 10s while also posting a pair of finishes outside top 20. He did produce a top 10 at Darlington and will be looking to make a move back into the top 10 in the point standings this weekend.

Yet another young driver that has been impressive here is Jamie McMurray. McMurray finished in third and 11th place in his rookie season here (2003). Although he has run just the two races he has the highest average finish of all drivers at seventh place. McMurray has struggled early this year even though he has a pair of top 5s. In the other three events run he has not finished in the top 20 as he sits in 19th place in the point standings. McMurray will need to string some solid finishes together and Bristol has been kind to him in his short career.

You can never count out the veterans here as Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin are proven winners. Wallace especially loves this race and had seven consecutive top 15s heading into the fall race last year before he finished in 43rd place after getting involved in a wreck. Wallace does have three wins here in the last 12 races with eight top 10s. He has been run well at times and has qualified strong but has yet to put both together. Expect his fortunes to change this weekend. Martin meanwhile has one win in the last 12 races here with five top 10s, although he has struggled recently. In five of the six last races Martin has just one finish in the top 20. Martin has been solid this year after a last place finish in the Daytona 500, posting four consecutive top 15s including a pair of top 10s. He should be able to continue his streak in the Food City 500.

Last week at Darlington Robbie Gordon surprised many with a top 5 finish. It is doubtful he can do it again this week as he averages a 27th place finish in six career races here. He has just one finish better than 20th place (17th) while having three finishes outside the top 30. Joe Nemechek has been producing for fantasy players this season but wouldn't mind skipping this track. In 11 races here Nemechek averages a 29th place finish. He has just two finishes in the top 20 in that span both at 19th place while also having pair of last place finishes.

Bryan Van Stippen is ESPN's fantasy racing correspondent and the senior staff writer for Fantasy GMs (www.fantasygms.com). Email any questions or comments to bvs@fantasygms.com.

All statistics are provided by Fantasy Racing Advisor.