Friday, August 21, 2015

Final Bristol Practice Notes & Driver Ratings: Kyle Busch Superbad

This kid at Bristol in 2010 had the right idea.
Kyle Busch laid down the fastest lap during Friday’s final practice session in preparation for Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch’s lap at 131.146 mph is a strong indication that he is the driver to beat Saturday, but an even better indication is that Busch also had the best 10-consecutive lap average.

Beyond just a fast car, Busch has a stellar Bristol track history on his side beginning with being the youngest driver to ever win at Bristol in 2007 at 21 years old. He‘s continued to win throughout his career totaling five wins -- the last coming in 2011. Only Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch have as many wins on the half-mile high-banked layout among active drivers.

Oh yeah, he’s also got momentum with Joe Gibbs Racing winning six of the past eight races on the schedule, one of which wasn’t teammate Matt Kenseth’s Bristol win in April. If that all doesn’t sound like the favorite to win, then there has never been a favorite in anything.

Prior to Friday’s two practice sessions and qualifying, Kyle Busch was listed as the 6-to-1 co-favorite along with Kenseth and Kevin Harvick. For whatever reason, Kenseth just couldn’t find much speed in any of the 58 laps turned during the final session ending with the 34th fastest lap (126.854). It could be that his team was just trying out long runs in a race trim set-up, because he had the second-fastest lap in the morning session. On race day he'll be just fine as his four Bristol wins attest to, but he certainly didn’t post the type of performance as his teammate, which is why Busch should now be the lone favorite to win.

Harvick had the sixth fastest lap (129.334) in the final practice and seventh fastest in the early session. Harvick hasn’t won at Bristol since 2005 under the old single groove layout, but the chassis he’s using this week has a great pedigree to take notice of. In six races between 2014 and 2015, it led laps in all six and finished second twice and won at Charlotte. A stellar chassis is a confidence builder that helps get a team pumped in all facets on race day just because they know they can win by doing all the little things perfect in the pits and the car will take care of itself.

One driver that has taken extreme liking to Bristol is Kyle Larson who has a 9.7 average finish in three career starts. He had a career best seventh-place finish in the April race where he led 90 laps. He came out fast right off the hauler Friday with the fastest lap (129.833) in the early session while also having the best 10-consecutive lap average. Kyle Busch would finish third in that session. In the afternoon session, Larson was third fastest with the second-best 10 consecutive lap average.

Because of Larson’s limited experience, it still may be a while before he wins at Bristol, but since the changes to the track in 2007, there has been a radical shift to the type of driver that wins. In the good old days it seemed like only Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace ever won at Bristol. They all had a similar grit to them that personified what it took to win there. But in recent years, it’s been wide open with no driver since Kyle Busch staking claim as the King of Bristol. If Kasey Kahne can win in 2013, then Kyle Larson can win in 2015. But he’s going to need some help to hold off those Joe Gibbs Racing cars whose current drivers have combined to win 13 times at Thunder Valley.

Irwin Tools Night Race
Bristol Motor Speedway 
Saturday, August 22, 2015 -  4:46 pm (PT)

RATING    DRIVER   ODDS         PRAC 1     PRAC 2     QUALIFIED    BRISTOL ‘15    
 1. Kyle Busch 6/1                 3rd         1st           2nd         DNP
Five-time winner, the last coming in 2011; best 10-consecutive lap average in practice 2.
 2. Matt Kenseth 6/1              2nd       34th          13th         1st 
Four-time winner, including two of past four. Currently on hot streak with two wins in past three. 
 3. Kevin Harvick 6/1             7th         6th            7th         38th 
2005 winner with 15th-place average in 29 starts. Led race-high 184 laps in spring race. 
 4. Joey Logano 7/1             21st         4th           5th          40th 
2014 fall winner with 20th-place average finish; should be best of the Fords.
 5. Kyle Larson 18/1              1st         3rd           12th         7th 
Led 90 laps in spring; 9.7 average in three starts; best 10 consecutive lap average in practice 1. 
 6. Jimmie Johnson 10/1     18th         9th            10th        2nd  
2010 winner with 14.4 career average in 27 starts; fourth or better past two on Bristol concrete.
 7. Kurt Busch 10/1                8th       17th           11th       15th 
Five-time winner, the last in 2006; third-best 10-consecutive lap average in practice 2. 
 8. Denny Hamlin 12/1         10th         5th           1st          26th 
2012 winner, but 23rd or worse in four of five past starts; Joe Gibbs organization is on roll. 
 9. Carl Edwards 10/1            5th       14th           3rd         24th 
Three-time winner, the last in 2014, and all coming for Roush Fenway Racing; 15th-place average. 
10. Brad Keselowski 7/1        9th       16th           6th         35th 
Two-time winner, the last in 2012; 15th-place average; runner-up in this race last season. 

Note: Results from the April 17, 2015 Food City 500 at Bristol.

Odds courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas sports book director who has been setting NASCAR odds since 1994.

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