Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bristol Practice Notes & Top Rated Drivers: Harvick still on top, but...

Kasey Kahne has the look of a winner this week at Bristol
Kasey Kahne was fastest in the first two practices at Bristol Motor Speedway and Kurt Busch was fastest in the final session, but Kevin Harvick is still the driver to beat in Sunday’s Food City 500.

On the basis of having the fastest 10-consecutive lap average during both of Saturday’s practice and simply being on an amazing roll, Harvick is going to lead a lot more laps on Sunday. However, those rooting for someone else have a very good shot at seeing their driver in victory lane. Harvick’s rating over the No. 2 driver to beat, Kurt Busch, isn’t as pronounced as it has been on other tracks, and that's true from the third driver on down to the 12th rated driver.

This thing really is wide open and as we’ve seen in recent history on the high-banked 0.533-mile layout, there’s someone new winning every year. There have been six different winners in the past six Bristol races.

Although Martinsville’s short track and Bristol are nothing alike except for size, we can make some Harvick comparisons using the two just because it’s the only race this season that Harvick didn’t finish or second in. Martinsville had not been Harvick’s best track. He practiced well there last month, but finished eighth.

Bristol is kind of the same situation. His only win there was in 2005 and he hasn’t had a top-5 there since 2008. He used to be one of the best on the old layout, but since adding multiple grooves to the layout in 2007 and then another change in 2012 to eliminate part of that progressive banking, Harvick hasn’t completely adapted.

However, plenty of other drivers have stepped up and fared quite well and some of those winners had strong practices Saturday as well.

Kurt Busch loved the old layout too as his five wins attest to, but the last one came in 2006, However, speed don’t lie and he’s got plenty of it as well as 10-consecutive lap averages were just a tad slower than Harvick’s on Saturday.

Kasey Kahne is lightning fast around the track and could be in store for his second Bristol win. He won this race in 2013 and while he wasn‘t as fast on longer runs as Harvick or Busch during practice, you wouldn’t be wrong to disregard some of the 10-consecutive average lap speeds, or at least lower it’s importance in Kahne’s rating. Times on 10 straight laps are of huge importance at 1.5-mile tracks with only 267 laps and shorter pit windows, but with longer pit windows at Bristol and 500 laps, 10 laps pales in comparison as a measuring tool.

Expect great runs out of two-time Bristol winner Brad Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano. We could see a 1-2 finish just like happened last fall when Logano won.

Matt Kenseth wasn’t particularly impressive in Saturday’s practices, but he’s starting from the pole and in most cases with Kenseth at Bristol, you can throw practice sheets out the window. He’s always been a beast on whatever layout Bristol offered, winning three times -- twice for Roush Fenway and in 2013 for Joe Gibbs.

Jeff Gordon hasn’t won on the new Bristol layout, but he’s been close a couple times. He’s a five-time winner, but the last came in 2002. He had a good final practice with the fourth fastest lap, but what makes him interesting this week is that he’s using the same chassis that won at Dover and Kansas last year. I always like to take drivers in match-ups or odds to win when they have a proven winner, and I know the team and driver gets a little extra bit of confidence as well. Kansas is irrelevant in comparisons, but Dover’s 1-mile high-banked track is probably the closest comparison to make with Bristol among all tracks.

The best long shot value this week is David Ragan in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Toyota. His best Bristol finish was 10th-place in 2008, however, he was very good in the final practice with the third fastest lap and good average speeds. The entire Gibbs organization is on the up swing and all of them, including 2012 Bristol winner Denny Hamlin, three-time winner Carl Edwards and Kenseth should be in store for great days.

Micah Roberts’ Top-10 Driver Ratings
Food City 500
Bristol Motor Speedway
Sunday, April 19, 2015 -  10:16 am (PT)

 1. Kevin Harvick 5/1                12th         4th           2nd       7th 
2005 winner; best 10-consecutive lap average during each of Saturday’s final practices.
 2. Kurt Busch 7/1                    16th         7th            4th       1st 
Five-time winner, the last in 2006; should be almost as good as teammate Harvick.
 3. Kasey Kahne 20/1                1st          8th           1st        2nd 
2013 winner; has lots of speed on short runs; using 2014 chassis that won at Atlanta.
 4. Brad Keselowski 6/1             3rd         2nd          18th       5th 
Two-time winner, runner-up last fall; best 10-consecutive lap average during practice 1.
 5. Joey Logano 6/1                   7th          6th           3rd        6th 
2014 fall winner; after rough start to career at Bristol, he’s got it mastered now.
 6. Matt Kenseth 8/1                 15th         1st           19th      19th 
Three-time winner with strong 12.2 average finish; he’s always a contender to win here.
 7. Jeff Gordon 12/1                 13th         23rd         15th       4th 
Five-time winner, the last in 2002; using winning chassis that won at Dover and Kansas last year.
 8. Carl Edwards 12/1                4th          3rd            7th      10th 
Three-time winner, including last spring; trending upward -- had his best practice weekend of 2014
 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 12/1        2nd         13th           9th      11th  
2004 winner, 12.9 average finish -- statistically his third-best track; using 2014 Richmond chassis.
10. David Ragan 60/1                5th         11th          14th       3rd 
Career-best 10th in 2008; showed speed during practice and all Gibbs cars are getting better.

Note: Six different drivers have won the past six races on the high-banked 0.533-mile Bristol layout.

Odds courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book

Micah Roberts, a former race and sports book director in Las Vegas, has been setting NASCAR odds since 1995. For more post-practice analysis, visit the Linemakers on or follow MicahRoberts7 on Twitter. 

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