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Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

Another race is in the books for the 2024 Cup Series season as Christopher Bell earned a win at Phoenix Raceway last Sunday.


In what may not have been the most exciting racing, Bell certainly had the best car all weekend and was rewarded for it by earning the victory.


That victory didn’t come easy though. Bell had to fight his way through the field on multiple occasions, including a rally from outside the top-20 on the final run of the race.


I always like to see the best car win (especially when they’re on my betting card), even if it doesn’t result in the best racing on the track. Another Phoenix race has come and gone and once again fans are voicing their opinions on how terrible the Next Gen cars have been on short tracks.


I thought it was a fine race, not great, but fine. And shouldn’t that be good enough sometimes? But I digress, the talk around the sport early on this week has been horsepower. Where is it? What can we do to get more? Why won’t NASCAR let teams have it?


I can’t answer any of those questions, but as the grumbling of fans and people in the industry gets louder, I hope NASCAR at least starts considering it as a possibility. Obviously, short track racing was best back in the day, when aerodynamics didn’t play as much of a factor, because they didn’t have to when cars were slipping and sliding around the track, struggling for grip, and modulating the throttle so they wouldn’t spin their tires.


I think more horsepower would be good for the sport. Hopefully, NASCAR eventually sees that too.


As the season rolls on, we get to see another short track this weekend, though the short track package won’t be used. This week, its Bristol baby, and we finally get to see it back on the concrete.


Bristol dirt is gone (thank you Jesus) and we’re back to real racing on the 0.533-mile concrete oval.


Check out the track facts below for a few nuggets on last year’s night race, but this will be the first Bristol day race since the spring of 2020 when Brad Keselowski took his #2 Penske Ford to victory lane (talk about a throwback).


 Last year’s race was dominated by Toyotas, and last week’s race at Phoenix had a similar vibe, with Toyotas leading all but 14 laps in the race.


This has been a Denny Hamlin track in the past, as he is the most recent winner. He also led the most laps back in that 2020 spring race. I know it’s early in the season, but Toyota seems to have the leg up in this kind of racing right now.


Regardless, I’m making it a point to watch practice this week. Teams will have 15 minutes prior to qualifying on Saturday, which should tell us quite a bit about who is unloading with decent speed.


Keep an eye on X (Twitter) to see my bet slip for the race. I usually put it out on Sunday mornings, but I may make a bet or two as soon as the books open back up following practice depending on what I saw.


One more quick plug, make sure to sign up for our NASCAR One & Done. Pick a driver to win every week and accumulate points all season long. Even if you missed the first handful of races, it won’t be impossible to catch up!


Let’s dive into the upcoming weekend.

 

Track Facts

The Food City 500 is a 500-lap (266.5-mile) race around the 0.533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Bristol Motor Speedway opened in 1961 and was originally an asphalt surface before being renovated into the concrete bullring we all know and love today in 1992. Darrell Waltrip won the first Bristol race on concrete, the last of his impressive 12 Cup Series victories at the track. Bristol has been hosting two Cup Series events since it opened in 1961, though the last three spring races were held on a dirt surface.


This race profiles as a bit of a hybrid between traditional short track and 1.5-mile racing. Despite being the second-shortest track on the circuit, Bristol’s high-speed corners and fast lap times make it race more like a jam-packed 1.5-mile track. So much so in fact that NASCAR will not be opting to use their new short track package that debuted last week in Phoenix.


Bristol doesn’t often produce a surprise winner, apart from Chris Buescher in the 2022 fall playoff race. Other recent winners include Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. In the last Bristol concrete race, Denny Hamlin picked up the win, despite incurring a pit-road speeding penalty early in the race. Hamlin led 142 laps in a race that was dominated by Toyotas. Hamlin, Christopher Bell, and Ty Gibbs combined to lead 431 of the race’s 500 laps. Pairing that information with Toyota’s dominance at Phoenix last week, I’m keeping a really close eye on the Toyotas this weekend. I’m expecting another big week from them.

 

Who’s Hot?




Christopher Bell won the first short track race of the 2024 season at Phoenix, and now we head right into another one at Bristol. Bell pretty well dominated at Phoenix. He had the fastest car throughout the race and made it known by leading 50 laps and fighting his way through traffic on multiple occasions. The win locked Bell into the playoffs and was a nice bounce-back from back-to-back finishes outside the top-30. As far as Bristol goes, Bell has three top-10 finishes in five career races on the concrete. He also showed speed here last fall, qualifying on the pole for the playoff race. Bell will likely open as a favorite this weekend, but he may be worth a play.


Ryan Blaney is your new Cup Series points leader on the heels of another strong Phoenix performance. Although he didn’t quite have race-winning speed, Blaney extended his Top-5 finishing streak to an impressive six-straight Phoenix races. Though Blaney is yet to win at Bristol, he has had some success there, mostly prior to the Next Gen era. Back in 2018 and 2019, Blaney led over 100 laps in three consecutive Bristol races, but since that streak, he has led only 114 laps in the last six concrete Bristol races combined. I want to see if Blaney has speed before betting on him this weekend. 


Denny Hamlin pieced together a solid weekend along with the rest of the Toyotas in Phoenix. He qualified on the pole and led a race-high 68 laps. If Hamlin hadn’t spun battling for the lead, he may have even put himself in position to earn the win. Despite spinning in the final stage, Hamlin rebounded for an 11th-place finish. We now head to Bristol, where Hamlin is the most recent winner, having won the playoff race there last fall. Hamlin has qualified top-10 in nine of the last ten concrete Bristol races. And finished top-10 in three straight. Hamlin should be a prime contender to win this weekend.

 

Drivers I Like

Kyle Larson very well could become the first driver to win multiple races this season. In the last three Bristol races, Larson has not finished outside the top 5. His average finish at Bristol since the start of the 2021 season is 2.7, and he has led 229 laps over that span, second only to Christopher Bell. Larson has finished top-10 in nine of the last 10 Bristol races and has also led laps in nine of the last 10 Bristol races. I’d expect Larson to be strong this weekend.


Brad Keselowski is the most recent winner of the Bristol day race, having won the last spring race before NASCAR started covering the surface with dirt. Since then, Brad hasn’t quite had the same success in the night race, though he has finished top-10 in two of the last three races. In the race Keselowski didn’t finish top-10, he blew a tire late in the race while leading and his teammate Chris Buescher went on to win. I could see Brad having another great run this week, and maybe even earning his first win as an owner/driver at RFK.





The aforementioned Chris Buescher won at Bristol two seasons ago, but that wasn’t his only good run at the track. Buescher also finished fourth at Bristol last season and eighth in 2020. Buescher even carded a top-5 Bristol finish back in 2016 running in Front Row Motorsports equipment. Buescher is also coming off a runner-up finish at Phoenix. Buecher has led 170 laps over the last three Bristol races. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the No. 17 Ford running up front yet again this week.

 

Drivers to Avoid

Daniel Suarez hasn’t had the greatest luck at Bristol over the course of his career, especially since coming to Trackhouse Racing. Suarez has failed to finish on the lead lap in each of the last four Bristol races and has a best finish of 18th since the 2020 season. Suarez has never led a lap at Bristol and hasn’t qualified better than 21st since leaving Stewart-Haas racing following the 2019 season. I’d be surprised to see anything change this weekend.


I hate to put Joey Logano on this short list, because he has the potential to turn his season around at the drop of a hat, but following recent trends, Logano has struggled massively to start the season. Logano has crashed out of two of four races so far this season, and currently sits 30th in the Cup Series point standings, 100 points behind points leader (and teammate) Ryan Blaney. Logano has been so bad, that he is currently behind drivers like Justin Haley, Todd Gilliland, Daniel Hemric and even Noah Gragson (who don’t forget, had a 35-point penalty) in the point standings. As far as Bristol goes, Logano hasn’t been great there either lately. He and Ty Dillon are the only drivers to crash out of two of the last three Bristol races. Logano hasn’t led more than two laps in a Bristol race since the spring of 2019, which is also the last time he finished in the top-10 at Bristol. I’m fading him this week.


Speaking of drivers who have had an awful start to the season, Austin Dillon hasn’t been able to stay out of trouble this year. Dillon has been involved in an incident within the first 10 laps of three of four races to start the year. He crashed out early in the Daytona 500 and at Atlanta, then limped around with damage all day at Phoenix. His Bristol record is a bit cringe-worthy as well. In 17 career Bristol races, Dillon has never led a lap, and has finished better than 10th just twice. Dillon’s last top-10 Bristol finish came in the spring of 2020, the last spring Bristol race before the dirt era. I’m not banking on a Dillon bounce back this week.

 

Keep an eye on…




Ty Gibbs looked really good here last fall. He led 102 laps and came home with a top-5 finish. Gibbs is on the verge of picking up his first Cup Series victory. It seems inevitable that it’s coming soon. Bristol would be a tough track to do it, but his recent success here and Toyota’s recent success as a whole at the track makes it seem like this weekend could be a solid opportunity. The second-year driver doesn’t have a ton of stats or recent performances to fall back on, it’s just move of a gut feeling.


Erik Jones has been around long enough to get a read on, and his career Bristol performances definitely raise an eyebrow. Jones qualified on the poll here back in 2017, racing in the new #77 car for Furniture Row Racing. He finished second in that race and had pieced together solid Bristol performances everywhere he went after that. Jones had three top-10 finishes in six Bristol races with Joe Gibbs Racing from 2018-2020 and even finished Top-10 here in a Richard Petty car in 2021, prior to the Legacy Motor Club merger. Jones hasn’t led a Bristol race since 2019 and his finishes in the last two Bristol night races have left a bit to be desired, but a bounce back could be in the cards with Legacy’s switch over to Toyota this season. I’m probably going to place a long shot bet on Jones this week, as he can currently be found anywhere between +4000 and +5000 on the books.


Another guy with limited experience that has piqued my interest this season is Carson Hocevar. Hocevar ran the fall race last year in the Legacy Motor Club #42 car and came home with an 11th-place finish. Hocevar is an incredibly raw talent, but he’s been showing some flashes this season, making the final round of qualifying at Phoenix and running consistently in the top-20 in Spire equipment. Obviously, the Truck Series is a different animal than Cup, but Hocevar had some solid Bristol runs in that series as well, carding a pair of top-6 finishes over the last three Bristol races. I doubt I’m placing any money down on Hocevar to win, but he may be a sneaky plus-money matchup play.

 

Current Bets

I don’t often make a lot of bets before this article comes out during the week, so if anyone has any suggestions or ideas for how I can improve this article, please feel free to let me know. I want to hear what you all want to know. What can help you win your race pools or give you the best fantasy lineup? Just tweet at me or send me a DM @WKFCody.

Here are some bets that are at least on my mind heading into the weekend…


Erik Jones Top-10; currently +180 at Caesars

Erik Jones to win; currently +5000 at FanDuel.

Carson Hocevar Top-10; currently +300 at Caesars

John Hunter Nemechek over A.J. Allmendinger; currently -115 at Caesars

 

Be sure to follow Cody (@WKFCody) on X for his most up-to-date NASCAR bets and weekly NASCAR betting card posted on Sunday mornings. Also, listen to the WKF NASCAR Podcast anywhere you get your podcasts. The WKF NASCAR Podcast comes out at 7 a.m. every Friday morning over the course of the season.


Don’t forget to join our WKF Fantasy NASCAR One & Done! For more information, DM @WKFCody or @WKFNate on X.

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