By Cole Cusumano
Each week, Cole Cusumano will provide statistical and observational insight for the upcoming race in hopes you can redeem it for “Cole’s Cash” once the checkered flag waves.
It’s Bristol (dirt), baby!
As the NASCAR Cup Series eclipses the quarter-mark of the season, there’s a definitive complexion that’s formed to this point in 2022. We’re able to tell which teams have asserted themselves as potential contenders for the playoffs, but could this two-race stretch featuring a pair of the most unpredictable and chaotic tracks on the circuit prove to be the ultimate reset?
Beginning with the dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway, the sport’s premier level is in for a healthy dose of unknowns, even after competing at the transformed fishbowl-style oval last year. For starters, this race will be fielded at night, meaning more moisture will be baked into the surface, hopefully preventing dust from being kicked up heavily like 2021.
Additionally, the Next Gen car will be making its debut on dirt, and as we’ve seen through eight races, the seventh-generation stock car’s drivability has mimicked Late Models and midgets in terms of being constantly on edge.
Though there will be many unknowns prominently on display at Bristol on Easter Sunday, that won’t stop News from the Pits from cleanly earning money while the Cup Series hits the dirt.
Pre-Practice & Qualifying Odds/DFS Value per DraftKings Sportsbook:
Kyle Larson +650 ($11,200)
Joey Logano +800 ($10,600)
Christopher Bell +800 ($10,800)
Chase Elliott +1000 ($10,300)
William Byron +1200 ($10,000)
Joey Logano enters Bristol dirt as the inaugural winner and he can absolutely be considered a favorite for the win, even with asphalt background. The 2018 Champion is coming off a season-best runner-up at Martinsville Speedway and has silently been one of the most consistent drivers of the year with top-10s in half the races run.
Although many veterans of the sport have struggled to get acclimated to the Next Gen car, Logano seems to be the sole driver in that category in a solid rhythm with the Gen-7.
Bristol dirt was where Logano scored his only win in 2021, where he led 61 laps, won Stage Two and had an average running position of 4.1 (third-best). He was also 1-of-4 drivers to complete every lap inside of the top-14. Additionally, the 31-year-old will be getting extra track time by running the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday for David Gilliland Racing.
Next up is a driver who needs no introduction and has been touted as one of the “GOATs” of dirt racing, Kyle Larson. By all accounts, 2022 hasn’t started off well for the reigning series champion. He sits 13th in the standings with only three top-10s and an average finish of 19th, but he does have a win at Auto Club Speedway. However, outside of Fontana and Las Vegas, the dominance just hasn’t been there.
The good thing for Larson is Hendrick Motorsports has been the class of the field through eight races and he’s heading back to his roots. The driver of the No. 5 had an early exit in the inaugural dirt event, so we don’t really know what exactly to expect; but the bottom line is it’s Kyle Larson on dirt. There will be drastically different conditions compared to last year and it should mirror traditional dirt events more accurately. Lock in the champ.
Closing out the top-tier drivers, there’s Martin Truex Jr. The 19-year veteran has had a fairly inconsistent season, but the speed has been there on occasion and he seems to be one of the older drivers adjusting to the Next Gen car quicker than most.
Truex won Stage One and led a race-high 126 laps before he cut a tire with two to go and finished 19th. You can also take stock in the fact he had the best average running position (2.3) at Bristol dirt last year and won the inaugural Truck Series race there that weekend. He may be coming off an abysmal start in Martinsville, but so is pretty much the entire Joe Gibbs Racing stable aside from Kyle Busch. Keep an eye on the No. 19 this Sunday.
DFS Price/Odds: Truex $9,600 (+1400)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is one of the few Cup Series regulars who cut his teeth racing on dirt and had a phenomenal debut at Bristol dirt last year after finishing runner-up. The driver of the No. 47 earned points in both stages, ran over 85% of laps inside the top-15, made the most quality passes (39) and had an average running position of 10.8 at a dusty Thunder Valley.
Tyler Reddick has had a bit of a falling from grace after a hot start to the 2022 season, but he could be in line for a big day in his return to dirt racing. After starting 27th, the two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion finished seventh at Bristol. He ran almost 80% of laps inside the top-15 and tied for fifth-most quality passes with 25.
Lastly there’s Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell, who’ve both won on dirt in NASCAR at Eldora Speedway in the Truck Series. The driver of the No. 14 is coming off a top-10 at Martinsville with a win in his pocket already this season, while the Joe Gibbs Racing product has seen a significant uptick in performance over the last four weeks with two top-10s in that span.
DFS Price/Odds: Bell $10,800 (+800), Reddick $9,200 (+1400), Briscoe $9,800 (+1400), Stenhouse $7,700 (+2500)
Sleepers and Value Picks
Much like Reddick, Daniel Suarez has come back down to Earth after a great start to the season, failing to place above 16th the last three weeks. The good news for the Mexico native is he’s coming back to a place where Trackhouse Racing had their breakout performance, which should instill a much needed confidence boost.
Suarez led 58 laps at Bristol dirt last year and finished fourth once the checkered flag waved. He was another driver who completed all laps inside of the top-15 and he had the third-best running position with 4.3.
Austin Dillon has been the model for consistency for the mid-tier driver as of late, racking up three consecutive top-10s and entering Bristol off a third at Martinsville. The elder Dillon brother may have finished 21st in this race one year ago, but consistency is vital in NASCAR and he’s getting extra laps by running the Truck Series race.
Another driver hoping to capitalize on track time in the Truck Series is Rookie of the Year contender Harrison Burton. The 21-year-old had a rough outing at Martinsville after back-to-back top-20s, but could be considered a DFS option in extreme top-heavy lineup situations.
Wallace earned points in both stages at Bristol dirt last year and won at Eldora in 2014. Thunder Valley is a place the 23XI Racing driver has been outspoken in praise about and it’s also somewhere he scored one of his 13 career top-10s at.
Jones is coming off a nice rebound at Martinsville where he finished 13th and he could be seeing a change in fortune at the perfect time. The driver of the No. 43 is riding a four-race top-10 streak at Bristol, which includes ninth in the dirt race last year.
DFS Price/Odds: Suarez $8,300 (+2000), Wallace $7,500 (+3000), Jones $7,200 (+4000), Dillon $7,400 (+5000)
Don’t Count Out
Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney have been the two best drivers all season and they both silently had great, top-10 days at Bristol dirt last year. The driver of the No. 9 ran almost 98% of laps inside the top-15 and had the seventh-best average running position of 9.7, while the Team Penske product had the ninth-best with 10.9.
Aside from momentum and proven speed through eight races, the biggest thing the pair of generation drivers have going for them is the absence of live pit stops at Bristol dirt. Their crews have burned them on multiple occasions this season and prevented them from winning multiple races. Should they stay up front and in contention, both could be in line for a big day with less pressure on the team.
In addition to Elliotts impressive 2022 campaign and Bristol dirt stats from last year, he’ll be also be competing for Spire Motorsports in the Truck Series prior to the Cup race on Easter Sunday. The No. 7 went to victory last weekend and was in contention for the win at Circuit of the Americas.
Finally, there’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and William Byron, who’ve taken it upon themselves to hone their craft by getting extra laps in other series and forms of motorsports, including on dirt.
Byron became the first repeat winner of 2022 with his victory at Martinsville and assumed the series-lead in laps led with 482 over Blaney. The 2017 Xfinity Series Champion finished sixth at Bristol dirt last year and completed every lap inside of the top-15. He tied for fourth-most quality passes with 26 and he had a 4.9 average running position.
Bowman placed 22nd at Bristol dirt last year, but he’s off to a great start this season with a win, four top-10s and an average finish of 12th, which ties him for second overall with Blaney. There are better options than the driver of the No. 48 for DFS, but this team has proven their worth in this series and could surprise for a strong day and maybe even the win.
DFS Price/Odds: Elliott $10,300 (+1000), Byron $10,000 (+1200), Bowman $8,900 (+1400), Blaney $9,400 (+1600)
Big Money Prop Bets
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to finish top-five +300
Joey Logano to finish top-five +110
Race Winner (Smaller Bet) / DFS Inclusion Combo
Chase Briscoe +1400
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. +2500