NASCAR has given us fans a massive gift. The Bristol night race has been moved from a late summer classic to an early playoff must watch. I will preview each of the 16 playoff drivers and rank them into one of four categories. The categories are a favorite, a good bet, a long shot, and save your money.
Kevin Harvick - The regular season champion enters Bristol having already advanced to the Round of 12 via his win at Darlington. Harvick has been one of the two dominant drivers this season. Bristol however is good but not great track for him. He has three wins, and an average finish of 13.8. Between the SHR short track program being less competitive than others, and Harvick already advancing via the Darlington win, but it's 2020 Harvick is a favorite.
Brad Keselowki - Keselowski has already advanced via his win at Richmond last Saturday night. Brad won the spring race through one of the craziest finishes in Bristol history. He's been the best driver with the 750 horsepower package this season with wins at New Hampshire, Richmond, and Bristol earlier in the year. Throughout his career Brad has three wins, and an average finish of 16.5 at Bristol. Penske has had the best short track package in the Cup Series this season, and when you combine that with his win earlier this season that makes Brad one the favorites.
Denny Hamlin - Hamlin is the other half of the two most dominant drivers this season. He has had a disappointing start to his playoffs so far, though. A first round built with Hamlin in mind has finished 13th at Darlington, and 12th at Richmond; however Hamlin has advanced on points. Hamlin's career at Bristol is stellar with two wins, and an average finish of 14.5. Coming into Bristol as the reigning night race winner, and the best car in the spring Hamlin is absolutely a favorite.
Joey Logano - Logano enters Bristol with back to back top 3 finishes. He was one of the best cars in the spring Bristol race until a end of race incident with Chase Elliott. Logano has been solid at Bristol throughout his career with 2 wins, and an average finish of 15.3. Between being one of the best cars in the spring, and the Penske short track program Logano is a favorite.
Martin Truex Jr.- Truex is one of the playoff drivers who truly struggles at Bristol. It feels like Truex is regularly caught up in the big one at Bristol, and that has given him an average finish of 20.6. Truex is riding some momentum after the second place finish at Richmond, but even with that momentum I would say save your money here.
Austin Dillon - The biggest surprise of these playoffs so far. Austin Dillon is riding back to back top 5 finishes, and arguably could have won Richmond or Darlington. Coming into Bristol Austin Dillon has all the momentum in the world, however he has historically been rather average at Bristol. Between his average finish of 17.4, and having a solid points advantage makes him a long shot for the win.
Chase Elliott - Elliott has been dominant at Bristol this year. He won both stages in the spring race as well as the All Star race. Elliott who could have won the spring race, until the previously mentioned incident with Logano. He has an average finish of 12.7, the best of any playoff driver makes him a favorite if not the favorite.
Alex Bowman - Bowman has had a relatively quiet yet solid start to the playoffs. He is in a solid points position, but Bristol is a track he struggles at. Due to his average finish of 22.7, and his solid points position I would expect Bowman to play it conservatively and I would save my money here.
Kyle Busch - Without a win in 2020, Kyle Busch is the first driver where I mention strictly points standings. Currently Busch is 18 points above the cutoff. Busch's best track is Bristol. An impressive eight wins, and average finish of 13.1 makes him a virtual lock to advance. No matter the car, no matter the season its a Busch brother at Bristol, and he is a favorite.
Aric Almirola - One of the least discussed playoff drivers, Almirola has been incredibly consistent all season. His consistency tends to run out at Bristol with a career average finish of 25.0. He is seven points above the cutoff line and I expect him to have an average night to advance, but he is a driver I would save my money on.
Kurt Busch - The elder Busch has been a solid top-ten threat all season, but we are heading to Bristol. Historically, this is his best track. Kurt Busch is also seven points above the cutoff. He has an astounding six wins at Bristol with an average finish of 14.0. As I said with Kyle Busch "it's a Busch brother at Bristol, he is a favorite.." this still holds true here.
Clint Bowyer - Bowyer has had an up and down season, but one of his ups was the Bristol spring race, he finished second. A traditionally great short track racer I expect Bowyer to run really well Saturday night, and he needs it. A mere three points above the cutoff line, his 13.7 average finish should help power him into the round of 12. I would say Bowyer is a good bet.
William Byron - After having a great Darlington race, Byron struggled at Richmond and enters Bristol three points below the cutoff. Byron has not been particularly great at Bristol. His best finish came in the spring race, where he finished 8th. He has an average finish of 17.2, but I don't think he runs particularly well this time. Byron's inconsistencies lead me to believe he will struggle a bit and I would save my money here.
Cole Custer - Outside of his shocking win at Kentucky Cole Custer's rookie season has been rather rough, and Bristol is no different. After being involved in an accident, he finished 35th in the spring race. Due to Custer being a rookie, facing an 8 point mountain, and the pressure being on at Bristol I expect him to struggle, and I would save my money here.
Matt DiBenedetto - We all want DiBenedetto to find a win after the heart warming yet equally saddening Bristol night race last season. Looking at his 25 point hill DiBenedetto needs to have a performance like that to advance, but his performance this season has lead me to believe it will not happen. His 19.1 average finish does not help my feelings. However it is Bristol, and he's done it before. I'd say he is a long shot.
Ryan Blaney- A mess of a playoffs has Blaney 27 points out, and seemingly in a must win situation. Ryan Blaney has all the speed at Bristol with almost none of the finishes to match that speed. His 20.7 average finish is deceptively bad. He always seems to have a fluke or a wreck when he's in the lead. I'm banking on the same this time around and I would deem Blaney a long shot.