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It may be Blaney’s time at Bristol

There’s a lot of relevant data to review before making your NASCAR wagers this week for Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway’s half-mile, high banked, concrete bullring.

The first thing we have to understand is that this the 29th race of the season and the third and final race in the Round of 16. Four of the 16 Playoff drivers will be chopped from championship contention after the race, giving us 12 remaining drivers when the Round of 12 begins next in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas. There will be a few guys driving as if it were the last race of their career and would wreck their mothers for a win.

I find Ryan Blaney the most interesting candidate to win this week because he’s sitting last in points, 25 behind Clint Bowyer in the 12th and final transfer position. He could make it on points with lots of help but I’m sure he’ll be going all out to get the win. I asked Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook manager Ed Salmons if he’d be posting Blaney at 20-1 odds to win after being 25-1 last week at Darlington and he said no because Blaney runs well at Bristol.

Yes, Blaney runs extremely well at Bristol even though he has just one top-five in 10 Cup starts there. In his five starts while driving for Team Penske he’s led 449 laps and that’s not including the All-Star race at Bristol in July when he led a race-high 72 laps before finishing sixth.

So why hasn’t won yet? He looks like a solid candidate to win at Bristol. Well, on two occasions he’s been wrecked by lap traffic, once while leading the race. Bristol’s half-mile layout gets traffic lapped quickly and they’re all on top of each other. It makes it tougher to pass for the leaders. Blaney has had trouble with this.

But the fact that he’s always finding his way to the front is what attracts me to him this week, and I also love the desperation angle of him forced to run his best race or else his title hopes go down the drain. He started the season so well, but it was mostly with the race package featuring engines producing 550 horsepower on the larger tracks.

This week, NASCAR will be using the 750 hp package which has raced eight times this season and Team Penske has proven to be the best with it with Brad Keselowski winning three times and Joey Logano winning once. That’s half the wins using this package coming from Team Penske and quite remarkable considering Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin each only have one win using it while winning 14 of the 28 races overall between three race packages.

Matt DiBenedetto is 15th in the standings, only 2 points ahead of Blaney, and likely needs to win to advance. In his last start there during the All-Star Race he was 13th and last August he had his best career race there driving the No. 95 as he led a race-high 93 laps and was headed to his first win until Hamlin passed him late. He would end up finishing second. Who knows, with hard tire compound and extra grip sprayed on the track, a guy like DiBenedetto could shock the world with a win.

I won’t be betting him, but after seeing Cole Custer win at 300-1 odds, anything is possible in 2020. Custer, along with William Byron, are both currently outside looking in to the next round and have to have great races to put themselves in.

Harvick, Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr. are going to be listed as the drivers to beat, but I firmly believe the first choice to bet this week is Brad Keselowski who has three of the eight points-paying race wins using the 750 hp package while no other driver has more than one.

He won the May 31 race at Bristol leading 115 laps and then he won at New Hampshire and Richmond, which happened to be by design using the same chassis. After his Richmond win Saturday night he said he’d be bringing that winning chassis to Phoenix for the Championship 4 race. Keselowski is now listed at the SuperBook at 8-1 odds to win the Championship.

Logano hasn’t won since the shutdown, but he’s been extremely competitive with this week’s race package and was third at Richmond last week. He’s got two Cup wins at Bristol while Keselowski has three. Team Penske should be well represented in your betting strategies this week.

Kyle Busch is an eight-time winner at Bristol, his brother Kurt Busch has six wins while Matt Kenseth has won four times. Hamlin, Harvick and Jimmie Johnson have all won twice each. Erik Jones has been one of the better drivers there looking for his first Cup win but has two Xfinity wins there and now has only eight races left with great Joe Gibbs Racing equipment to impress someone else for a job in 2021.