A motor issue knocked Mark Martin out of last weekend's race at Kansas, but nothing could slow him down in the first practice session at Richmond Friday afternoon. Martin posted the fastest lap of any driver at a track where he has had a lot of success the last few years. He has four top-five finishes and six top-15s in his last at starts at Richmond. As well as he has been running with Michael Waltrip Racing this season, a top-10 finish and maybe more should be within reach for the veteran this weekend.
Of course, no driver has been hotter to start 2012 than Greg Biffle, and the point leader continued his strong start by posting the second-fastest lap. However, Biffle has gone 10 straight starts at Richmond without finishing in the top 10, and he has just two top-five finishes in 19 career starts at the track. Biffle hasn't finished outside the top 15 all year, but he would be a bit of a shock to see him crack the top five Saturday night.
Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano rounded out the top five, and Bowyer is the top option to target out of the bunch. He is a former winner at Richmond and his 10.5 average finish at the track is the fourth best among active drivers. Logano has some value as a sleeper option, having finished in the top 20 in five of his six starts at RIR. Meanwhile, Menard should probably be avoided. He has never cracked the top 15 in 10 starts at Richmond, and he has finished outside the top 25 in his last nine starts at the track. To top it off, Menard wrecked his primary car in the first practice, and he will be in a backup for Saturday's race.
In terms of 10-lap average speeds, Matt Kenseth led a group of heavy hitters. Bowyer posted the second-best 10-lap average speed, and Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Bobby Labonte rounded out the top five. In addition to Bowyer, Edwards and Johnson are the attractive picks. Johnson is a three-time winner at Richmond, and Edwards has four straight top-10s at the track, including a second-place run last fall. After failing to finish in the top 10 in his last nine starts at RIR, Kenseth's value is somewhat suspect. He might be able to end his top-10 drought, but like his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Biffle, he probably won't be contending for the win.
When Happy Hour rolled around, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave the crowd something to cheer about, topping the charts. He hasn't had the best run of luck at Richmond lately, but he is a two-time winner at the track. More importantly, he has been rock solid since the season began and earned back the trust of fantasy owners.
Edwards and Landon Cassill followed Junior, and Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Gordon and Busch have been two of the elite options at Richmond over the years, and both should get heavy consideration from fantasy owners this weekend. Busch is the defending winner of this weekend's race and has a series-leading 5.0 average finish at RIR. Meanwhile, Gordon has finished 12th or better in nine of his last 10 starts at the track, including three finishes of third or better in his last five starts.
Martin jumped back to the top of the charts in the terms of 10-lap average speed, and he was followed by Brad Keselowski. Although he hasn't had the most consistent year, Keselowski is an intriguing wild card play. He has been a strong short track performer since joining the Cup Series, and he already has a win at Bristol this season.
Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Johnson rounded out the top five, and Hamlin is another name fantasy owners need to know. The Virginia native is a two-time winner at Richmond, and he has finished outside the top 15 only once in 12 career starts. Hamlin's 7.6 average finish at the track is the second best in the series, and he has finished third or better in half his starts.
Two big names fantasy owners may want to avoid are Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart. Harvick has finished outside the top 12 only once in his last 15 starts at Richmond and won at the track last fall, but he failed to crack the top 10 in either practice Friday and was 25th fastest in Happy Hour. Stewart is a three-time winner at Richmond, but he was even worse during practice. He ranked 30th and 33rd in the two sessions and was 20th out of 21 drivers in terms of 10-lap average speeds in Happy Hour.
Happy Hour Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
First Practice Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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