When he has been fast off the hauler, Mark Martin has been at his best this season. After topping the charts in the opening practice at Dover Friday, it appears Martin unloaded at the track with a fast car, and that could be good news for fantasy owners. Since the start of the 2002 season, Martin's 10.7 average finish at Dover is the fourth best in the series. He also finished second in the spring race at the track last season and has finished in the top 15 in 14 of his last 16 starts. Martin isn't the pre-race favorite to win, but he can certainly make a solid addition to any fantasy roster.
Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. ranked second and third in the first session, and while Dover has been one of Hamlin's worst tracks, Truex could be in for a big weekend. The lone win of his Cup Series career came at Dover in 2007, and last spring he finished a solid eighth at the track. Truex is enjoying the best season of his career, and heading to the only track on the schedule where he has visited Victory Lane has to be a confidence boost. The bubble may eventually burst on Truex's hot start, but it isn't likely to happen Sunday.
Heavy hitters Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle rounded out the top five in the early session, and fantasy owners should consider both drivers elite options this weekend. Busch is a two-time winner at Dover, and he has four straight finishes of sixth or better at the track and nine finishes of sixth or better in 14 career starts. He has also scored more points than any driver in the series in the six races leading up to Dover. Biffle is a two-time winner as well, and the point leader has been rock solid all season long. He has finished outside the top 15 only once in 2012 and leads the series with seven top-five finishes. At one of his better tracks, Biffle should deliver another strong run and contend for the win.
A majority of the teams focused on short runs in the first practice, and only three drivers ran 10 or more consecutive laps. Paul Menard was the fastest of the three drivers, but with such a small sample size, it's tough to put too much stock in the speeds. Throw in the fact that Menard has a 20.3 average finish at Dover, and his fantasy value is suspect to say the least.
In Happy Hour, Aric Almirola climbed to the top of the charts. Coming off his first career pole and a 16th-place finish in last weekend's Coca-Cola 600, the young driver has blossomed in the last month. He has three straight top-20 finishes and has climbed into the top 20 in points. For a guy in his first full year in the Cup Series, Almirola is exceeding expectations, and it appears he could be a solid sleeper option once again this weekend.
A trio of Hendrick Motorsports drivers followed Almirola, and Scott Speed rounded out the top five. For fantasy owners, the fact that Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson ranked second through fourth is a good indication that the organization is heading for a solid weekend. With six wins at Dover, including three in his last six starts, Johnson is the option to target. Junior could be worth a look, as well. He has finished in the top 12 in two of his last spring events at Dover, and his 8.2 average finish in 2012 ranks third in the Cup Series. Gordon has had success at the track over his career, but he has been mired in such a slump that it is tough to trust him until his luck turns.
Most of the full-time drivers spent a lot of time in race trim during the final session, and Martin posted the best 10-lap average speed. After posting the fastest lap in the opening practice, there is little doubt that Martin's car has the balance he is looking for. Fantasy owners should expect a top-10 finish and maybe more from the veteran this weekend. Truex, Johnson, Gordon and Biffle rounded out the top five, continuing a strong afternoon of practice for all four drivers.
Two other big names that showed some speed in Happy Hour were Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards. Edwards had the seventh-best 10-lap average speed, and Kenseth had the 12th-best average speed after posting the 11th-fastest lap in the opening session. Edwards leads all drivers with a 7.3 average finish at Dover and has finished 11th or better in 11 straight starts, notching six finishes of third or better during the stretch. Meanwhile, Kenseth has finished in the top five in seven of his last eight starts at the track and is the defending winner of this weekend's race. Neither driver topped the charts during practice Friday, but both should be factors on Sunday.
One big name fantasy owners will want to avoid is Tony Stewart. He hasn't had a top-five finish at Dover since 2004, and he has finished outside the top 20 in his last three starts at the track. Stewart endured a miserable set of practices, ranking 21st and 37th on the speed charts. He also ranked 22nd out of 27 eligible drivers in terms of 10-lap average speeds in Happy Hour. It looks like Stewart is headed for another long afternoon at Dover this weekend.
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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