Teams take a different approach to practice sessions at Daytona International Speedway. Yes, they still try to get their cars handling properly, but staying out of trouble and keeping the primary car in one piece is the top concern. Once a driver feels comfortable in the draft and the crew chief has a good gauge on the fuel mileage, most teams choose to call it quits. This strategy was on full display Friday during Happy Hour when just 24 of the 44 drivers took to the track. Needless to say, fantasy owners shouldn't rely solely on practice speeds when setting their lineups this weekend.
While the practice sessions don't carry as much weight as they normally do, it is still worth taking a look at the drivers that topped the charts. At the very least, the speeds can reveal a few sleeper options. Two of those potential sleepers include Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose. In Thursday's opening practice, the Richard Petty Motorsports teammates ranked first and second. Neither driver has had much success at the track, but Ambrose did finish in the top 15 in this year's Daytona 500. The two appear to be working well together, and if they can survive the mayhem, they might have a chance to make some noise in the closing laps.
Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle rounded out the top five, and while Logano and Biffle could be among the better fantasy plays, Newman is on the list of drivers to avoid. Logano has posted back-to-back top-10s at Daytona, including a third-place run last July. Biffle is a former winner at the track, and he has finished in the top five in both restrictor-plate races in 2012. Newman, on the other hand, has been miserable since winning the 2008 Daytona 500. Newman has finished 20th or worse in his last eight starts at the track, posting a 27.3 average finish during the stretch.
Only 24 drivers ran 10 or more consecutive laps in the opening practice, and Jamie McMurray was the best of the bunch. McMurray is the ultimate boom or bust play for fantasy owners this weekend. He has won at Daytona twice in the last 10 races at the track, but he has failed to crack the top 10 in the other eight starts. Basically, he is going to go to Victory Lane or end up wrecked. Owners have to decide whether they are willing to take the risk, but for anyone looking to gain some serious ground in their fantasy league, McMurray is a pretty good gamble.
Other notable drivers to rank in the top five in terms of 10-lap average speeds were Juan Pablo Montoya and Matt Kenseth. Kenseth won the Daytona 500 to open the season, and he finished second at Daytona last July. Overall, he has seven finishes of eighth or better in his last 10 starts at the track. Meanwhile, Montoya has four top-10s in his last six starts at Daytona.
As I mentioned in the introduction, most of the big names opted not to participate in Happy Hour Friday, and those that did only ran a handful of mock qualifying laps. McMurray continued his strong weekend, posting the fastest lap. Notable sleeper candidates Michael Waltrip and Kurt Busch also cracked the top five. Busch in particular is an intriguing option. His 11.2 average finish in the last 10 races at Daytona is the second best in the series. He has five top-five finishes and eight top-15s during the stretch.
Waltrip was also the fastest of the 11 drivers that ran at least 10 consecutive laps. He isn't a top fantasy option by any means, but he does have three career wins at Daytona. He also finished in the top 10 at the track as recently as 2009. Waltrip runs just a handful of races a year these days, but whenever the series visits a restrictor-plate track, he still has a chance to make some noise.
Fantasy owners wondering where the big names like Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were at on the speed charts shouldn't worry. Drivers that traditionally run well at Daytona are still solid options regardless of where they land in the practices. In the end, Daytona is all about staying out of trouble and picking the right lane in the closing laps. Any driver that is still running on the lead lap on the final lap has a shot at a top-10.
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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