Denny Hamlin has been makings headlines in recent weeks, but most of the talk has been about his bothersome back. After posting the fastest lap in the opening practice session Saturday at New Hampshire, it looks like Hamlin has a chance to get people talking about his performance on the track for a change. A win Sunday would certainly push his injury to the backburner for at least a few days, and Hamlin just might have what it takes to get to Victory Lane. He is a former winner at New Hampshire, and he has finished outside the top 15 only once at the track. He has also finished third or better in three of his last five starts. Bad back or not, Hamlin needs to be in fantasy lineups this weekend.
Another driver owners need to strongly consider is Jeff Gordon. He ranked second to Hamlin in the opening session, and no driver has been more consistent at New Hampshire in recent years. Gordon's 7.1 average finish in the last 10 races at the track is the best in the series. He has finished in the top 15 in every start during the stretch, and Gordon has collected six finishes of sixth or better, including three second-place runs.
Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five, and Bowyer is the top option for fantasy owners to target. He is a two-time winner at New Hampshire, and he was on his way to a third win at the track last fall before running out of fuel while leading on the final lap. Truex could make a solid addition to fantasy rosters, as well. He has finished in the top 10 in five of his last 10 starts at the track, posting a respectable 14.1 average finish during the stretch. Almirola, on the other hand, is a bit of a gamble. He hasn' t made a start at New Hampshire in two years, and he has failed to crack the top 15 in his three career starts at the track.
Hamlin and Gordon were also cracked the top five in terms of 10-lap average speeds, with Hamlin leading the way. Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch ranked second and third, and Matt Kenseth rounded things out. Kahne and Busch, in particular, both deserve a look from owners this weekend. Kahne finished sixth at New Hampshire last July and should have a shot at a career-best run at the track now that he is driving for Hendrick Motorsports. Meanwhile, Busch is a former winner at NHMS and has finished 11th or better in five of his last six starts at the track. Kenseth, on the other hand, could disappoint. He has failed to crack the top 15 in seven of his last eight starts at New Hampshire, and he has gone 12 races without a top-five finish at the track.
In Happy Hour, Hamlin remained on top, posting the fastest lap yet again. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate ranked second on the charts, setting up what could be a big day for the organization. Joey Logano also cracked the top 10 in the final session, and like his two more famous teammates, he is a former winner at New Hampshire, as well.
Brad Keselowski, Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five, and while Bowyer and Johnson have excellent track records at New Hampshire, Keselowski is a bit more of a risk. After three mediocre finishes at the track, Keselowski exploded for a second-place run last fall. It remains to be seen if his performance last September was a fluke, but given his fast times in practice, he definitely has some potential. That being said, Johnson and Bowyer both have multiple wins at New Hampshire and are the safer options for fantasy owners.
Hamlin completed a clean sweep of the Saturday practices, posting the best 10-lap average speed in the final session. Keselowski, Johnson and Bowyer again joined him in the top five, and Kahne was the lone newcomer to the group. As with the first practice of the afternoon, many of the drivers that have traditionally performed well at New Hampshire rose to the top of the charts.
Fantasy owners looking for some sleeper options should consider Brian Vickers or Jeff Burton. Vickers cracked the top 10 in terms of fastest lap and 10-lap average speed in both practice sessions Saturday. He also finished fifth at New Hampshire last fall and has two top-fives in three starts with Michael Waltrip Racing this year. Meanwhile, Burton ranked 10th and 12th in the two practice sessions, and he has finished 16th or better in his last five starts at NHMS and has finished worse than 16th only twice in his last 16 starts at the track. Vickers has the more upside of the two, but Burton should be good for a top-15 for those owners looking to play it a bit more conservative.
Happy Hour Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
Second 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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