Fantasy NASCAR practice recap: IRWIN Tools Night Race
Nobody knew exactly what to expect when the Cup Series visited the reconfigured Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend, and Casey Mears made sure the surprises began early. Driving for the small-budget Germain Racing team, he topped the charts in the opening practice session. The fact that a majority of the other teams were in qualifying trim, as well, makes Mears' lap even more impressive. While he isn't a reliable fantasy option by any means, the fast lap does put Mears on the list of intriguing sleepers for this weekend's race.
Although Mears was a total shock at the top of the charts, it was no surprise to see Brad Keselowski put down a fast lap. He ranked second in the first practice, and he is gunning for a Bristol three-peat this weekend after winning at the track last August and earlier this year. If the practice times are any indication, the new layout hasn't done much to slow him down.
Greg Biffle, Aric Almirola and Joey Logano rounded out the top five, and while Biffle could be a factor for the win, Almirola and Logano could have some sleeper value. Although Biffle has never won at Bristol, he does have 15 top-15 finishes in 19 starts, making the point leader one of the most reliable options this weekend. Almirola, on the other hand, has three top-20s in his last five starts at the track, including a pair of top-15s. Logano has back-to-back top-20s at the track, as well.
The surprises kept on coming in the first session, as David Gilliland posted the best 10-lap average speed. He and Matt Kenseth were the class of the 18 cars that qualified for the category. While Gilliland is a high-risk, high-reward option like Mears, Kenseth should be rock solid for owners. He has six straight top-10s at the track, including three straight finishes of sixth or better, and his 9.3 average finish is tops among drivers in the last 20 races at Bristol. After finishing second in the March event, Kenseth will try to seal the deal Saturday night.
In Happy Hour, a similar group of drivers remained at the top of the charts. Logano led the way, and Keselowski once again settled for the second fastest lap. Gilliland and Kenseth ranked third and fourth, while Kyle Busch was the newcomer to the top five. Busch has been one of the best options at Bristol in recent years, winning five times, including four times in the last seven races. He desperately needs a win to make the Chase, and he could get it this weekend.
Only 16 drivers ran at least 10 consecutive laps in the final session, and Biffle had a decent gap between himself and the rest of the eligible drivers. Keselowski had the second best average speed, and Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five. Of the three newcomers, Kahne is probably the driver to target. He has three finishes of 11th or better in his last four starts at Bristol, and he has been one of the top drivers in recent weeks, scoring the second most points in the series over the past six races.
While plenty of big names performed well in practice, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson weren't among them. Edwards complained about his car throughout both sessions, and ranked 26th and 30th on the charts. Johnson was even worse, ranking 41st in the first practice and 31st in Happy Hour. Maybe it is the new track configuration, but both former Bristol winners were way off on the setup. It definitely looks like fantasy owners should look elsewhere when setting their lineups.
Owners looking for a sleeper option without as much risk as Mears and Gilliland might want to consider Brian Vickers. He ranked eighth on the charts in Happy Hour and also posted the seventh best 10-lap average speed. Vickers also finished fifth at Bristol in March. He will be back in the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 this weekend, and he definitely has top-10 upside.
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.Follow @kffl_racing
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