Fantasy NASCAR practice recap: Hollywood Casino 400
Plenty of attention has been given to the high speeds being produced on the repaved surface at Kansas Speedway this weekend, but despite the changes, it was a familiar name topping the charts in the first race-trim practice at the 1.5-mile track Saturday afternoon. Two-time Kansas winner Greg Biffle was the only driver to top 186 mph in the session, and his record on the track's old surface was phenomenal. Biffle has 11 straight top-12 finishes at Kansas, and his 8.0 average finish in the second best in the series. More importantly, he has finished third or better six times. Based on his practice times, it doesn't appear that his streak of strong runs is going to stop this weekend.
Aric Almirola was the surprise of the practice, posting the second-fastest lap. Although he finished an unspectacular 23rd in his Kansas debut earlier this year, there are signs that point to Almirola being a decent sleeper play this weekend. He has finished in the top 20 in the last three races, including a 12th-place run at Charlotte last Saturday. Like Charlotte, Kansas is a 1.5-mile oval, and while the tracks aren't identical, they are somewhat comparable. Don't be surprised to see Almirola sneak into the top 20 this weekend.
The rest of the top five was rounded out by heavy hitters Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. In addition to winning the pole for Sunday's race, Kahne finished second at Kansas last fall and eighth earlier this year. Meanwhile, Kenseth has finished seventh or better in four straight starts at Kansas, including back-to-back fourth-place finishes. Truex doesn't have the career numbers of either Kahne or Kenseth, but he did lead the most laps and finish second at Kansas earlier this year. Kahne is probably the best option of the bunch, but all three could make solid additions to fantasy rosters.
Only three drivers ran at least 10 consecutive laps in the opening session, and Jimmie Johnson was the fastest of the bunch. He is also the defending winner of this weekend's race, and in 12 starts at Kansas, he leads all drivers with a 7.9 average finish. Johnson has also finished in the top 10 in his last seven starts at the track, including a third-place finish earlier this year. Pencil him in as an elite fantasy option once again.
In Happy Hour, many of the same drivers remained at the top of the charts. Kenseth posted the fastest lap, and Johnson, Kahne and Truex also cracked the top five. The one newcomer to the group was Regan Smith, and he could make a strong sleeper pick this weekend. Subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the second week in a row, he put down the second-fastest lap in final practice. Smith also posted the fastest lap in a testing session held earlier in the week on the track's new surface. Smith was running in the top 10 last weekend at Charlotte when he blew an engine, and since Hendrick Motorsports equipment doesn't usually fail two weeks in a row, Smith could be in store for a solid afternoon in the No. 88.
Martin was the fastest driver in the final session in terms of 10-lap average speeds, while championship front runners Bowyer, Johnson and Keselowski also cracked the top five. Martin is a former Kansas winner, and he finished in the top 10 at the track last fall. Starting second Sunday, there is no reason the veteran can't pick up another top-10. Meanwhile, Keselowski has enjoyed a great run at Kansas recently, posting a 5.0 average finish in his last three starts and winning at the track last season. Coming off a race at Charlotte when he ran out of fuel and gave up some of his lead in the standings, look for Keselowski to bounce back in a big way.
Fantasy owners looking for a sleeper option outside of Almirola may want to consider A.J. Allmendinger. The former Penske Championship Racing driver has also benefitted from Junior's concussion, filling in for Smith in the No. 51. Allmendinger ranked in the top 15 in both practice sessions Saturday, and in six starts at Kansas in his career, he has two top-10s. A top-10 is probably a reach this weekend, but Allmendinger could sneak into the top 20.
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.Follow @kffl_racing
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