Earlier in the week, Denny Hamlin was hoping to be back behind the wheel of his No. 11 Toyota at Richmond International Raceway, and given his stellar record at a home-state track, fantasy owners were probably hoping for the same. Unfortunately for Hamlin, he was not cleared by doctors to return, but that may not matter for fantasy owners. His replacement Brian Vickers did a pretty good impersonation of Hamlin, cracking the top five in both practices. Keep in mind that Vickers has finished 11th or better in five of his last six short tracks starts, and he has two top-10s in his last four starts at Richmond. Hamlin may be sidelined, but the No. 11 car could still show up in the top 10 Saturday night.
Another driver that delivered on the practice sheets was Carl Edwards. He was one of three drivers to crack the top 10 in both sessions, which is very encouraging considering his recent results at the track. He has finished in the top 10 in five of his last six starts at the track, logging three top-five finishes during the stretch. At the very least, Edwards look primed to add to his top-10 total at Richmond this weekend.
The other driver rank in the top 10 in both practices Friday was Juan Pablo Montoya. In fact, he ranked second on the charts in Happy Hour. Granted, it is still hard to have a lot of faith in Montoya given his 26.4 average finish in 2013. However, he has finished in the top 20 in six of his last seven starts at Richmond. If there was ever a week to take a chance on Montoya, this could be it. Even if he doesn't back up his practice times, recent history says he shouldn't kill your roster either.
Veteran Mark Martin made plenty of noise in the practices, as well. After topping the charts in the first session of the afternoon, he ranked fourth in terms of 10-lpa average speeds in Happy Hour. In addition to the consistency on both shorter and longer runs, Martin has a rock solid resume at Richmond. He has seven top-10s in his last 10 starts at the track, including three straight. In fact, he has improved his finishing position in his last four starts at RIR and was third at the track last fall. Fantasy owners probably shouldn't pencil in Martin for top-five, but he can certainly deliver a solid top-10.
Of the drivers with a history of success at Richmond, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer both performed well Friday. Busch ranked third and 15th in the two sessions, and his numbers at the short track are second to none. His 5.4 average finish at Richmond is the best in the series, and in 16 starts, he has 13 finishes of sixth or better, including victories in the last four spring races. Bowyer on the other hand ranked ninth and 11th in the two practices, and he has been a model of consistency at RIR. In 14 starts, he has finished 12th or better 12 times. He has also finished seventh or better in five of his last seven starts at the track and won at the track for the second time in his career last fall. Both drivers are top-five fantasy options this weekend.
Kevin Harvick could also be an intriguing option. He ranked sixth in the first practice Friday and 12th in the final session and has been one of the more consistent drivers at Richmond for a while. He has finished 12th or better in 16 of his last 17 starts at the track, picking up a pair of wins during the stretch. Harvick provides a nice combination of reliability and upside this weekend, which is always a plus for fantasy owners.
As far as sleeper options are concerned, A.J. Allmendinger could be the top option. After ranking 13th in the first practice, he climbed to sixth in Happy Hour. Ironically, Allmendinger is only racing this weekend because of an injury to Ryan Truex, but fantasy owners might as well take advantage of his extra start. After all, he has finished 17th or better in his last five starts at Richmond, and he has a 13.3 average finish in three starts for Phoenix Racing in 2013. A top-15 finish seems well within reason for Allmendinger.
One big name that was missing from the top of the charts was Jimmie Johnson. In fact, he flat out struggled in the sessions, ranking 34th and 19th on the charts. The lack of speed is even more concerning because of Johnson's uneven record at Richmond. On one hand, he has three victories at the track. However, his 16.5 average finish at RIR is his fourth worst at any track on the schedule. Johnson knows how to make lemonade out of lemons as well as anyone, but at the very least, fantasy owners may want to save him for another week in league's that limit the number of times each driver can be used.
Happy Hour Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
Happy Hour 10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
First Practice 10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)