While a good starting spot and a car that shows plenty of speed on the practice sheets are never bad things regardless of the track, they do mean a little less at Talladega Superspeedway. After all, the restrictor plates used at the track basically put every can on an equal playing field in terms of power under the hood, and with all the big wrecks that tend to occur, any driver that survives the mayhem can come away with a good finish. As a result, the final driver rankings look a lot like the initial rankings from earlier in the week, starting with Brad Keselowski holding on to the top spot as he looks to defend his win from the spring race a year ago and improve on his series-leading 12.3 average finish at Talladega.
One big name that did jump a bit in the rankings was Dale Earnhardt Jr. After posting the best 10-lap average speed in the first practice Friday, Junior jumped into the No. 3 spots in the rankings. Yes, it is a bit disappointing that the five-time Talladega winner hasn't been to Victory Lane at the track since 2004, but it's not like he was been struggling. Junior has finished 11th or better in six straight spring races at Talladega so even he doesn't win Sunday, he could still be very valuable addition to fantasy rosters.
Two other drivers that were already in the top 10 to start the week that moved up a few spots were Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne. The Hendrick Motorsports teammates were among the most consistent performers between the two practices Friday, and both have been running well at the track recently. Kahne has a 7.3 average finish in his last three starts at Talladega while Gordon has a pair of top-three finishes in his last four starts at the track. If fantasy owners only have room for one of the drivers on their roster this weekend, Gordon has the higher upside. After all, his six career wins at Talladega are the most among active drivers.
Dropping outside the top 10, Joey Logano was one of the few drivers that made a move up the rankings. In fact, he slid into the top 15 of the rankings thanks to a solid all-around showing during the practice sessions Friday. Granted, there is still plenty of risk involved with Logano. He has been boom or bust at Talladega throughout his career, logging four top-10s and four finishes of 24th or worse in eight starts. Still, he appears to have a fast car, and we are talking about a driver with proven top-10 potential.
As far as sleeper options are concerned, veteran Michael Waltrip jumped into the top 20 after showing some muscle in the first practice Friday. Not to mention the fact that he felt confident enough with his car after the first session just to play it safe and sit out Happy Hour. More importantly, Waltrip is a former winner at Talladega and a four-time winner at plate tracks. He has also finished in the top 10 at Talladega as recently as 2011, and he was in the mix for a win at the track last fall before Tony Stewart got into him trying to stop Waltrip from taking the lead. Make no mistake about. Waltrip could be a sneaky source for a top-10 finish this weekend.
The biggest loser in the final batch of rankings was Elliott Sadler. In fact, he fell out of the rankings completely after rain forced NASCAR to set the field by owner points and practice speeds. Sadler was set to make just his second start of the year in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 81 Toyota, and as a result of such limited action, he was the odd man out when it came to owner points. It is a shame for both Sadler and fantasy owners because the veteran driver had three top-15 finishes in his last five starts at Talladega and could have been a decent sleeper option.
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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