Despite 10 top-10 finishes in 14 starts at Darlington, Jimmie Johnson's hold on the top spot in the driver rankings was in question after two solid but unspectacular practices. The three-time track winner quickly changed that during qualifying by putting his No. 48 on the outside of the front row. As a result, the defending race winner remains in the top spot heading into Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500.
While Johnson held fast atop the rankings, the second-place spot did change hands. Carl Edwards grabbed the spot after he was the only driver to crack the top five in both practice sessions Friday. Of course, his solid career resume at Darlington don't hurt his value either. Edwards has six top-10s in nine starts at the track, including finishes of second and seventh the past two seasons. As he has been most of 2013, he should be an excellent fantasy option this weekend.
A pair of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers also moved up the rankings as Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch both land in the top five. Kenseth has been thriving in his first year at JGR, and he currently leads the series in laps led. Meanwhile, he was already in a groove at Darlington, notching six top-10s in his last eight starts at the track. Busch on the other hand is a former winner at Darlington, and he has compiled a 7.3 average finish in his last three starts at the track. Both drivers qualified in the top 10 Friday, and it wouldn't be a shock to see either driver end their night in Victory Lane.
Lurking just outside the top five is Martin Truex Jr., and while he may not be a big name, he could perform like one this weekend. After all, he cracked the top 10 in both practices Friday, and his 11.3 average finish at Darlington is the fourth best among active drivers. In seven starts at the track, he has six top-15 finishes, and he has finished 10th in fifth in his two most-recent starts. Truex will roll off fifth Saturday night, and he could easily finish right around the top five, as well.
Fantasy owners looking for a sleeper option this weekend may want to take a chance on Juan Pablo Montoya. He vaulted into the top 15 in the driver rankings after cracking the top 10 in both practices Friday and qualifying 12th. Yes, his career numbers at Darlington are ugly, but he did manage a top-five finish at the track in 2010. He also followed up strong practices at Richmond a couple of weeks ago with a top-five finish on race day. If he backs up his practice times this weekend, Montoya could be a sneaky top-10 pick for fantasy owners.
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.
Don't miss these great reports....