Fresh off his penalty last weekend at Dover, Jimmie Johnson appears more than ready to put the controversy behind him. He topped the charts in the opening practice at Pocono Saturday, and followed it up with the second-fastest lap in Happy Hour. Johnson leads all active drivers with a 9.0 average finish at the track, and in 22 starts, he has finished outside the top 15 only once. He is also a two-time winner at the track and has finished seventh or better in the last five June races. Fantasy owners won't find a safer option this weekend.
Junior: for those playing it safe
Carl Edwards also showed plenty of muscle during the practice sessions Saturday. He posted the second-fastest lap in the first practice and ranked third in Happy Hour. Meanwhile, Edwards is no stranger to solid finishes at Pocono. In addition to his two victories at the track, he has finished in the top 12 in five of his last six starts. Edwards was already a safe bet for a solid finish this weekend, and given his practice times, a top-five effort could be on tap.
A top-five finish could also be in the works for Kurt Busch this weekend. After posting the third-fastest lap in the first practice Saturday, he topped the charts in Happy Hour. Busch has been hitting his stride with his Furniture Row Racing team lately, having notched five top-15s in his last six starts. He also has a history of success at Pocono. Busch finished second and third in two starts at the track in 2011, and for his career, he has a pair of wins and four second-place efforts. After a rough patch, Busch is finally becoming a reliable fantasy option again.
Speaking of rounding back into form, last weekend's winner, Tony Stewart, appears ready to continue to make up for lost time. After a horrible start to the year, "Smoke" followed his Dover victory by ranking seventh and fourth in the two practices Saturday. Not to mention the fact that he has finished 11th or better in eight of his last nine Pocono starts and has finished in the top five six times during the stretch. Given his history of success at Pocono and history of heating up in the summer months, fantasy owners may want to jump on the Stewart bandwagon as early as this weekend.
For fantasy owners willing to sacrifice consistency for the chance at a win, Kyle Busch could make a nice pick this weekend. He has been boom or bust at Pocono, but he has finished third or better three times in his last six starts at the track. Busch also ranked sixth and 10th in the two practices Saturday, so it appears he has a car fast enough to deliver one of his better runs.
On the flip side, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all appear to be quality options for fantasy owners who want to go with a more conservative approach. All three cracked the top 15 in both practices Saturday, and all three have put up consistent numbers at Pocono. Harvick has finished 16th or better in his last seven races at the track, and Junior has finished in the top 10 in three of his last four. Newman on the other hand has reeled off nine straight top-15s. All three could make excellent additions to fantasy rosters this weekend.
Meanwhile, fantasy owners looking for a big name to avoid may want to steer clear of Jeff Gordon. Despite an incredible record at Pocono that includes two wins in his last four starts, Gordon ranked 20th and 23rd in the two practice sessions Saturday. Granted, it's tough to discount what he has been able to do at Pocono, especially recently, but the No. 24 just seems to be lacking speed heading into Sunday's race. Owners with other quality options may want to use them.
Happy Hour Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
Happy Hour 10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
First Practice Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
First Practice 10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
No drivers eligible
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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