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Fantasy NASCAR Practice Recap: Coke Zero 400
While practice results are never an exact predictor of what will happen on race day regardless of the track, they are even less reliable for this weekend's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. After all, the entire mindset of drivers and teams is different during a practice session at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. Instead of trying to fine-tune the handling of their cars and making their setups as close to perfect as possible, drivers are just looking to make sure their cars feel comfortable in the draft while staying out of trouble. In fact, staying out of trouble is probably the top priority for any driver in a Daytona practice as evidenced by the fact that just 17 drivers turned in laps in Happy Hour.
Even though practice times carry a little less weight than normal at Daytona, it doesn't mean they are completely useless. A fast lap in the draft can be a good indication that a driver does have a car that is handling well in the draft, and while they still have to survive the big wreck (or wrecks), having a car capable of running up front is at least a decent starting spot for drivers whom fantasy owners eye as they attempt to assemble a lineup that will deliver big results at one of the most unpredictable tracks on the schedule.
One driver might be able to help fantasy owners achieve the goal is Matt Kenseth. He posted the 11th-fastest lap in the first practice to go along with the third-best 10-lap average speed. Perhaps more importantly, Kenseth has been the best driver in the series at plate tracks dating back to the start of 2012. He leads all drivers in points scored, wins, top-five finishes and top-10s while leading 363 more laps during the stretch than any other driver.
Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards could also be worth a look from owners this weekend. Biffle posted the second-best 10-lap average speed in the first practice, and Edwards turned in the third-fastest lap in the same session. Meanwhile, Biffle has been running second on the final lap of the last three races at Daytona and has brought home top-six finishes in two of those events. Edwards on the other hand has logged six top-10s in his last eight Daytona starts and has posted the best average finish of any driver at the track during the stretch.
Of course, few drivers can claim to have a restrictor-plate racing resume that is more impressive than the one Dale Earnhardt Jr. has amassed, and the two-time Daytona winner didn't disappoint in practice. He turned in the fifth-fastest lap of the opening session, and although he hasn't won at Daytona since 2004, his 12.9 average finish in the last 20 races at the track is the best in the series. Not to mention the fact that he has finished fourth or better four times since 2010, picking up three second-place finishes during the stretch.
Another driver who didn't disappoint in practice was Clint Bowyer, and despite being winless at Daytona, he hasn't done much disappointing in general at the track. His 15.5 average finish at Daytona is the fourth best among active drivers, and in 15 starts, Bowyer has finished outside the top 20 in only four of those starts. At an unpredictable track like Daytona, Bowyer's ability to avoid major trouble can more than offset his lack of victories.
Fantasy owners looking for some sleeper options may want to consider A.J. Allmendinger or Paul Menard. Driving the Phoenix Racing No. 51 machine, Allmendinger turned in the fastest lap of the first practice session and the best 10-lap average speed. He has also finished 11th or better in two of his last three starts at Daytona, and the No. 51 car has finished in the top 10 in both of the plate races in 2013. For his part, Menard put down the sixth-fastest lap of the opening practice, and in his last five starts at Daytona, he has four top-15 finishes.
For those in deeper leagues or in survival-type leagues where a different driver has to be used every week, Danica Patrick may be worth a look. She recorded one of the 10 fastest laps of the first practice, and she also had one the 10 best 10-lap average speeds. Don't forget, she did start on the pole and finish eighth in the Daytona 500 to open the year. If she is going to manage another top-10 finish this season, Daytona is one of the likeliest spots.
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)
10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
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