Although he missed out on the Chase and a chance to defend his title, Brad Keselowski has made some noise in the playoffs, picking up his first win of the year a few weeks ago at Charlotte. If his practice times at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday are a sign of things to come this weekend, he might not be done winning. After turning the third-fastest lap and logging the second-best 10-lap average speed in the opening practice, he jumped to the top of the charts in Happy Hour and logged the second-best 10-lap average speed. Keselowski came within a few laps of winning at Texas last fall before settling for a career-best second-place finish at the track. Even if he doesn't seal the deal this weekend, he looks like a safe bet to provide a top-five finish.
Kyle Busch also looks like a safe bet to crack the top five this weekend. He turned the second-fastest lap in the opening practice Saturday, and he ranked fourth on the charts in Happy Hour. Busch also posted the sixth-best 10-lap average speed. He is going for a season sweep at Texas after winning the spring event, and he has a 5.0 average finish in his last three starts at the track. A trip to victory lane seems very possible, and he should be an elite fantasy option regardless.
Of course, no driver has been better at getting to victory lane at 1.5-mile tracks this year than Matt Kenseth, and he didn't exactly disappoint in practice Saturday. After cracking the top 15 in the first session, he turned the second-fastest lap in Happy Hour to go along with the best 10-lap average speed. Meanwhile, Kenseth has won a series-leading four races at 1.5-mile tracks in 2013, and his 8.5 average finish at Texas is the best among active drivers. Heck, he has a 4.7 average finish in his last six starts at the track, and he has cracked the top five in five starts during the stretch. Kenseth should be owned in every fantasy format this weekend.
Another driver that should be universally owned in fantasy circles is Jimmie Johnson. In addition to turning the sixth-fastest lap in the first practice at Texas Saturday, he was excellent on longer runs. Johnson logged the second-best 10-lap average speed in the opening session and the third-best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. He is also the defending winner of this weekend's race, and he has a 9.1 average finish at the track for his career, including a 3.0 average finish in his last three starts.
Outside of the big names, Martin Truex Jr. was without question the most impressive driver in practice Saturday. He notched the fourth-fastest lap in the first session of the afternoon to go along with the best 10-lap average speed. In Happy Hour, he turned the fifth-fastest lap to go along with the fourth-best 10-lap average speed. Meanwhile, Truex has quietly posted a 7.3 average finish in his last four starts at Texas, and he finished a career-best second at the track earlier this year. He definitely has top-five potential this weekend.
Other drivers that performed well in practice include Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. Both drivers cracked the top five in both sessions Saturday with Biffle even cracking the top five in the first practice. Biffle also owns a series-leading 5.5 average finish in the last 10 races at Texas, while Edwards owns a series-leading three wins at the track in his career. Biffle is probably the safer of the two options this weekend, but both have plenty of upside and can help fantasy owners this weekend.
Kurt Busch is another driver with plenty of potential, and while his overall record at Texas hasn't been great, he is a former winner and could be a perfect option for fantasy owners that need to think outside of the box in order to make up ground in their leagues. Busch cracked the top-10 in both practices Saturday and finished in the top 10 at Texas last fall. Yes, he is a riskier pick than some other drivers that ran well in practice, but the reward could be well worth it.
In terms of sleeper options, Aric Almirola may have the most upside. After all, he cracked the top 15 in both practice sessions Saturday, ranking in the top 10 in the opening practice. Meanwhile, Almirola has finished 15th and seventh in his last two starts at Texas, so it isn't out of the question that he backs up his solid practice times with a solid outing Sunday.
Fantasy owners looking for a sleeper candidate with more of an established record at Texas may want to consider Paul Menard. After ranking 16th on the charts in the first practice Saturday, he jumped to third on the charts in Happy Hour. Menard has also finished in the top 20 in five of his last six starts at the track and has three top-15s during the stretch. At the very least, he should land in the top 20 Sunday, and a top-15 finish is certainly within reason.
Happy Hour Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
Happy Hour 10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
Second Practice Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
Second Practice 10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
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.Follow @BPolking
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