Food City 500 Practice Recap: Drivers to Watch
Food City 500 Practice Recap: Drivers to Watch
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For years, Bristol Motor Speedway was on the short list of tracks that fantasy owners hated to deal with. After all, the half-mile, high-banked oval was famous for bumping and banging, and with all the wrecks and cautions, the races were often a war of attrition rather than a battle between the fastest cars. However, recent changes to the track’s layout have taken some of the bite out of Thunder Valley. Comfortable side-by-side racing is now possible, and although jamming 43 cars on a small, fast track still brings with it some dangerous moments, the carnage isn’t nearly as bad as it once was. The flip side of the tamer Bristol is that there is still a feeling out process going on with the new layout. As a result, not all the drivers that dominated on the old configuration have continued their success while some drivers that used to be off limits to fantasy owners at the track have become useful. In order to get a better idea of which drivers could help your fantasy team this weekend at Bristol, here is a look at a few names that stood out during the Saturday practice sessions at the track.
1. Kyle Busch: Plain and simple, Busch was dialed in during the Saturday practices at Bristol. He put down the fastest lap of both sessions, and he also put down the best 10-lap average speed in the first practice and the second-best average speed in Happy Hour. He is also a five time winner at the track with all five winnings coming since 2007, and his 8.4 average finish at Bristol in the last 10 races is the best in the series. Throw in the fact that he is starting on the pole Sunday, and Busch deserves a roster spot in any fantasy format.
2. Denny Hamlin: After a run of bad luck at Bristol, Hamlin finally broke through last summer at earned his first win at the track. Based on his practice times Saturday, he might just make it back-to-back wins in Thunder Valley. He ranked in the top five in both sessions, posting the third-fastest lap in the first practice. Hamlin also posted the best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour, leaving little doubt that he has a car that is ready to handle 500 laps on the bullring. Despite some hot and cold streaks at Bristol in the past, fantasy owners should feel more than comfortable adding him to their rosters this weekend.
3. Matt Kenseth: Fresh off a win at Las Vegas last weekend, Kenseth wasted little time getting up to speed at Bristol. He posted the second-fastest lap in the first practice session Saturday, and he followed it up with the fourth-fastest lap in the final session. Kenseth also had the fifth-best 10-lap average speed out of 30 eligible drivers in the first opening practice. In addition to his two wins at Bristol, Kenseth has always been one of the most consistent drivers at the track. In fact, he has eight top-10s in his last 10 starts at Bristol, including a second-place finish last March. Fantasy owners should consider him a top-five option this weekend and one of the safest choices available.
4. Kasey Kahne: After qualifying second Friday, Kahne showed during Saturday’s practice session that his car is just as fast in race trim. He opened his day by posting the fifth-fastest lap in the first practice, and he jumped to second on the charts in Happy Hour. Not to mention the fact that Kahne also logged the fifth-best 10-lap average speed in Saturday’s final session. Although his results at Bristol have been mixed over the years, Kahne has been solid lately, finishing 11th or better in four of his last five starts at the track. Based on his practice times, he seems poised to take his performance to the next level Sunday and contend for the win. While some fantasy owners may shy away from Kahne because of his inconsistent numbers, the upside is worth taking the risk.
5. Paul Menard: Following a respectable showing in Saturday’s first practice when he posted the 14th-best lap, Menard really turned it on in Happy Hour. He posted the 10th-fastest lap in the final session, and more importantly, he logged the eighth-best 10-lap average speed. Menard has been coming into his own at Bristol lately anyway, notching three top-10s in his last four starts. The solid practice times are an excellent sign that his recent trend of success is set to continue. Fantasy owners should consider Menard a legitimate top-15 option this weekend, and he could even be a sneaky source for a top-10.
6. Jeff Burton: The veteran has seen his fantasy value take a hit in recent years, but he does deliver the occasional solid run every now and then. If his practice times are any indication, one of his better finishes could be on tap for Sunday. Burton opened up the practices by posting the fourth-fastest lap of any driver. His car was even stronger on longer runs, and he actually posted the third-best 10-lap average speed in both the first practice and Happy Hour. Burton has managed seven top-20 finishes in his last eight starts at Bristol, including a sixth-place run last March. A top-10 finish might be asking a but much from Burton this weekend, but owners could score a solid top-15 out of him.
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