Coca-Cola 600 Practice Recap: Drivers to Watch
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Dialing in a car for the Coca-Cola 600 is tricky. After all, the track changes so much over the course of the night that a car that handles well at the start of event might struggle in the second half or vice versa. However, drivers need to at least have a decent-handling car to start the night or risk being lapped during the long green flag stretches that tend to dominate the early going. Not to mention the fact that having an ill-handling car at any point at a track where speeds average more than 190 mph isn’t exactly ideal. Needless to say, every driver is searching the proper balance between speed and adjustability that will have them in position to win the race at the end of the 600-mile marathon. With that in mind, here is a look at a few drivers that excelled in both practice sessions at Charlotte Saturday afternoon that fantasy owners should target for their rosters this weekend. 1. Kasey Kahne: It is safe to say that Kahne has to be pretty happy with his car. After all, he topped the charts in both practices at Charlotte Saturday afternoon, and he also posted the best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. By the way, Kahne is also the defending winner of this weekend’s race and leads all drivers with four wins at the track since 2006, including three in the Coca-Cola 600, so fantasy owners may want to make room for him on their fantasy rosters. 2. Kurt Busch: He flexed some serious muscle in the All-Star Race at Charlotte last weekend, and Busch has kept the momentum going. After qualifying second for Sunday’s race, he posted the second-fastest lap in both practices at the track Saturday. Busch also won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2010 and finished fourth in the race in 2011 so success in the marathon event isn’t uncommon. Yes, there is some uncertainty because his Furniture Row Racing team isn’t a powerhouse, but Busch appears to have a top-five caliber car this weekend and is well worth taking a chance on. 3. Jimmie Johnson: Fresh off his fourth win in the All-Star Race last weekend, Johnson appears to have a car capable of going back to victory lane at Charlotte this Sunday. He jumped from eighth in the first session to fifth on the practice charts in Happy Hour, and Johnson also posted the best 10-lap average speed in the opening practice. He also has six regular season wins at Charlotte to go along with his four All-Star Race wins so Johnson can definitely carry a fantasy team this weekend. 4. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth considers Charlotte his favorite track, and he certainly looked at home at the 1.5-mile oval Saturday. After posting the eighth-fastest lap in the opening practice, he jumped to fourth in Happy Hour. He is also a two-time winner at Charlotte and has finished in the top 15 in his last eight starts at the track. Throw in the fact that no driver has more wins or has led more laps in 2013, and Kenseth seems like a safe bet to deliver another elite finish this weekend. 5. Denny Hamlin: He hasn’t shown any signs of rust since returning from a back injury, and after ranking seventh on the charts in the first practice at Charlotte Saturday, Hamlin jumped to third in Happy Hour. Keep in mind that this is the same driver that has finished in the top 10 in his last five starts at Charlotte, including a pair of second-place efforts last year. Hamlin starts on the pole Sunday night, and even if he doesn’t go on to win the race, he should still deliver a strong result for fantasy owners. 6. Kyle Busch: Busch wasted little time flexing his muscle at Charlotte, turning the third-fastest lap of the opening practice Saturday. He also posted a top-10 lap in Happy Hour to go along with the second-best 10-lap average speed. Surprisingly, Busch has never won a Cup race at Charlotte, but he has been a fantasy stud regardless. He has finished eighth or better in 10 of his last 11 starts, delivering eight top-five finishes during the stretch. Busch appears to have a car capable of adding to that impressive total this weekend. 7. Greg Biffle: While the Ford drivers didn’t make a lot of noise overall during practice at Charlotte Saturday, Biffle was an exception. He followed up the sixth-best lap in the first session with the fifth-best lap in Happy Hour. Meanwhile, he is coming off a year when he finished fourth in both races at Charlotte and led the most laps in the Coca-Cola 600. Biffle should have a shot at another top-five run this weekend, and at the very least, he should provide owners with a solid top-10. 8. Paul Menard: His career numbers at Charlotte aren’t great, but he does have two top-15 finishes in his last three starts in the Coca-Cola 600. More importantly, he ranked in the top 10 in both practices at the track Saturday and posted the fifth-best 10-lap average speed in the first session of the afternoon. Throw in the fact that he has finished in the top 20 in every race this year with the exception of Daytona and Talladega, and Menard should be a safe option for fantasy owners to round out their rosters with this weekend. 9. Jamie McMurray: McMurray showed signs of life at Charlotte last weekend when he won the Sprint Showdown and then drove from the back of the field into the top 10 in the All-Star Race. He continued to show some strength in practice Saturday, turning the 10th-fastest lap in the first practice and jumping to sixth in Happy Hour. Keep in mind that in 2010, McMurray finished second in the Coca-Cola 600 and won the fall race at Charlotte. He is also a two-time winner at the track overall so a solid showing this weekend isn’t out of the question. At the very least, fantasy owners need to consider McMurray an intriguing sleeper with plenty of upside. 10. Casey Mears: Fantasy owners in deeper leagues that are looking for a sleeper may want to consider Mears. Yes, he has been slumping in recent weeks, but he did rank 16th and 15th in the two practice sessions, and his lone Cup win to date came in the Coca-Cola 600 in 2007. Now, I’m not projecting a surprise win by Mears this weekend by any means, but he could have a decent showing and sneak into the top 20.
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