Duck Commander 500 Practice Recap: Sleeper Drivers to Watch
Texas Motor Speedway is consistently one of the fastest tracks on the schedule, and after Kevin Harvick ran a lap of more than 198 mph during the first-round of qualifying Saturday, it is clear that the 1.5-mile oval is only getting faster with age. Finding a winning setup for a speedy track like Texas can be tricky. After all, drivers have to have a car that is fast enough on short runs to stay within striking distance of the leaders, but they also have to sustain the speed to a certain degree. As a result, it is important to look at both top speeds and average speeds when analyzing each driver's performance in practice. With that in mind, here is a closer look at a few drivers that stood out during this weekend's practices that could make solid sleeper options for fantasy owners at Texas this weekend.
Paul Menard, #27 Menards, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Menard has been enjoying a solid stretch at Texas, and he has continued the trend so far this weekend. He ranked ninth in the opening practice session Friday and jumped to sixth in Saturday's Happy Hour. He also logged the third-best 10-lap average speed in the final practice. Menard has finished in the top 20 in six of his last seven starts at Texas and has four top-15s during the stretch. He also finished third at Las Vegas earlier in the year, and Texas has the same 1.5-mile layout. At the very least, Menard looks to have a solid shot at a top-10 this weekend, and he has great upside for a sleeper play.
Trevor Bayne, #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane, Wood Brothers Racing [Yahoo Class C]
He is driving a part-time schedule again in 2014, and fantasy owners may want to take advantage of what will be just his third race of the season. After all, Bayne ranked eighth on the charts in both practice sessions this weekend, and he qualified seventh Saturday. In seven previous starts at Texas, Bayne has four finishes of 18th or better, but Bayne's ceiling appears to be much higher this weekend, and at the very least, a top-20 seems like a safe bet.
Jamie McMurray, #1 McDonald's/Cessna, Chip Ganassi Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Although McMurray has gone 10 straight starts at Texas without a top-10 finish, his practice times this weekend have been very encouraging. He cracked the top-10 in both sessions, ranking sixth in the opening practice. McMurray also qualified in the top 15, and while he hasn't been great at Texas, he has managed three top-20s in his last four starts at the track. Another top-20 seems like the minimum for McMurray this weekend, and he should be able to challenge for a top-15.
Ryan Newman, #31 Caterpillar, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class B]
It has been a solid all-around weekend for Newman so far. He turned the third-fastest lap in Friday's practice, and he ranked 12th on the charts in Happy Hour Saturday. Newman then backed up his practice times with an eighth-place run in qualifying. Meanwhile, he rolls into Sunday's race with three straight finishes of 12th or better at Texas. He should have no problem challenging for another top-10 this weekend, and he is one of the safest sleeper plays this weekend.
Marcos Ambrose, #9 Stanley/Dewalt Power Tools, Richard Petty Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
His weekend got off to a fast start as Ambrose cracked the top 10 in the opening practice session Friday. He slipped a bit on the charts in Happy Hour, ranking 16th on the charts, but he qualified a solid ninth. Ambrose has been a 20th-place driver at best at Texas for most of his career, but he has finished in the top five in two of the last three races of 2014. With momentum on his side and a fast car, he could be in store for one of his better runs at Texas. If you are willing to take a gamble on Ambrose, it could pay off.
Aric Almirola, #43 Smithfield Foods, Richard Petty Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
After ranking 17th on the practice charts in the opening practice at Texas Friday, he jumped up to fifth on the charts in Happy Hour Saturday. His qualifying time was a little more modest, but he still landed in the top 20. Almirola hasn't been great at Texas, but his only two top-15s at the track have come in the past three races. Based on the speed he has showed this weekend, he should be in the mix for another top-15 this weekend. He didn't have the upside of some of the other sleeper picks, but Almirola should still make a solid add in deeper formats.
Casey Mears, #13 GEICO, Germain Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Mears has been one of the bigger surprises this weekend. He cracked the top 15 in the opening practice at Texas Friday, and in the same session, he logged the second-best 10-lap average speed. Mears also qualified a respectable 21st Saturday. Mears hasn't had a lot of luck at Texas the past couple of seasons, but from 2008 to 2012, he finished 26th or better in every start at the track. Fantasy owners looking for this weekend's bargain option should consider taking a chance on Mears.
FFToolbox Fantasy NASCAR Writer since 2011
I grew up in a racing family, and I spent my childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky. NASCAR became a passion of mine at an early age as well, and I have been following the sport ever since I can remember. While I earned my degree in journalism at Ohio State University, I began writing about NASCAR for several Web sites in 2005. I became head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com and FantasyCup.com in 2008 and was a finalist for the Fantasy Sports Writer's Association NASCAR Writer of the Year in 2009. My knowledge of NASCAR stems from my lifelong love of the sport, and I believe that passion shows through in every article I write.