Kobalt 400 Practice Recap: Drivers to Watch
Don't forget to read this weekend's Nascar picks.
All practice sessions are in the books, and the next time the Cup drivers take the track at Las Vegas will be for the start of Sunday's Kobalt 400. From a fantasy standpoint, one of the best things about Sunday's race is that practice times at 1.5-mile tracks like Vegas tend to be a decent predictor of what to expect on race day. This is particularly useful for identifying potential sleeper drivers. With that in mind, here is a closer look at a few drivers outside of the big names that could help out fantasy teams this weekend.
Jamie McMurray, #1 McDonald's/Cessna, Chip Ganassi Racing [Yahoo Class B]
McMurray is having himself quite a weekend in Las Vegas. He qualified seventh Friday, and he only got better in practice at the track Saturday. He turned the fifth-fastest lap in the opening session of the afternoon, and he topped the charts in Happy Hour. He also logged the sixth-best 10-lap average speed in the final practice. McMurray has been up and down at Vegas throughout his career, but he does have back-to-back top-15s at the track and has three top-15s in his last five starts. Given his recent success and strong times in both sessions, McMurray is one sleeper driver with legit top-10 upside.
Kyle Larson, #42 Target, Chip Ganassi Racing [Yahoo Class C]
The rookie wasn't intimidated by the high speeds at Vegas. After a top-20 effort in qualifying, Larson was a staple of the top 10 throughout Saturday's practices. In fact, he turned the seventh-fastest lap in the first session and moved up to sixth on the charts in Happy Hour. He also cracked the top 10 in terms of 10-lap average speed in the final practice. Larson has never made a start at Vegas, but the same was true last weekend at Phoenix when he followed up strong practice times with a top-20 run on race day. He should be good for at least another top-20 Sunday, and his ceiling is even higher.
Brian Vickers, #55 Aaron's Dream Machine, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He hasn't made a Cup start at Las Vegas since 2011, but the two-year layoff seems to be doing little to slow down Vickers. He had already secured a top-10 starting spot after qualifying Friday, and he cracked the top 10 in both practice sessions Saturday. Vickers actually topped the charts in the opening session of the afternoon, and in Happy Hour, he had the fifth-best 10-lap average speed. Meanwhile, Vickers did finish in the top 10 in two of his last three starts at Vegas, and he appears poised to return to the track with a bang this weekend. A top-10 is a definite possibility for a driver that has won multiple races at the Cup level.
Ryan Newman, #31 Caterpillar, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Newman just missed out on the top-10 in both practices at Las Vegas Saturday, ranking 11th on the charts in both the early and late sessions. While he didn't turn a blazing lap, the consistency between the sessions is encouraging, especially for a driver that has run hot and cold at Vegas. History says Newman will either finish in the top 10 or outside the top 20 at the 1.5-mile oval; and although he is still a riskier option, his practice speeds suggest that one of his good runs is on tap.
Aric Almirola, #43 Smithfield Foods, Richard Petty Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
Almirola was somewhat quiet in the practices at Las Vegas Saturday, but he did turn in some respectable laps. After ranking 17th on the charts in the opening session of the afternoon, he jumped up to 13th in Happy Hour. The solid practice times followed a top-10 effort in qualifying, and last year, Almirola delivered a career-best 16th-place finish at Vegas. He doesn't have the upside of some of the other sleeper picks this weekend, but all signs point to Almirola landing somewhere in the top 20. He could make a solid value play in a variety of fantasy options.
Danica Patrick, #10 GoDaddy.com, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class C]
Her only Cup start at Las Vegas to date came last year when she finished a forgettable 33rd. However, Patrick was shockingly impressive in the opening practice session Saturday. In addition to turning the sixth-fastest lap, she also logged the best 10-lap average speed. Granted, there is nothing to suggest that Patrick can handle the high speeds at Vegas for 400 miles without finding trouble, but she does appear to have a car capable of making some noise. Fantasy owners that don't mind gambling a bit and want to try for a serious home run may want to take a chance on Patrick.
Trevor Bayne, #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane, Wood Brothers Racing [Yahoo Class C]
Bayne will be making his second start of the year this weekend at Las Vegas, and while he got off to a slow start this weekend, he found a little speed in Happy Hour. He turned the 14th-fastest lap in the session, which is right in line with his 17.3 average finish at Vegas. Keep in mind that in three starts at the 1.5-mile oval, Bayne has never finished outside the top 25. He should end up somewhere around the top 20 this weekend, making him a potentially useful option in deeper leagues.
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.