Food City 500 Practice Recap: Sleeper Drivers to Watch
Bristol Motor Speedway will host the first short track race of the season this Sunday, and at a track where laps tick down quickly and drivers have to work to complete a pass, having a little bit of extra speed can make all the difference. When looking at the practice speeds from Bristol Saturday, there were plenty of big names that showed the extra muscle that it takes to deliver a strong finish. However, there were also some sleeper drivers that performed well during the practice sessions that should make solid additions to fantasy rosters this weekend. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the sleeper drivers worth rostering for Sunday's race at Bristol.
Kurt Busch, #41 Haas Automation, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
He has gotten off to a slow start in 2014, but Busch appears ready to make a splash this weekend at Bristol. He turned the third-fastest lap in the opening practice session Saturday and ranked fifth on the charts in Happy Hour, making him one of only two drivers to crack the top five in both practices. Many fantasy owners were likely overlooking Busch heading into the weekend after his recent struggles at Bristol, but most of those rough outings came while he was driving for smaller teams. Busch is a five-time winner at Bristol in his career, and now that he is with a Stewart-Haas Racing, he could be set to recapture the form that made him one of the premier drivers at the track early in his career. He has a ton of upside.
Marcos Ambrose, #9 Stanley/Dewalt Power Tools, Richard Petty Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
Ambrose has been having himself one heck of a weekend at Bristol so far. He qualified fifth Friday, and he cracked the top 15 in both practice sessions Saturday. More importantly, he ranked third and fourth in terms of 10-lap average speeds in the two sessions. Ambrose has actually enjoyed a lot of success at Bristol throughout his career, compiling a 15.9 average finish in 10 starts. He has finished in the top 15 in six of those starts to go along with five top-10s. Ambrose's road course prowess is well known in fantasy circles, but he has delivered useful results at Bristol in the past, and he looks primed to do so again this weekend. He has legit top-10 potential.
Paul Menard, #27 Menards, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Although he struggled in qualifying Friday, Menard looked pretty comfortable in race trim during Saturday's practices at Bristol. He turned the fifth-fastest lap in the opening session to go along with the seventh-fastest lap in Happy Hour. Menard also logged the ninth-best 10-lap average speed in the final practice. He has been quietly putting up solid results at Bristol lately, reeling of four straight top-10s, including finishes of ninth and sixth last season. Based on his practice speeds, Menard could be headed for another top-10 this weekend. He could make a solid addition to fantasy rosters in all formats.
Martin Truex, Jr., #78 Furniture Row, Furniture Row Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Truex delivered an impressive all-around performance in practice at Bristol Saturday. After turning the eighth-fastest lap and logging the second-best 10-lap average speed in, he ranked sixth on the charts in Happy Hour and posted the sixth-best average speed. Meanwhile, Truex has finished in the top 12 in four of his last five starts at Bristol, logging a pair of top-three finishes during the stretch. A top-five run is probably asking a but much this weekend, but don't be surprised if he ends up challenging for a top-10 with a car that was one of the most consistent on the track Saturday.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., #17 Best Buy/Valvoline/Zest, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He had himself a solid showing at Bristol Saturday. Stenhouse ranked seventh on the charts in the opening session, and he logged the ninth-best 10-lap average speed. In Happy Hour, he cracked the top-15. As a rookie last year, Stenhouse finished 16th and 18th in his first-two career Cup starts at Bristol. He appears to have a capable of at least matching those results this weekend and possibly improving on them. Stenhouse could be a sneaky source for a top-15 finish Sunday.
Casey Mears, #13 GEICO, Germain Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Mears got off to a decent start in practice at Bristol Saturday, ranking 16-th on the charts in the opening session. However, he really turned heads in Happy Hour when he turned the fastest lap of any driver. It's worth noting that Mears did finish 15th at Bristol last March, and he has cracked the top 25 in four of his last five starts at the track. Another top-25 finish seems plausible this weekend, making him a possible option in deeper leagues or in leagues where owners need some salary relief.
David Gilliland, #38 Love's Travel Stops/A&W Restaurants, Front Row Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
He has been quietly having himself a solid weekend at Bristol, and after qualifying 16th Friday, he snuck into the top 20 in the first practice session Saturday and logged the fifth-best 10-lap average speed. For what it's worth, he has finished 27th or better in his last eight starts at Bristol and has three straight top-25s at the track. Gilliland's upside is limited, but he knows how to stay out of trouble at Bristol, and he appears to have a car more than capable of extending his streak of top-25 finishes at the track. Consider him a viable 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.