Cheez-It 355 Practice Recap: Sleeper Drivers to Watch
Sunday's race at Watkins Glen International will be the final road course event for the Cup Series in 2014, and with some drivers adapting to the unique nature of road racing better than others, fantasy owners often have to think outside the box when setting their lineups at The Glen. Finding sleepers can be particularly tricky as many of the drivers that can be counted on at traditional oval tracks are often inconsistent at road courses. Fortunately, checking out the practice charts can be a great way to determine which drivers are heading to solid runs Sunday and which could struggle. With that in mind, here is a closer look at the drivers that stood out on the practice charts and deserve a look as potential sleeper picks this weekend.
1. A.J. Allmendinger
Although he is borderline irrelevant in fantasy formats most weekends, Allmendinger's road racing skills are among the best in the series, and he lived up to expectations during practice at Watkins Glen Friday. After turning the fifth-fastest lap in the opening session, Allmendinger topped the charts during final practice. In five previous starts at Watkins Glen, he has never finished outside the Top 15, and he has cracked the Top 10 in his last three starts at the track. He also led the most laps in the first road course event at Sonoma earlier this year. Not only is Allmendinger worth a roster spot in any format this weekend, but he has legit Top-5 potential.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While Junior is one of the biggest names in the series, he is normally a driver fantasy owners want to avoid at road courses, including Watkins Glen. After all, he has a dismal 23.2 average finish at the track and has finished outside the Top 10 in his last eight starts. However, Junior was surprisingly fast in practice at The Glen Friday, ranking ninth in the first session and jumping to fourth on the charts in Happy Hour. The fast times come on the heels of a career-best third-place run at the Sonoma road course earlier this year so it appears as if Junior's road racing skills are improving. He could be headed for one of his better runs at Watkins Glen this weekend.
3. Jamie McMurray
He was rock solid throughout the practice sessions at Watkins Glen Friday. McMurray ranked 15th on the charts during the early session, and he jumped into the Top 10 in Happy Hour, turning the ninth-fastest lap. Overall, his record at Watkins Glen has been a little uneven, but he has been running well at road courses in recent years. He finished fourth at Sonoma earlier this season, and he has three Top-20s in his last four starts at The Glen, including an 11th-place run last year. At the very least, McMurray should be able to deliver a Top-15 finish this weekend, making him a solid addition in any format.
4. Ryan Newman
Newman was one of the more consistent performers in practice at Watkins Glen Friday. He cracked the Top 15 in both practices, ranking as high as eighth on the charts in the opening session. Meanwhile, he has been reliable at the track throughout his career, compiling a 15.7 average finish in 12 starts. In fact, Newman has finished 16th or better in his last four starts at The Glen, posting finishes of 11th and 14th in his two most recent starts. Newman isn't the type of driver that can carry a fantasy team this weekend, but based on his practice times and past results; he is a safe bet to finish around the Top 10. Consider him a solid complementary piece in any fantasy format.
5. Martin Truex Jr.
After struggling in the first practice at Watkins Glen Friday, Truex found some speed in Happy Hour, moving up to 11th on the charts. His results in final practice are more in line with how Truex has performed at Watkins Glen in the past. He has tallied six Top-15s in his last seven starts at the road course, including four straight. In fact, Truex has cracked the Top 10 in his last three starts at The Glen. Granted, he wasn't the most consistent performer during practice, but the fact that he was trending in the right direction in Happy Hour is a positive sign. Throw in his recent results at Watkins Glen, and Truex has enough upside to take a chance on this weekend, especially in deeper formats.
6. Casey Mears
He was quietly one of the steadiest performers in practice at Watkins Glen Friday. Mears ranked 16th on the charts in the opening practice and logged the 13th-fastest lap in Happy Hour. Meanwhile, he has reeled off six straight Top-20s at Watkins Glen, including finishes of 16th and 12th in his two most recent starts. Mears finished in the Top 15 at the road course event at Sonoma earlier this year, and he appears to have similar potential this weekend. Mears is worth a look as a sleeper in just about any format, and he is a great play in deeper leagues. He is also priced very affordably in the NASCAR.com Fantasy Live game.
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