Comments: Kobalt Tools 400 Practice Recap: 5 Drivers to Watch
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At a track like Las Vegas where the speeds routinely top 200 mph, having an ill-handling car can be a nightmare. If drivers can’t handle through the corners, they can’t carry speed on to the straightaways. At that point it is only a matter of time before the slower cars are weeded out. As a result, practice times at a fast, 1.5-mile oval like Las Vegas tend be a little better predictors of what will happen on race day than practice speeds and smaller tracks and the superspeedways. Of course, there are always exceptions on both sides with drivers that ran well in practice struggling and vice versa. That being said, relying heavily on the practice times at Las Vegas can pay off nicely, and here is a closer look at five drivers that stood out during Saturday’s sessions that could help out fantasy teams Sunday.
1. Kyle Busch: He was just plain fast throughout both practices Saturday. Busch posted the third-fastest lap in both sessions, and he also posted the best 10-lap average speed in both. No other driver matched his consistency between both the short and long runs, which points to a big day for Busch on the fast 1.5-mile track. He has actually struggled Vegas in his last three starts, but he won the 2009 event and has three finishes of third or better overall. Based on his practice times, Busch should be able to bust out of his mini-slump at Las Vegas and deliver a top-five caliber day for fantasy owners.
2. Carl Edwards: After opening Saturday’s practices with the fifth-fastest lap in the opening session, Edwards jump to second on the charts in Happy Hour. The fast times are good sign that Edwards’ victory last weekend was more of a sign of things to come than a fluke occurrence. After all, we are talking about a driver that was the best fantasy option in 2011 before taking a big step back last year. More importantly, he is a two-time winner at Las Vegas, and his 10.3 average finish at the track is the second best in the series. If you didn’t have Edwards in your lineup last weekend, don’t make the same mistake twice. He should have a big day at Vegas.
3. Martin Truex Jr.: His afternoon got off to a solid start when he posted the ninth-fastest lap in the opening practice, but Truex really turned it on in Happy Hour. He posted the fastest lap of the final session to go along with the fourth-best 10-lap average speed. Granted, he has just one top-10 in seven career starts at Las Vegas, and his 17.4 average finish at the track isn’t exactly impressive. However, Truex has scored more points than any other driver in the last 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks. Throw in the strong practice times Saturday, and Truex actually has plenty of upside this weekend. At worst, owners should consider him a top-15 option, but his ceiling is a potential top-five run.
4. Kasey Kahne: Kahne took care of business at the track Saturday, cracking the top 10 in both practice sessions. In fact, he turned the fastest lap of any driver in the opening practice. His overall numbers at Las Vegas aren’t overwhelming, and he doesn’t have a single top-five finish in his last six starts at the track. That being said, his history of success at 1.5-mile tracks is undeniable. Seven of his 14 career Cup wins have come at 1.5-mile tracks, and while Vegas has been somewhat of a trouble spot, his practice times suggest that is about to change.
5. Aric Almirola: Owners looking for a sleeper option this weekend may want to take a chance on Almirola. He was rock solid in the practices Saturday, ranking 11th and 14th in the two sessions, respectively. Being in just his second full season at the Cup level, Almirola doesn’t have a lot of experience at any track, including Vegas. That being said, he has opened 2013 with a pair of top-15s, and he could be right back in the mix for another top-15 Sunday if the practice times are any indication. He may not be a household name, but Almirola could make an excellent option for owners looking to round out their roster this weekend.