Comments: Party in the Poconos 400 Practice Recap: Drivers to Watch
With its massive straightaways and flat, sweeping corners getting a car to handle around Pocono Raceway is a task in itself. Getting a car to handle well enough to pass can seem next to impossible at times. As a result, any driver that does have a car fast enough to pass in traffic has a huge advantage on the competition. While a majority of the field is forced to use pit strategy to gain track position, the drivers that have their cars dialed in can afford to consistently take tires and stay on a normal fuel cycle throughout the race and set themselves up to have the always-crucial track position at the end of the race. Granted, drivers with mediocre cars can still use strategy to steal solid finishes, but these drivers are relying on cautions falling their way more so than speed. Needless to say, the best way for fantasy owners to have a solid day at Pocono is to go with the drivers that have the speed to get the front. With that in mind, here is a closer look at a few drivers that performed well in practice that deserve consideration when it comes time to set fantasy lineups. 1. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson showed plenty of muscle throughout the practice sessions at Pocono Saturday. After running the fastest lap in the opening practice, he ranked second on the charts in Happy and posted the best 10-lap average speed. Johnson already own two wins and a series-leading 9.0 average finish at Pocono, and with 21 top-15 finishes in 22 starts at the track, he has always been one of the safest options available to fantasy owners. Johnson should more than live up to his reputation this weekend with a car that appears capable of going to victory lane. 2. Carl Edwards: He has been solid since the season began, and Edwards was more than solid in practice at Pocono Saturday. He posted the second-fastest lap in the opening session and third-best lap in Happy Hour, making him just one of three drivers to crack the top five in both practices. The fast times are very encouraging for a driver that has finished in the top 12 in five of his last six starts at Pocono. Edwards is also a two-time winner at the track, and given his practice times, he could add to that total this weekend. Either way, fantasy owners can consider him a top-five fantasy play. 3. Kurt Busch: Busch was anything but quiet in the practices at Pocono Saturday afternoon. After reeling off the third-fastest lap in the first session, he topped the charts in Happy Hour. The fast times are nothing new for Busch lately, who has finished in the top 15 in five of his last six starts heading into Sunday’s race. More importantly, he is a two-time winner at Pocono and has finished second on four other occasions. Busch finished second and third in two starts at Pocono in 2011, and based on his practice times, he could be headed for that type of performance this weekend. He deserves heavy consideration from fantasy owners. 4. Tony Stewart: After erupting from his season-long slump with a win last weekend at Dover, Stewart stayed hot during the practice sessions at Pocono Saturday. He clocked the seventh-fastest lap in the opening practice, and jumped up to fourth on the charts in Happy Hour. Meanwhile, Stewart has always had success at Pocono, winning twice and finishing 11th or better in eight of last nine starts at the track. Stewart has finished in the top five six times during the stretch so fantasy owners should consider him an excellent option this weekend. 5. Kyle Busch: After posting the sixth-fastest lap in the opening practice at Pocono Saturday, Busch ran the 10th-fastest lap in Happy Hour. The consistent speeds are a good indicator that he could be in for one of his better runs at a track where he has been hot and cold throughout his career. In his last six starts at Pocono, Busch has finished outside the top 20 three times and third or better three times. His upside is obvious, and while Busch isn’t the safest pick, his practice times make him more than worthy of a spot on fantasy rosters this weekend based on his potential alone. 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Although he didn’t jump off the practice sheets with a top-five lap, Junior was one of the more consistent drivers in two sessions at Pocono Saturday. He ranked eighth in both sessions, and he actually picked up a decent chunk of speed in Happy Hour compared to the first session. More importantly, Junior has cracked the top 10 in three of his last four starts at Pocono, and he led a decent portion of the race last June. Granted, he probably doesn’t have a car capable of winning Sunday, but a solid top-10 finish is well within reason. 7. Kevin Harvick: Despite slipping a bit between the first practice and Happy Hour at Pocono Saturday, Harvick’s times were still solid. He actually cracked the top five in the opening session and still managed the 12th-quickest lap in the final practice. Harvick also has been reliable at Pocono recently, finishing 16th or better in his last seven starts at the track. He has been reliable throughout 2013, as well, finishing in the top 15 in 11 of the 13 races thus far. Harvick probably won’t carry a fantasy team this weekend, but he is an extremely safe pick. At worst, fantasy owners are likely looking at a top-15 out of him Sunday. 8. Ryan Newman: After posting the 15th-fastest lap in the opening session at Pocono Saturday, he jumped to fifth on the charts in Happy Hour, making for a solid afternoon overall. Of course, success is nothing new for Newman at Pocono, and he has actually been one of the more dependable drivers at the track. He enters Sunday’s race having cracked the top 15 in his last nine starts at Pocono, and given his practice times, there is no reason to expect that streak to end. Granted, Newman has never been the type of driver that piles up top-five finishes, but there is nothing wrong with a rounding out a fantasy roster with a driver that is likely to finish in or around the top 10. 9. Paul Menard: Menard has quietly been a consistent top-20 driver for more than a year now, and he was quietly consistent on the practice charts Saturday at Pocono. After ranking 14th in the opening session, he jumped to seventh in Happy Hour. The practice times are consistent with his results at the track lately, and he has finished in the top 15 in his last five starts at the track, including three straight finishes of 11th or better. Menard should make an excellent sleeper option this weekend and bring home his No. 27 somewhere in the top 15.