Since joining the Cup Series in 2008, no driver has been more productive at the road courses than Marcos Ambrose, and he appears more than ready to continue the trend. He topped the charts in the opening practice at Sonoma and ranked eighth in Happy Hour. Ambrose has reeled off nine straight top-10 finishes at road courses, posting a 3.6 average finish during the stretch. He should make an excellent fantasy option in any format, and in survival-type leagues, this could be the week to use Ambrose.
Another driver that has excelled at road racing since joining the Cup Series is Juan Pablo Montoya, and he didn't disappoint in practice Friday at Sonoma. He cracked the top five in both sessions and posted the second fastest lap in the first practice to go along with the best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. Montoya is a former winner at Sonoma, and in six starts at the road course, he has logged four top-10s. He has an excellent chance to be a top-five fantasy pick this weekend.
While he doesn't have a reputation as a road course ace, Clint Bowyer is working on changing it. He is the defending winner of this weekend's race, and after ranking eighth in the first practice Friday, he topped the charts in Happy Hour. Bowyer's 9.7 average finish at Sonoma is the second best in the series, and in his last six starts at the track, he has five top-10s. Bowyer also has four finishes of fourth or better during the stretch, so his victory in 2012 is more likely a sign of things to come than a one-time occurrence. Either way, Bowyer looks like a top-five option this weekend for fantasy owners.
Kurt Busch also seems on track to contend for a top-five finish this weekend. He posted the fourth fastest lap in the first practice Friday, and he ranked seventh in the final session. Meanwhile, he won at Sonoma in 2011, and he followed up the victory with a third-place effort last season. The third-place run came while he was driving for an underfunded Phoenix Racing team, so Busch's road racing skills are legit.
He may not deliver a top-five finish this weekend, but Greg Biffle still deserves serious consideration from fantasy owners after posting the sixth fastest lap in both practices at Sonoma Friday. Granted, he has never won a road course race at the Cup level, but he has been rock solid at Sonoma. Biffle has cracked the top 15 in seven of his last nine starts at the track, including a seventh-place run last season. Given his practice times, another top-10 run seems likely.
Speaking of a top-10 finish, fantasy owners will be hard pressed to find a more reliable option this weekend than Jeff Gordon. He ranked 10th and 11th in the two sessions at Sonoma Friday, and more importantly, he is the most decorated road racer in NASCAR history. His five victories at Sonoma and nine road course wins overall are both series records. At Sonoma in particular, he also owns a series-best 8.6 average finish and has 16 top-10s in 20 starts, including seven straight. You can pencil Gordon in for a strong showing this weekend.
Gordon may be one of the safest options around, but one of the more intriguing fantasy plays is Jamie McMurray. He posted the fifth fastest lap in the first practice Saturday before jumping to second on the charts in Happy Hour. With just one top-10 finish in 10 starts at Sonoma, his career numbers don't jump off the page. That being said, McMurray has managed three top-15s in his last four starts at the track, and having a road course ace like Juan Pablo Montoya as a teammate is bound to lead to some improvement. At any rate, McMurray could have a big day for owners willing to overlook his pedestrian numbers at Sonoma to date.
Finally, fantasy owners looking for a sleeper option may want to take a chance on Casey Mears. After all, he posted the third fastest lap in the first practice Friday, and he ranked a solid 12th in Happy Hour. Perhaps more importantly, he finished 15th at Sonoma last year, proving he can produce decent results despite driving for a smaller team in Germain Racing. Don't be surprised if Mears lands solidly in the top 20 this weekend.
Happy Hour Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
Happy Hour 10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
First Practice Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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