Back in 2005, Carl Edwards went to victory lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway to earn his first-ever Cup Series win. He hasn't really slowed down at the track since, and he was up to his old tricks during practice Saturday. Edwards topped the charts in the opening sessions, and he turned the third-fastest lap in Happy Hour. He also posted the best 10-lap average speed in the final practice. Edwards is a three-time winner at AMS overall, and in 15 starts, he has finished seventh or better 10 times. Regardless of the format, he is well worth a roster spot.
Owners will also want to make room on their rosters for Jimmie Johnson. After ranking sixth in the opening practice at Atlanta Saturday, he jumped to the top of the charts in Happy Hour. He also ranked second and third, respectively, in terms of 10-lap average speeds in the two sessions. In 21 career starts at AMS, Johnson has finished third or better 10 times, including three wins. He appears well on his way to another excellent finish this weekend.
Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne also looks like a safe bet to deliver an excellent finish. He cracked the top five in both practice sessions Saturday, and he turned the fifth-best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. Meanwhile, Kahne is a two-time winner at AMS, and seven of his 16 Cup wins have come at 1.5-mile tracks.
Another driver with a history success at Atlanta and similar tracks is Matt Kenseth, and he lived up to his reputation in practice Saturday. He ranked fifth and sixth in the two practice sessions and posted the sixth-best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. Kenseth also owns a series-leading 7.4 average finish in the last 10 races at Atlanta, and he has already won three races at 1.5-mile tracks this year. He might just be the safest pick available this weekend.
While he doesn't have the greatest track record at Atlanta, Joey Logano did show plenty of muscle in practice Saturday. He turned the 11th-fastest lap in the opening session, and he jumped to seventh on the charts in Happy Hour. Granted, he has never cracked the top 15 in six previous starts at AMS, but in the five races leading up to Sunday night's event. Logano has scored the most points of any driver in the series. Don't be surprised if he keeps the momentum going this weekend.
Clint Bowyer is another driver that has been average at best at AMS yet deserves consideration this weekend. He has never finished in the top five at the track and has finished outside the top 20 in four of his last five starts, but he ranked fourth and second in the two practice sessions Saturday, and he also posted the second-best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. His poor history at Atlanta is concerning, but owners willing to gamble a bit and trust the practice times could end up with a top-five option.
Dipping into the sleepers, Juan Pablo Montoya stands out as the top option. He logged the sixth-fastest lap in the first practice Saturday, and moved up to fourth on the charts in Happy Hour. Perhaps more importantly for Montoya, he has four top-15s in his last five starts at the track, including a pair of third-place finishes. He has also been running well the last few weeks, and based on the practice times, he could continue to deliver for fantasy owners this weekend.
Rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could also make a solid sleeper play this weekend. He cracked the top 20 in both practice sessions Saturday, ranking 12th in the opening practice. He will also start on the pole for the first time in his career after posting the best lap in qualifying Friday. Stenhouse has been up and down all year and has yet to finish in the top 10. However, a top-15 finish isn't out of the question this weekend.
Happy Hour Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
Happy Hour 10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
Second 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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