Richmond International Raceway has always been one of Kyle Busch's best tracks, and he certainly looked at home during Friday's practice sessions. After turning in the third-fastest lap in the first session, he jumped to second on the charts in Happy Hour. Busch already enters this weekend's race with a series-leading 6.5 average finish at Richmond, and in 17 starts, he has 12 top-five finishes, including four wins. If he isn't the top fantasy option this weekend, he is certainly near the top of the list in any format.
Junior happy after Happy Hour
Other than Busch, the only other driver to crack the top five in both practice sessions was Jeff Gordon. In fact, he paced the field in Happy Hour. Gordon has been particularly strong in the September race at Richmond the past few years, compiling a 5.3 average finish in his last six starts. During the stretch, he has finished fourth or better four times, including a second-place run last season. Gordon definitely has top-five potential this weekend.
Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne also flashed plenty of muscle in the practices Friday. He ranked eighth on the charts in the first session and climbed to sixth in Happy Hour. Meanwhile, Kahne logged the best 10-lap average speed in the opening practice and the second-best 10-lap average speed in the final session. Granted, he hasn't been the most consistent driver at Richmond, but he is a former winner. He has also finished in the top 12 in three of his last five starts at the track and has a pair of top-five runs during the stretch. Kahne offers plenty of upside.
Another driver with a bit of an inconsistent track record at Richmond who was stout in practice was Matt Kenseth. He posted the fourth-fastest lap in the opening session and remained in the top 10 during Happy Hour. Overall, he has just two top-10s in his last 12 starts at Richmond, but he did finish fifth in the September race last year. He also led the most laps and finished seventh at the track earlier this year. Kenseth appears to have a fast car and is trending in the right direction at Richmond anyway. Owners shouldn't be afraid to use him on their rosters this weekend.
Owners shouldn't be afraid to use Dale Earnhardt Jr. this weekend either. He turned in the seventh-fastest lap in the first practice Friday to go along with the seventh-best 10-lap average speed, and Junior jumped to third on the charts in Happy Hour. In addition, Junior is a three-time winner at Richmond for his career, and he has cracked the top 15 in his last three starts at the track. Junior notched a 10th-place run at Richmond in the spring, and a similar performance should be on tap for Saturday night.
Defending race winner Clint Bowyer also made a little noise in practice Friday. He turned in the second-fastest lap in the first session and posted the third-best 10-lap average speed. He slid to 12th on the charts in Happy Hour, but the practice speeds were more than strong enough for a guy who has finished worse than 12th in only two of his 15 starts at Richmond. Not to mention the fact that Bowyer has finished seventh or better in all three starts at the track since joining Michael Waltrip Racing, including his win last September and a second-place run earlier this year. Consider him among the fantasy elite this weekend.
Despite not cracking the top 10 in either practice, fantasy owners shouldn't overlook Joey Logano. For one, he did sneak into the top 15 in both sessions. Meanwhile, he has been the best driver in the series by a wide margin over the past six races, scoring 30 more points than any other driver. Logano also finished a career-best third at Richmond earlier this year, so there is a good chance he keeps his hot streak going this weekend.
One big name missing from the top of the charts is Jimmie Johnson. In fact, he is missing from the charts all together. Johnson's wife gave birth to the couple's second child early Friday morning, so Regan Smith practiced in the No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson will be in the car for Saturday night's race, but he will have to start at the rear of the field. The three-time Richmond winner is more than capable of recovering for a solid finish, but at least in survivor-type leagues, owners may want to save him for another week.
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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