Last season, Kasey Kahne kicked off a strong showing the Chase with a third-place run at Chicagoland. After posting the third-fastest lap in the first practice at the track Saturday and topping the charts in Happy Hour, he appears poised to open this year's Chase with a similar performance. Kahne also posted the best 10-lap average speed in the final practice, and he has finished in the top 15 in his last five starts at Chicagoland. Fantasy owners should consider him a top-five option in just about every format this weekend.
Another driver that impressed during the practice sessions Saturday was Joey Logano. He posted the eighth-fastest lap in the opening session and jumped to third on the charts in Happy Hour. Meanwhile, Logano finished in the top 10 at Chicagoland last year, and he has scored more points than any other driver in the series in the last seven races. He is already starting on the pole, and with his car looking just as quick in race trim, he has a ton of upside this weekend.
Of course, one driver that always has plenty of upside is Jimmie Johnson, and he didn't disappoint in practice. After cracking the top 15 in the opening session, he jumped to fourth on the charts in Happy Hour and posted the fourth-best 10-lap average speed in the final practice. Johnson enters Sunday's race with a series-leading 9.3 average finish at Chicagoland, and he has six finishes of fourth or better in 11 starts at the track, including three second-place finishes. Expect him to land somewhere in the top five this weekend, and a trip to victory is certainly a possibility.
A couple of other heavyweights that showed some muscle in practice were Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch. Kenseth ranked 11-th and ninth in the two practices Saturday, and he posted the second-best 10-lap average speed in the opening session. Meanwhile, Busch posted the third-best 10-lap average speed in the first practice to go along with the seventh-fastest lap. Kenseth and Busch have also combined to win five of the six races at 1.5-mile tracks this year so both should be serious contenders this weekend.
Martin Truex Jr. could be a contender, as well. After all, he cracked the top 10 in both practice sessions Saturday, and he actually topped the charts in the opening session. Truex also leads all drivers in points scored at 1.5-mile tracks this year and has finished in the top 10 in all six events. He was already one fo the safer options available this weekend, and his practice times suggest top-five potential this weekend. Fantasy owners can't ask for a better combination.
While he may not have as much upside as some of the other options, Dale Earnhardt Jr. should make a solid addition to fantasy rosters. He turned the fourth-fastest lap in the opening practice and the eighth-fastest lap in Happy Hour. He also logged the fourth-best 10-lap average speed in the first session. Junior has finishes of third and eighth in his last two starts at Chicagoland, and he has a real shot of landing in the top 10 again this weekend.
Owners willing to gamble a bit may want to consider Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch. Neither driver has a great record at Chicagoland, but both were blazing fast in practice Saturday. Montoya posted the fifth-fastest lap in the first session and jumped to second on the charts in Happy Hour while Busch ranked ninth and sixth in the two sessions. Given their inconsistent history at the track, fantasy owners leading their leagues should probably shy away. However, they could be a perfect combo for owners looking to gain some ground in their leagues.
In terms of a serious sleeper option, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. appears to have the highest ceiling. He turned the sixth-fastest lap in the first practice Saturday, and he ranked seventh on the charts in Happy Hour. The rookie also posted the second-best 10-lap average speed in the opening session. Stenhouse will be making his first Cup start at Chicagoland this weekend, but he has recorded five straight top-20s, including his first top-10 of the year last weekend at Richmond. At the very least, he should be able to continue his top-20 streak 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)
Second Practice 10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)