Most weeks, drivers and teams can't turn in enough laps in practice as they try to dial in their cars for race day. At Talladega Superspeedway, many teams usually opt to sit out at least one of the practices completely, and that is exactly what happened at the track Friday when only 29 teams even took the track in Happy Hour. Yes, drivers and teams are still concerned with making sure their cars are handling well in the draft, but keeping their cars in one piece is even more important.
One of the few drivers who did run in both sessions Friday and turned in fast laps in both was Jimmie Johnson. In fact, he topped the charts in Happy Hour after posting the 11th-fastest lap in the opening session. Johnson has actually been up and down at Talladega throughout his career, but he is a two-time winner. Meanwhile, he has enjoyed an incredible year at the plate tracks, sweeping both races at Daytona and finishing fifth at Talladega in the spring. Fantasy owners will still want to save Johnson for another week in survivor-style leagues simply because of the unpredictability of Talladega, but in just about any other format, he should be starting.
McMurray: easily overlooked?
Fantasy owners should also strongly consider starting Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. For one, Junior cracked the top 10 in both practice sessions at Talladega Friday, and he posted the third-best 10-lap average speed in the first practice. Not to mention the fact that he is a five-time winner at Talladega, and he also leads all drivers with a 10.4 average finish at plate tracks since the start of last season.
Another set of teammates that performed well in practice Friday was the Roush Fenway Racing duo of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. The two ranked fifth and sixth on the charts in the opening session, and both have been fairly reliable at Talladega recently. Biffle has four top-15s in his last five starts at the track and has three finishes of seventh or better during the stretch. Meanwhile, Edwards has five top-15s in his last eight starts at Talladega, including a third-place finish earlier this year.
Martin Truex Jr. also wowed on the practice charts Friday. He turned in the fourth-fastest lap in the opening session and posted the best 10-lap average speed. In addition, he has quietly been one of the more consistent drivers at Talladega for a while now. Truex has six top-15s in his last seven starts at track, including a seventh-place run earlier this year.
Veteran Jeff Burton has also been one of the more consistent performers at Talladega lately, and he turned in the second-fastest lap in the opening practice at the track Friday. Burton has finished in the top 10 in three of his last four starts at Talladega, including finishes of second and 10th in the last two fall races. He has also scored the fifth-most points of any driver at plate races since the start of the 2012 season. He could make a solid addition to fantasy rosters in just about any format.
Of course, one driver who has had a ton of success at Talladega the past couple of seasons is David Ragan. In fact, he is going for the season sweep at the track this weekend after a wild win in the spring. He has also finished seventh or better in his last three starts at Talladega, posting a 4.0 average finish during the stretch. Ragan cracked the top 10 in the first practice session Friday, and his hot streak at Talladega could certainly continue.
While he has been a bit more up and down than some of the other top fantasy options, there is no denying Jamie McMurray's upside at Talladega. He turned in the ninth-fastest lap during the first practice session Friday to go along with the second-best 10-lap average speed. McMurray is also a former winner at the track and a three-time winner at plate tracks in the Cup Series.
Click here for practice session data, including Happy Hour speeds
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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