Who else, really?
Armed with a series-leading 6.5 average finish and four wins at Phoenix, Jimmie Johnson was the easy choice for the top spot in the driver rankings to open the week. After winning the pole in record-breaking fashion Friday and posting excellent practices Saturday, he is an equally easy choice for the No. 1 spot in the final rankings. Throw in the fact that he has 12 top-five finishes in his last 14 starts at Phoenix, and Johnson is all but a lock to contend for a victory this weekend. He needs to be clicked in every fantasy format.
While Johnson holds steady at the top, Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin both jump into the top five in the final rankings. Kahne qualified seventh Friday, and Hamlin will join Johnson on the front row. Kahne has also finished sixth or better in three of his last five starts at Phoenix, winning at the track in the fall of 2011. Hamlin, on the other hand, has nine finishes of sixth or better in 16 starts at Phoenix, including three straight finishes of third or better.
Two other drivers that have seen their stock rise this weekend are Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. In fact, both drivers secure spots in the top 10 in the final rankings. Gordon qualified fifth Friday and was solid throughout practice Saturday. He has also finished 11th or better in six of his last eight starts at Phoenix, winning at the track in 2011 and finishing ninth earlier this year. Meanwhile, Junior followed an 11th-place effort in qualifying Friday with a respectable showing in practice Saturday. Not to mention the fact that he finished fifth at Phoenix in March and has quietly posted the second-best average finish in the Chase since a mechanical issue in the opener.
After pacing the opening practice session Saturday and qualifying in the top 10, Kurt Busch moves up in the final rankings and rounds out the top 10. He had a rough outing at Phoenix earlier this year, but in his last 10 starts at the track, he has seven top-15 finishes, including six top-10s. Busch is also a former winner at the track, so he has plenty of upside to offer fantasy owners this weekend.
When it comes to sleeper options, Mark Martin may be the safest pick for fantasy owners. He slides into the top 15 in the final rankings, and after a respectable 16th-place effort in qualifying, he enjoyed a strong showing in practice. Meanwhile, Martin has been one of the most consistent performers at Phoenix throughout his career. His 9.4 average finish at the track is the second best in the series, and in 33 career starts, he has just two finishes outside the top 20.
In deeper leagues, fantasy owners may want to consider Marcos Ambrose as another potential sleeper. He sneaks into the top 20 in the final rankings, and he was solid throughout both practice sessions Saturday, especially on longer runs. Ambrose has also finished in the top 20 in eight of his 10 starts at Phoenix, including four of his last five, so he shouldn't hurt fantasy owners too much even if he isn't able to fully back up his practice times on race day.
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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