Kurt Busch has enjoyed a resurgent 2013 season with Furniture Row Racing, making the Chase and posting double-digit top-five finishes with two races to go. The only thing missing from his resume this season is a victory, but if his practice times at Phoenix Saturday were any indication, he could change that this weekend. Busch topped the charts in the opening session and logged the third-best 10-lap average speed. He also turned the third-fastest lap in Happy Hour. Meanwhile, Busch is a former winner at Phoenix, and he has seven top-15s in the last 10 starts at the track, including six top-10s. From a fantasy standpoint, he definitely has top-five potential this weekend.
Another driver with plenty of upside this weekend is Jeff Gordon. After ranking fourth in the first practice at Phoenix Saturday, he jumped to second on the charts in Happy Hour. Gordon has also finished 11th or better in five of his last seven starts at Phoenix, including a win in 2011. Given his practice speeds, it isn’t out of the question that he challenges for the win this weekend. At the very least, he should make a solid addition in all formats and provide fantasy owners with a top-10 finish.
Following his showing in practice Saturday, Kevin Harvick also looks like a safe pick. He turned the second-fastest lap in the opening session to go along with the second-best 10-lap average speed, and he cracked the top 10 in both categories in Happy Hour. By the way, Harvick is also the defending winner of this weekend’s race and a three-time winner at Phoenix overall. He also has six top-15 finishes in his last seven starts at the track. Harvick has the combination of reliability and upside that should makes him worthy of a roster spot in all formats.
Of course, one driver that has been a must-have throughout the Chase is current point leader Jimmie Johnson, and he didn’t disappoint in practice Saturday. He turned the third-fastest lap in the first session to go along with the best 10-lap average speed. In Happy Hour, he ranked 10th on the charts and logged the fourth-best 10-lap average speed. Throw in his four victories and series-leading 6.5 average finish at Phoenix, and Johnson is once again a must-start fantasy option.
Johnson’s top rival for the championship Matt Kenseth flexed plenty of muscle in his own right during practice Saturday. He ranked ninth on the charts in the opening session and jumped to fifth in Happy Hour while also logging the seventh-best 10-lap average speed. Granted, it has been 11 races since Kenseth has recorded a top-five finish at Phoenix, but with six top-15s in his last seven starts at the track, including a seventh-place run earlier this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the top-five drought end Sunday. He should deliver big results for fantasy owners this weekend either way.
Fantasy owners could also get a big performance from Dale Earnhardt Jr. this weekend. He turned the seventh-fastest lap in the opening practice Saturday, and he jumped to fourth on the charts in Happy Hour. Junior also posted the sixth-best 10-lap average speed in the first practice. In his last seven starts at Phoenix, Junior has five top-15s, including a fifth-place run earlier this year. He appears on track to at least challenge for another top-five finish this weekend.
Although neither driver cracked the top five during practice Saturday, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski could both make solid additions to fantasy rosters this weekend. Edwards ranked10th and ninth in the two sessions, and Keselowski ranked eighth and 11th while also posting one of the 10-best 10-lap average speeds in both practices. Edwards is also going for a season sweep at Phoenix after winning the March event while Keselowski has finished sixth or better in three straight starts at the track.
In terms of sleeper options, Marcos Ambrose and Jamie McMurray could deliver for fantasy owners. Both drivers cracked the top 15 in both sessions Saturday, and while Ambrose logged the fifth-best 10-lap average speed in the opening practice, McMurray posted the sixth-best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. Of the two, Ambrose has been a little better at Phoenix, logging eight top-20 finishes in 10 starts. However, McMurray has been solid during the Chase. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see either driver sneak into the top 15 Sunday.
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)
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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