There is not a lot that is predictive on a superspeedway. The tight confines of pack racing are inherently dangerous for a player’s fantasy roster because of the likelihood of a multicar crash some time during the afternoon, but even if the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway runs green until the checkers, picking a winner is difficult. The draft is chaotic and fluid.
Raw speed is essentially meaningless because the pack runs in one massive clump and everyone posts the same speed, and yet drivers and teams continue to practice. One reason to record laps in practice for the Aaron's 499 this week is that qualification may be rained out Saturday. If that occurs, the lineup will be set by the NASCAR Rule Book.
The 43 drivers who make the show will be determined by owner points and attempts, but the starting order will be set by the top speeds in the first practice session. If time trials are rained out, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. will occupy the front row, and it is easier to stay out of trouble at the head of the pack.
Because fastest single laps were potentially important to qualification, drivers altered their approach to the first practice. Many took one or two slow laps and then tried to draft up to the field to maximize their speed. This contributed to an odd-looking practice with three-wide racing around the track. The good news is that drivers had an opportunity to put themselves into some difficult situations and did not crash.
The Hendrick Motorsports drivers spent much of the first session running in a mini-draft. They were able to find competitive speeds, with Jimmie Johnson posting the eighth-fastest lap of 199.222 mph. Jeff Gordon was ninth-fastest, Kasey Kahne was 10th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 12th. If they employ that same strategy during the race and stay away from the multicar draft, they could survive to finish well, but they will not earn very many quality passing points and will not be a good fantasy value.
The other practice of note this week was for the driver change between Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers. In the middle of the week, Hamlin was medically cleared to return to the cockpit of the No. 11, but the plan remains for him to run only until the first caution period at Talladega. At that point, Vickers will take over the driving duties. The driver change can be executed in about one minute, which means the No. 11 will not lose a lap in the pits. Fantasy players need to note that the driver who starts the race will receive all the points, so do not activate Vickers.
Read more: Practice results