Practice at Bristol provides more insight to how a driver will run than nearly any other track. Given the length of the course and the need to develop rhythm before the green flag waves, more than a half-dozen racers logged more than 100 laps in the morning’s two-hour practice session. A total of 26 drivers recorded at least 10 consecutive laps, and that provided a snapshot of what the race will look like.
$25 or greater
Martin Truex Jr. was listed only as a dark horse in this week’s preview, but he improved his status to favorite after the morning practice session. He topped the 10-lap average chart with a speed of 123.634 mph, which was more than two mph greater than Jeff Gordon, who was the driver in second place. In that session, he had only the 16th-fastest single lap but he improved to ninth-best in final practice and qualified ninth, which provides a balance of a good starting position with enough room to score a positive place differential.
Kyle Busch had an adventure in qualification. He’ll start at the back of the pack, but he won’t stay there for very long and as he heads to the front he is going to rack up a lot of points. He scraped the wall on his first lap of qualification and attempted to abort the attempt. His second chance was not any better and he eventually crashed and failed to post a time. Still, he was lightning fast in practice. Busch posted the third-quickest time in the first practice session among 26 rivers who posted 10 or more laps and his 10-lap average was 122.969 mph. The real question is not if, but how long it will take him to get into the top 15 so that he can begin to accumulate quality passing points.
$15 to $24.99
Kurt Busch posted the fourth-quickest, 10-lap average in the first practice session of the weekend with a speed of 122.789 mph. No one can say that he was not looking for every bit of speed from the car as he drifted high in Happy Hour and tagged the wall hard while he still sitting on top of the speed chart. These cars are durable and he recovered to qualify on the outside of the front row, but similar contact in race conditions could mean the difference between competing for the win and finishing a lap off the pace in the 30s.
Jeff Gordon pushed on his qualification lap and posted a disappointing time of 125.749 mph. He will start 32nd on Saturday night, but like Kyle Busch he dominated practice and should not have too much difficultly in overcoming his poor grid position. The difference is that Gordon absolutely needs a strong run to remain in Chase contention and starting this deep in the field is going to be a handicap. This spring, Dale Earnhardt Jr. overcame a starting position of 32nd to finish sixth and Gordon hopes he is able to match his effort.
Less than $15.00
With rain threatening qualification, David Ragan laid down the fastest lap in the first practice session. If time trials had been canceled, he would have led the field to green just as Casey Mears din in this race in 2012 and that might actually have lowered his value to fantasy players in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game. Instead, he qualified 17th and has a chance to finish in that same range. There were only seven drivers who logged 10 or more laps in final practice, but Ragan recorded the second-quickest time with a speed of 122.507 mph, which was only slightly slower than Brad Keselowski—the winner of two of the last four races on this track.
Ragan’s teammate David Gilliland had the third-quickest time in the final session and underscores just how strong the Front Row Motorsports team is this week. Both drivers are modestly priced, so fantasy owners who want to stretch their budgets on the low end in order to take three of the most expensive drivers have a couple of solid options.