Winning in NASCAR is mental and physical. Entering the Ford EcoBoost 400, Matt Kenseth knew that to remain a part of the conversation, he needed to lead the discussion. He did just that by winning the pole for Sunday’s race and topping the practice charts in both of Saturday’s sessions.
Kenseth will not go quietly into the night.
But Jimmie Johnson knows something as well, based on five previous championships. He does not have to shout to be heard. Speaking in a softer voice, he qualified among the top 10 in seventh, posted the second-fastest, single lap in final practice, and had the fastest 10-lap average in Saturday’s final practice. These two contenders will keep fantasy players talking, but there are 41 other drivers who have a statement to make.
$25 or greater
Kyle Busch’s statement was more of a complaint in Saturday’s first session. He could not find the handle and was already frustrated when he tagged the wall hard halfway through that practice. He flattened the right rear fender and called into question his usefulness to fantasy players. He did his best to respond to that query in a positive manner by posting the fifth-quickest, 10-lap average in final practice, but another trip into the wall on Sunday would make him a bad value.
Johnson and Kenseth almost certainly take up the lion’s share of a player’s budget, but those who are looking for an alternative in the greater than $25 range have some choices.
Jeff Gordon posted the second-quickest 10-lap average in Saturday’s first session with a speed of 167.678 mph during his first 10 laps on the track. Brad Keselowski was right behind him, and either of these drivers could differentiate a player’s lineup from the competition in their league. In final practice, Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted the third-quickest, 10-lap average and that will allow owners to play with both their hearts and heads on Sunday.
$20 to $24.99
Greg Biffle has not been as strong at Homestead recently as he was from 2004 through 2006, but last year may have signaled another reversal of fortune. After failing to crack the top five in five years on this track, he finished fifth and seems to be poised to repeat. Biffle had the second-quickest, 10-lap average to Johnson in final practice and should be considered a threat. Equally important, in the past three years at Homestead, he has scored two top-10s after qualifying outside that mark and he rolls off the grid 16th on Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr. was one of this week’s favorites before the preliminaries began and he only improved his status as the weekend progressed. He had a bad draw on Friday and was the first driver to qualify, so he landed only eighth on the grid, but he knows that races are won over long runs. Truex posted the quickest 10-lap average in Saturday’s first session and he should be able to maintain his position in the top 10 for most of the race.
Less than $20
There is a risk associated with starting a part-time driver. With no points on the line, Kyle Larson will probably call it a day if he has any significant trouble on the track, but if he is running at the checkers, he could be this week’s best values. He posted the fifth-quickest, 10-lap average in Saturday’s first session, which suggests he is better on long runs. He qualified only 20th, so he has some room to improve and earn place differential points for his owners as well.
Elliott Sadler also landed in the top 10 on the average speed chart in that same session. Homestead has not been his best track during his career, but he has the potential to outperform his personal stats. He qualified 10th, and while it is unlikely he will remain there until the checkers wave, his $8 price tag will allow players to make some intelligent decisions in the mid-range.