RELATED: NASCAR Fantasy Live
Charlotte Motor Speedway’s two races are among the trickiest on the schedule. This track is one of the most weather sensitive courses and drivers have to race from late afternoon into the night. Crew chiefs struggle to find an adjustable setup, and they hope to guess right on the final pit stop.
The driver’s role in the process is to be able to feel the car, but also intuit how it -- and then the track -- is going to change as the asphalt cools, the tires heat up and the engine wears. A trophy from Charlotte is among the most prized possessions a team ever receives. And it all begins with practice.
$25 or greater
Last week, Kevin Harvick shocked the field with a rare Coors Light Pole position, and the question shifted to whether he would be able to run as well in race conditions. He has a habit of winning from the top spot, but that looked questionable when he struggled once mired in traffic. In clean air, he was perfect. This week, it appeared he might win his second consecutive pole on back-to-back similarly configured 1.5-mile tracks, but he was narrowly edged by Jeff Gordon who will lead the field to green Saturday night.
Both drivers remained strong in practice in regard to their single laps. Gordon posted the third-fastest lap in Friday’s first session while Harvick was second-fastest in final practice, but neither of them was very high on the 10-lap average charts. Clean air means a lot, however, and fantasy owners can expect one of them to lead a sizeable portion of the opening green flag run. Harvick tends to be a little more aggressive on starts and restarts, so he gets a slight nod this week, but Gordon also has momentum on his side and should not be overlooked for a potential top-five.
Jimmie Johnson dominated Dover International Speedway two weeks ago and was heavily favored at Kansas Speedway. He survived a strained engine in the final laps and finished sixth to narrow the gap to three points behind Matt Kenseth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. This week, he could take possession of the top spot because he posted the quickest 10-lap average in the first practice session on Friday and slipped to only sixth-quickest in final practice.
$20 to $24.99
Ryan Newman was a victim of circumstances last week in Kansas when he got caught up in someone else’s accident. His Chase hopes dimmed considerably, but he still is capable of finishing with the leaders to make this team relevant. He had the second-quickest 10-lap average in final practice behind Kurt Busch and a rivalry should be building between those two drivers, which will improve their results. Both qualified in the top 10 so they will not earn very many place differential points, but their aggressive attitudes will allow them to pass a lot of cars in the top 15 during the night to earn quality passing points.
Brian Vickers’ accident last week cost fantasy owners a lot of points and it does not appear as if he will rebound quickly. He qualified only 27th and could move up slightly from there, but the odds are good that he will not pass very many cars before the checkers wave. Vickers had only the 23rd-quickest 10-lap average in final practice and that is about where he can be expected to finish the race.
Less than $20
It is easy to get caught up in the hype surrounding a new driver, but Kyle Larson may just live up to the billing. He posted a decent qualification lap that wedged him between veterans Kenseth and Mark Martin, but it is not so great that he is in jeopardy of losing a lot of place differential points. This team worked on long runs for most of the weekend and it paid off with the seventh-quickest 10-lap average in Friday’s first session among 16 drivers who made long runs. A solid 20th-place finish from his 21st-place start will make Larson well worth his $5 price tag in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game.
Aric Almirola finished in the top 10 last week at Kansas and the temptation will be great to jump on his bandwagon. His salary cap value of $17.75 is beginning to put him on the cusp of being a questionable value some weeks, however. In final practice, he was 12th-quick in regard to 10-lap averages among 28 drivers who made long runs. That suggests a result in the high teens or mid-20s. His teammate Marcos Ambrose was even further down the list and the Richard Petty Motorsports teams tend to finish near one another in most races, which reinforces the decision to leave both of them in the garage.