Strong practice runs show Bowyer, Johnson worth the money
Final practice was the most important session of the weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Cooler conditions caused by the setting sun and a brief rain shower mimicked Sunday’s evening race conditions as well as could be expected. It was a good time to work on long runs, and 25 of the 43 teams posted enough laps to be included on the 10-lap average chart in that final session.
There were not very many surprises at the top of the charts, but that does not mean there are not some great values this weekend. The 11 fastest drivers in regard to 10-lap averages all set their top speeds in the first 10 laps of the final practice session. That indicates that the tire is going to slow down in race conditions, so the driver who manages his car best on old rubber is going to be up front in the final run to the checkers.
$25 or greater
Clint Bowyer posted the second-quickest, 10-lap average in final practice with a speed of 179.020 mph. He also had the second-fastest single lap in that session and that balance of speed off pit road and over long runs is going to make him a driver to watch on Sunday. Since he qualified modestly in 12th, he has room to earn place differential points as well.
Jimmie Johnson remains the most expensive driver in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game, but he is usually worth the price tag. He posted the second-quickest stretch of 10 consecutive laps in Saturday's first session and followed that up with the third-quickest stretch of 10 consecutive laps during Happy Hour. He had the fastest single lap in the final session, and like Bowyer he has room to improve his position in race trim after qualifying 10th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be of limited use to players this week. He had the second-best, 10-lap average in Friday’s practice session, but he dropped to 21st out of 24 drivers posting 10 or more laps on Saturday morning. He was a little better in the final session with the 16th-quickest time, but that is not enough to recommend him on Sunday when a player considers that he has the sixth-greatest price tag in the salary cap game.
$15 to $24.99
Carl Edwards slapped the wall in Saturday's first practice session and still posted the fastest time in that session. His team spent a considerable amount time in the garage making repairs. There was no apparent damage to the suspension and Edwards jumped towards the front of the charts with the third-fastest single lap and the quickest 10-lap average speed.
Two drivers who were not as lucky during the weekend will have to drop to the back of the pack to start the Atlanta AdvoCare 500. Brian Vickers blew an engine before Friday’s practice ever began, but the team had already presented the car to NASCAR for inspection. They knew they would drop to the back of pack before qualifying, but posted the 22nd-fastest speed anyway. Their place differential will be based on that time, so fantasy owners will have difficulty getting positive place differential points from the No. 55.
Denny Hamlin will drop even further back on Sunday. He qualified fourth, but blew an engine before Happy Hour. The team was experimenting with a new power plant since they are not running for the championship and fantasy owners have to wonder if that same experimental attitude will carry over into the race. Like Vickers, the place differential on the No. 11 is based on his official qualification of fourth and he will have a hard time getting to the front.
In recent years, there has been a curse associated with winning the pole at Atlanta and that makes Ricky Stenhouse Jr. a marginal value this week. The best a pole winner has finished in the past six Cup races on this track has been only 15th and most of them finished outside the top 25. Stenhouse has yet to crack the top 10 in his career and he is practically guaranteed to lose place differential points that will not be completely offset by quality passes or fastest laps run. In final practice, he had only the 12th-fastest speed.
Less than $15.00
All the news was not on track this weekend, and what makes AJ Allmendinger a good value is an intangible. During the weekend it was officially announced that he would be in the No. 47 next year and added confidence makes him one of the better values at this level. In fact, at $9.50, he might be the best value of the game.
A game of musical chairs, coupled with an injury has made Mike Bliss an equally great value. Bobby Labonte was scheduled to drive the No. 51 James Finch Chevrolet until he crashed while bicycling and broke three ribs earlier in the week. Bliss was tapped for the ride and with a bargain basement price tag of $3.25, he is going to outperform his salary cap by a huge margin. His best average speed placed him about two-thirds of the way down that chart, but he qualified modestly in 38th and attrition is going to help earn positive points.