Practice and qualification are in the books for the AdvoCare 500 and opportunities are winding down for drivers to make up ground on their competitors. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth have stolen the spotlight, and rightfully so since they are embroiled in one of the most perfect points battles since the creation of this format, but even if they already occupy two of a fantasy player's roster slots in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game, winning or losing this week will come from picking the right support staff.
Johnson posted a top-five, single lap in Practice 2 and backed it up with the quickest 10-lap average in that same session. Kenseth did not make a 10-lap run in the morning, but he had Johnson firmly in his sights during final practice, but neither of them topped the leaderboard in that last tune-up for the race. As they pay attention to one another, fantasy players may choose to roll the dice on one of the racers who just wants to win.
$25 or greater
Kevin Harvick is the occasionally forgotten winner of this race last year. As chaos erupted behind him, he slalomed through oil laid down by a Danica Patrick crash and grabbed the trophy. This came soon after informing the media that he would leave Richard Childress Racing at the end of 2013. He has avoided the lame-duck status everyone tried to brand the No. 29 with and Harvick loves to make a point. This week, it could come in the form of another victory because he posted the fastest 10-lap average in final practice and was second-quick to Johnson in Saturday morning’s session.
One week after reinserting himself into the Chase conversation with a victory at Martinsville Speedway, Jeff Gordon suffered a blown tire and dropped down the standings. This team knew that Texas Motor Speedway would be a challenge based on their previous record there, but they expected to run the table in terms of top-fives. After his accident in the AAA Texas 500, he is more motivated than ever to win. Gordon had the second-fastest single lap in final practice and was second-quickest in terms of average speeds.
$20 to $24.99
Jamie McMurray finished 10th in the most recent short, flat track race at Martinsville and he was one of the best values in the game. He was a solid dark horse entering this week, but he gave fantasy owners a bit of a scare in qualification when he took only one slow lap and headed for the garage. He regained his speed in practice and was sixth-quickest in the afternoon session. He found short term speed as well with top-15 times in both of Saturday’s practices on the fastest-lap chart. Starting 36th, McMurray should also earn some pass differential points for his fantasy owners as well.
Joey Logano was one of three drivers who outpaced Johnson in 10-lap average speed during final practice. His speed of 133.582 mph was within shouting distance of Gordon’s time and he can be obtained for $2.50 less than the Rainbow Warrior. That will allow players to upgrade one of their bargain drivers and in light of his struggles this season on short, flat tracks, he may catch the competition by surprise.
Less than $20
Mark Martin had a difficult time adjusting to the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and that caused his salary cap to drop during the past several weeks. At Texas, he nearly climbed back into the top 10 with an 11th-place finish, which suggests he is finally getting comfortable in this car. Phoenix is a track that has been kind to him throughout his career and there would be no better way to close out the season than with a top-five there. He will need the right strategy to go along with his speed, but Martin was the fourth-quickest driver in final practice based on 10-lap averages.
With a sponsor on board this weekend, fantasy players can expect Michael McDowell to try and run the full distance. After scoring a top-15 at Talladega Superspeedway, he also ran to the checkers at Martinsville and scored a respectable 26th-place finish. Drivers do not get much cheaper than $3.25 and any player who wants to take four high-priced drivers can expect the No. 98 team to score positive points on Sunday. McDowell qualified 39th, which gives added credence to the assumption they will run the full distance; in races when they parked early, they put much more effort in time trials and lost pass differential points.