Practice and qualification are in the books and one thing seems certain: the two points’ leaders are at the top of the standings for good reason. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson have been dominating the series in recent weeks and show no sign of slowing down. They were both uniformly strong throughout the weekend and are set to be one another’s strongest competitors.
Truex has been better overall in practice, but Larson stole the show in qualification—for a little while at least. After failing to get through inspection last week, he made it to the line on Friday, but something happened to the rear deck lid between the time he rolled back into the garage. He grabbed the pole with a speed of 133.324, but failed post-qualification inspection and will have to drop to the back of the pack to start the race.
Since his penalty disallowed his time, Larson’s official starting position is 39th and that means place differential points will be based from there. He should be able to come from the back and earn points for this race even though he is likely to get penalized again this Tuesday and lose more championship points.
That elevated Truex to the top spot and it is not as if he needed any help to dominate the race. He had the fastest or second-fastest laps in each session. He topped the average speed chart in Happy Hour, which gives him durability over the long run and those should combine to allow him to scoot out to a massive lead in the opening segment and accumulate a ton of laps’ led bonus points. He is expensive in salary cap games, but hard to ignore.
A couple of young guns have also climbed to the top of the order this week. Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott posted the third and fourth quickest drivers in final practice. Even though the race is only 301 miles long, this is a track that benefits from long run speed and those drivers will find a way to pass enough cars to get to the lead pack.
That will be critical for both drivers. Elliott qualified just inside the top 12 (in 11th) while Blaney is back in 15th. That might not seem like being very deep in the pack, but on a one-mile track with a preferred groove, it means they have to pass between 25 and 40 percent of the field. It will take a little strategy to get where they need to be, but they should be able to pull it off.
Daniel Suarez was the top performing rookie in final practice with speeds just outside the top five in terms of fastest laps and quickest 10-lap averages. Factor in his lack of experience and fantasy players should be looking for him to finish somewhere on the cusp of 10th. A little luck means he will get a result in the single digits, but a minor mistake won’t keep him from being a good value and he should land in the teens with ease.
Veterans Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth should also be watched. They both landed in the top 10 on the final practice speed chart and have a great notebook from which to work. Both have won on this track and both have a few tricks up their sleeve. Kenseth was slightly better on long runs during Happy Hour—but only by one spot in seventh. Johnson qualified better by one position and now has the outside pole. Fantasy players might have to flip a coin on this one.