Practice makes perfect on short flat tracks. The Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a sprint race. Only 301 miles in length, there are not a lot of opportunities to make changes to the car, so practice speeds are much more important here than on many tracks. Those speeds indicate who is dialed in.
Even a cursory look at practice times suggests that nothing is going to change this week. The Big 3 will continue to dominate and challenge for the victory while the “Remaining 32” will be left to fight for top-10 results.
Qualification is also important because track position begins with the drop of the green flag. Qualification times also decide pit selection, so the drivers rolling off from the back of the pack have twice the disadvantage.
Happy Hour ended with Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick all at the top of the speed chart. Harvick had the quickest 10-lap average; Truex was second on that chart. Busch logged only the seventh-quickest time in regard to 10-lap averages, but no one is particularly concerned about his ability to record a top-five. Use them in any combination possible given your allocation or salary cap limitations, but Truex is our pick to finish best among the Big 3.
Matters were a little different in the first practice session – and this may be where the majority of dark horses will come from. Ryan Blaney had the best 10-lap average in that practice with a 131.767 during his first 10 laps. On his heels came Denny Hamlin (who also had the fastest single lap in the morning) and JGR teammate Erik Jones. Gibbs has been consistently strong, so Hamlin and Jones deserve to be among the top utility picks this week. One of them should be in your NASCAR Live garage.
There were no huge surprises in the top 10 averages this week, but a couple of drivers deserve notation. Jimmie Johnson had the 10th-quick time in the first session. Paul Menard was ninth-best in Happy Hour. Both of these drivers have a tendency to fade in race trim, but a player who needs to roll the dice might find that gambling pays off.
Nearly everyone expected Kyle Busch to walk away with the pole this week. He was fast in Friday's practice and had the best lap time in the first two rounds of time trials. He – and the rest of the field – got snookered by Kurt Busch in round three. Kurt laid down one fast lap in round three and grabbed the pole with Truex sitting to his outside. Kyle had to “settle” for third. Truex and Busch will record a lot of segment points and one of them will win the stages.
Harvick could actually be said to have struggled in qualification. He failed to make his way into the final round and rolls off the grid 14th. He did not get a great pit selection, but it is good enough that fantasy owners do not need to worry. In pit box 12, he has a vacant pits stall at the back of the car and the team of BJ McLeod in front of him. In games that offer place differential points, he is virtually guaranteed to add 10 points to the total.
Kyle Larson fared even worse in time trials. He had a great practice on Friday, but could not find speed when it mattered most. He qualified 20th and has a slightly tighter configuration on pit row. He was one of our favorites to finish in the top five, but we need to amend that. He should be happy with a top-10 this week.