by M Roberts
In thirty-two of the thirty-six NASCAR Sprint Cup series races, the practice and happy hour sessions prior to the race are pivotal and telling to who will do well on race day. Average lap times over a distance and finding out exactly what a team was trying to accomplish in those practices go a long way into sifting through the legitimate candidates to win.
The four races where the practice sessions should be looked at and treated with little fan fare to any equation in determining who should win the race are at Talladega and Daytona. The times mean very little and are heavily clouded from teams that were spending lots of time in and out of the draft. When cars are in the draft, their speeds are drastically higher than out of the draft.
Usually, I like to post what I saw in the practices that could lead to finding some drivers to do well for either your fantasy team or betting, but this is one of those weeks where practice means little.
However, a few observations couldn’t hurt. I came into this week’s Coke Zero 400 feeling really good about the Roush Fords, the Dodges, the Chevy’s of Childress and DEI, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
A major shift in plate racing has occurred over the last two seasons where the only Chevy to win, after a seven year dominant stretch, was driven by Brad Keselowski for a single car team; no Team Hendrick, Childress, DEI, or Stewart/Haas. Since last years Daytona 500, we have seen every manufacturer win a plate race.
Even though Matt Kenseth doesn’t have his winning car from the Daytona 500 because it’s on display for a year at the Daytona Experience, he looks pretty fast in and out of the draft. The Roush Ford’s should all be fast Saturday night as Ford looks to get it’s first sweep of Daytona since 2000. If looking at the speed charts as a normal week, we’d be salivating over David Ragan and Jamie McMurray’s first practice times where they both finished in the top three.
Casey Mears and Kevin Harvick switched teams a few weeks ago with Mears team responding a little better than Harvick’s, but both will excel Saturday night. For whatever it’s worth, Mears was second fastest in both practice sessions driving a new chassis. I bring up the new chassis, because Harvick had his best 2009 finish in the Daytona 500 with second place and if there might be one race to use the Harvick stuff, it would be this one.
Kyle Busch has had the best restrictor plate car on the track for the six plate races he’s run for Toyota. He only has two wins to show for it, but is easily the favorite to win this week.
Dale Jr led the most laps in this race last season and in the last plate race run at Talladega, Junior took second. Each and every sign out there points to Junior getting the win Saturday. I don’t choose him to win much, but the last time I had a feeling about Junior winning after a slump was in this race back in 2001.
First Practice: Top Five Speeds
1) #6-Ragan 190.714
2) #07-Mears 190.666
3) #26-McMurray 190.460
4) #20-Logano 190.166
5) #83-Vickers 189.398
slowest: #64-Wallace 181.965 & #37-Raines 180.926
Happy Hour: Top Five Speeds
1) #00-Reutimann 192.135
2) #07-Mears 192.061
3) #29-Harvick 192.029
4) #83-Vikers 191.980
5) #42-Montoya 191.591
slowest: #66-Blaney 183.760 & #64-Wallace 182.994
notes: #77-Hornish and #16-Biffle were involved in Turn 2 late in the session. Both drivers will go to a backup car. The session started over an hour late after a rain shower move across the track.