Martin Truex Jr. posted a lap of 160.664 mph in the final round of qualification and will lead the field to green in the Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway. As with the first two races of the playoffs, the pole sitter sits atop a contingent of mostly championship contending drivers in top 12. Truex beat Kyle Busch—who lines up on the outside pole—as well as Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth on the second row.
In total, nine of the top 12 spots were taken by playoff contenders. That is nothing out of the ordinary; these drivers are in the playoffs because they were the best drivers in the regular season. But their overwhelming presence at the top of the order is notable because it says volumes about the few drivers who inserted themselves into the first six rows.
Daniel Suarez qualified fifth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. rolls off the grid seventh. Erik Jones posted the 10th-fastest lap. The two Rookie of the Year contenders have been among the best values on a weekly basis. Both could be considered place-and-hold drivers based on the past several weeks because they are scoring major fantasy points with a modest price tag.
Junior is still looking for some way to salvage his final season of Cup competition and will be highly motivated to stay among the leaders. The spirit may be willing, but there is little reason to expect the car to be up to the challenge.
The other major session that fantasy racers tend to put great value in is final practice and the 10-lap averages. Busch posted the quickest time in that session, which is backed up by his outside pole. Busch also had the quickest 10-lap average in the morning. That suggests that while Truex is favored to jump out and lead some early laps, Busch should be able to track him down in 15 to 20 circuits and lead for some while afterward. That will bank enough points to make him a great choice despite his high price tag.
Since Busch is expensive, however, one has to look deeper in the field for their dark horses. Jamie McMurray has not only been the most consistent driver in the field on a weekly basis all season long, he had the second-quickest, 10-lap average in the morning session. He will need it because he is buried deep in the field in 26th to start. That makes him the worst qualified among the playoff contenders, but it also suggests that he is going to earn a ton of place-differential points. McMurray was fourth-quick in Saturday morning.
Chase Elliott was second quick in final practice with a speed of 155.510 mph. He enters the weekend with a three-race streak of top-fives, qualified among the top 12, and has speed to back up his handicap. The fact that he starts on the outside of the front row only adds to his appeal because it is likely that he will add seven or more place-differential points to his total.