Fantasy NASCAR Preview: Martinsville – Goody’s Fast Relief 500
by Jordan McAbee, Special To NASCAR news, fantasy racing advice and statistics On Pit Row
I am a fantasy NASCAR junkie. In addition to my preview articles on OnPitRow, I also post weekly practice breakdown and race prediction articles at www.ifantasyrace.com . Follow me on Twitter: @FanNASCARPredicMarch 30, 2011 8:00 am UTC 1 Comment
After the checkered flag waved at Fontana, I had to sit back and rub my eyes; did Kevin Harvick just beat Jimmie Johnson at one of his best tracks? I think most NASCAR fans–myself included–breathed a sigh of relief that this could possibly be the year that Johnson gets knocked off of his throne. Of course, running second every race in the Chase will earn any driver a championship, but I think it was a good thing for NASCAR to see “The Champ” get beat (as well as have an exciting finish after an ultimately dull race).
This week the Sprint Cup series makes a stop at Martinsville Speedway in Virgina, commonly known as “The Paperclip“. This will be the first of two stops at the track this season, with the second coming in late October. Not many drivers have visited victory lane here recently, with Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon combining to win 14 of the last 16 races held at this 0.526-mile oval.
During The Last Race At Martinsville…Denny Hamlin held off a hard-charging Mark Martin for his seventh win of the 2010 season. Martin finished second that day with Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top five. In the first race at Martinsville last season, Hamlin led 172 laps and got the win on a green-white-checkered finish over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano. Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, and Martin Truex, Jr. followed those two to the checkers. Hamlin, Logano, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson were the only drivers to record top 10s in both races at “The Paperclip” in 2010. The results of the most recent race at Martinsville can be found by clicking here, and this will show you how drivers finished compared to how they were in practice.
My Recommendation To Fantasy Racers…Quite simply, load up on Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson this week. Those two have won the past nine races here and it seems like they are always up front. Some people may shy away from the Gibbs Toyotas, but I don’t see much of a problem with them at the short tracks; picking them at the intermediate ovals, though, is a different story. Last season, qualifying wasn’t very important. In October, Hamlin won from the pole but only one other person who finished in the top ten started there. During the spring race here, none of the top eight finishers started better than 11th. Also, most drivers are good here or bad here, and very rarely do you see the “bad” drivers having a good race.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Goody’s Fast Relief 500:
1. Denny Hamlin – This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Hamlin has won three of the last four races at “The Paperclip” with his other finish being 2nd. He’s made eleven starts at this track and has ten top 10s and an average finish of 6th. The only race that Denny hasn’t completed all of the laps was his second start here where he started 41st and got caught up in an accident. He’s led almost 36% of the laps ran here in the past two years and should be a lock for a top five this week. Don’t worry about the engine problems with the Gibbs cars this week because, as I said before, I don’t think they will have issues on short tracks.
2. Jimmie Johnson – For the first time since 2005, “Five Time” didn’t lead any laps in the two races held at Martinsville last season, but he still posted finishes of 9th and 5th. Jimmie has won here six times and is on a streak of seventeen straight top 10s at this track. Johnson looked good at Bristol a few weeks ago and I see no reason why he won’t challenge for the win on Sunday. He’s real hungry to break his winless streak, especially after getting beat by Harvick in California last week, and this is the perfect place for that to happen.
3. Kevin Harvick – I expect “Happy” to ride the momentum from his win at Fontana into Martinsville and be a factor once again this week. He started on the pole in the spring race last year and led 57 laps before he had problems and wound up finishing 35th. Harvick started 35th in the October race but still came away with a top five finish after leading 97 laps. Kevin has finished in the top twelve in eight of last ten races held at “The Paperclip” and has had great cars in almost every race this season (just not the best luck).
4. Jeff Gordon – Gordon isn’t as good as his teammate here, but he’s damn close. He’s made 36 starts at this track, coming away with 29 top tens and seven wins. He finished 20th in the fall race last season after being wrecked by Kurt Busch (possible payback from Sonoma) and that broke his streak of fifteen top 10s. I expect Gordon to start that streak again this week, and a top five is definitely within his grasps. I think Gordon has been average this season (except for his win in Phoenix) so keep an eye on him this weekend, but it’s real hard to go against his history at this track.
5. Carl Edwards – I’m really liking how smooth Carl’s season is going so far and I think he will have another strong run this weekend. He didn’t have an awesome-fast car in Fontana last week, but still came away with a 6th-place finish (which was higher than he ran all day). Edwards finished 8th in both Martinsville races in 2010 but has just four top 10s to his name in his thirteen starts here. He’s never led a lap here but that could change this weekend. He will be the best pick of the Roush-Fenway Racing camp this weekend.
6. Kyle Busch – Don’t make the mistake I have in the past two weeks and not pick Rowdy Busch in fantasy. He isn’t stellar at this track, but between him and Carl Edwards, there are no other drivers that are on as hot of streaks as these two. Kyle’s best finish at Martinsville is 4th (and he’s done that four times) and he has finished there in two of the past three races here. He’s a little hit-or-miss at this track, with five top 5s and five finishes worse than 20th in his twelve starts. Which Kyle Busch will show up this weekend? I’d bet on the “hit” one.
7. Ryan Newman – In case you didn’t realize this, Ryan Newman is 2nd in points and has as many top 10s and top 5s as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards (four and three, respectively). “The Rocketman” is a great qualifier at Martinsville–with an average start of 9th and three career poles–and has finished in the top five in 33% of his starts here. Over the past four races at “The Paperclip,” Newman has three finishes in the top seven, and I think it’s very possible he will end up right around there on Sunday. His average driver rating of 98.4 is seventh-best in the series at this track over the past two years.
8. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – If you’ve read anything from me over the past few weeks, you know I’ve been high on Junior, and that won’t change this week. He didn’t have a great race at Auto Club Speedway, but he still managed a 12th-place finish at one of his worst tracks. Martinsville is Dale Jr’s third-best track and I think he will have a similar race to last fall: lead some laps and get a solid top ten finish. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Earnhardt has four top tens in six starts at “The Paperclip,” and in his career he averages right around a 14th-place finish.
9. Mark Martin – Mark “The Kid” Martin has made 46 starts at Martinsville and has come away with 24 top tens as a result. He has two wins here and has finished in the top eight in three of the past four races here. Martin once again showed his inconsistency in Fontana and that is the reason he is ranked 9th for my preview. He was super fast in practice last week and had many people thinking he had a shot at a top five, only to finish 20th. Like teammate Jeff Gordon, I don’t think Martin is running as well as he should this season. Over the past two years, Mark has the sixth-best average driver rating at this track, but I would consider him a risky pick this week.
10. Jeff Burton – The #31 team has gotten off to a slow start this season, but their finishes have been getting progressively better and I think this is the week that they get their first top ten of the 2011 season. In the two races at Martinsville last year, Burton led 140 and 134 laps but had disappointing finishes of 20th and 9th. He has just one win at this track (in 1997) but hasn’t finished outside of the top twenty since 2006. Burton’s career average finish at “The Paperclip” is 13.8 and he has had the fifth-best average driver rating over the past four races here.
11. Clint Bowyer – Bowyer finally got a top ten last week and I think he could challenge for a second this week at Martinsville. He has just one top five finish in ten starts at this track, but he’s recorded top ten finishes in five of the last seven races here. Clint has never led a lap at “The Paperclip,” so don’t expect him to challenge for a win, but a top ten won’t be out of the question. His last four spring races here have given Bowyer finishes of 7th, 5th, 10th, and 11th.
12. Tony Stewart - Last year was an off-year for “Smoke” at Martinsville, with finishes of 26th and 24th, but he has won here twice and his career average finish is a respectable 13.1. In his past eleven starts at Martinsville, Stewart has just three finishes outside of the top fifteen and none worse than 26th. Over the past two seasons, Tony has the ninth-best average driver rating at this track.
13. Juan Montoya – Believe it or not, Montoya actually hasn’t been terrible at “The Paperclip.” He’s made eight starts at this track and seven of them have ended in top 20 finishes, although only two have been in the top ten. Juan has been in the top ten in points all season thus far and I don’t think that will change this week. His finishes of 36th and 19th in 2010 at Martinsville are the two worst in Montoya’s Sprint Cup career.
14. Joey Logano – “Sliced Bread” nearly won the race here last March and was one of only four drivers to score top tens in both trips to Martinsville in 2010. His first trip to “The Paperclip” gave him a 32nd-place finish but he backed that up with a 12-place effort later in 2009. Logano hasn’t been stellar this year, so proceed with caution, but statistically this is Joey’s fourth-best track. He needs a good run to get his season back on track and this could be the week that Logano breaks through.
15. Paul Menard – Paul continued his great start to the season at Fontana with yet another career-best finish, but for him to accomplish that this week it may be a bit tougher. Last season, while running for Richard Petty Motorsports, Menard collected finishes of 14th and 13th. This season he has Richard Childress Racing power under the hood, and they have had success here in the past. Will we see another career-best finish for Paul Menard this week? His worst finish at Martinsville has been 27th in his seven starts here.
Underdogs Entering The Goody’s Fast Relief 500:
Jamie McMurray – McMurray has finished in the top eleven in three of the past four races here and he has nine top 10s in his sixteen career starts. Word of caution: because he hasn’t ran well this season at all, Jamie will be a risky pick this week, but he’s not terrible at this track: statistically this is McMurray’s fifth-best venue.
Brian Vickers – Dang was Vickers and his Red Bull Toyota fast in Fontana. Will they be able to turn that into a good run at Martinsville? We will find out. Vickers has three finishes of 11th or better in his past four starts here and finished 6th in the spring race in 2010. Kasey Kahne drove this car to a 14th-place finish last October at this track.
Brad Keselowski – He’s made just two starts at this track but Keselowski has finishes of 12th and 10th to his name. This year, BK finished 15th at Phoenix and 18th at Bristol, so a top 15 isn’t out of the question this week, but I doubt he will be able to score another top ten.
David Ragan – I usually only use Ragan on oval tracks but he hasn’t been terrible at Martinsville. Last year he finished 16th and 17th and in 2008 he posted finishes of 11th and 13th. He finished 16th at Bristol a few weeks ago, the first short track race of the season.
Those To Avoid Entering The Goody’s Fast Relief 500:
Regan Smith – Smith finished 14th here in 2008 but that is his only finish inside the top 20 in his career at this track. Darrell Waltrip keeps saying how good of a season this guy is having, but I just don’t see it: he’s 30th in points and the only race he looked impressive was Daytona. Regan’s cumulative driver ratings over the past three races don’t even add up to Denny Hamlin’s driver rating in the fall race last year.
David Reutimann - Reutty hasn’t even looked good on the tracks where he is expected to perform well so there’s no reason to think he will have a good run on a track that he has an average finish around 26th at. Last year at this track Reutimann finished 27th and 28th. Save him for the intermediates.
Kurt Busch – I expected a 25th-place finish at best last week out of Kurt but he somehow pulled off a 17th. He may do that again this week, but I’m not about to put him on my roster. Busch’s last top ten came in 2005, and while he has one win here, just 4 of Kurt’s 21 starts here have given him a top ten finish.
Martin Truex, Jr. – He finished 5th here last spring, but one good race doesn’t make you a great driver (I’m talking about you, too, Trevor Bayne). His average finish is 22.5 at this track and three of Truex’s last four starts here have given him finishes of either 28th or 29th. He looks like his 2010 self thus far, so don’t be surprised to see him near the top of the practice speed charts this weekend. Just don’t be fooled by him.
I’m just hoping for an enjoyable race this week, and I’m sure many others are as well. I nearly fell asleep multiple times during the race last week, but I must say, those last ten or so laps were intense. I will post my final predictions for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 over at ifantasyrace.com so be sure to check those out, and make sure you join NASCARNation if you haven’t already. Good luck to everyone’s fantasy rosters this week, and if you want my opinion between two drivers where you don’t know who to pick, feel free to send me a tweet.