Fantasy NASCAR Picks – Martinsville: Goody’s Fast Relief 500
We’ve seen some challenging tracks already in the 2011 NASCAR season, but none as difficult as what we’ll get this weekend, when the Sprint Cup series takes on Martinsville Speedway. Everything about the flat, paperclip-shaped track is tough – it is hard on brakes, hard on drivers, the racing line is narrow, and if anything should happen at the half-mile track (which it inevitably will), you’ll easily be down two or three laps just for making an unscheduled pit stop.
The good news for Fantasy NASCAR owners is that there are two drivers that have completely dominated at Martinsville over the past five years. The bad news is that once you get past those two favorites, the picture gets really cloudy, really quickly. But not to worry – here are my best-bet picks for your Fantasy NASCAR team at Martinsville this weekend.
Six-year averages are listed next to each driver (12 races total), including Average Running Position (ARP), Average Finish (AVG), and Driver Rating (RAT).
1. Denny Hamlin (ARP: 9.5 AVG: 6.1 RAT: 112.5) - I know, it is tough to put Denny Hamlin at the top of any list right now with the way things have been going for the No.11 team; Denny comes into the weekend riding back-to-back finishes outside of the top-30. But even if he had finished dead last in every race this year, I would still have Hamlin in my Martinsville lineup. Why, you ask? Well, he is awesome here; in 11 career races at the half-mile oval, Denny has only finished outside the top-10 once, and he hasn’t come in lower than fifth since 2007. Jimmie Johnson has him beat for the top spot in most loop data stats, but that hasn’t stopped Denny from finishing up front and taking home the Grandfather Clocks – he’s won three in a row, and four of the last six here. Slump or not, Hamlin should be in your lineup Sunday.
2. Jimmie Johnson (ARP: 6.4 AVG: 3.3 RAT: 122.5) – Johnson is a tough driver in limited-start leagues because he is just so darn good everywhere, and you don’t want to blow all your starts early in the season. If you’ve been laying off of the No.48, though – this is the perfect week to burn off one of those starts and rake in the points. One could argue that Johnson is even more dominant at Martinsville than Hamlin is; Jimmie has six career wins at the Virginia track, has taken the checkered flag in five of the last nine and has finished top-10 in the last 17 races. That’s right – 17 in a row. In addition, Jimmie leads all drivers over the past six years in ARP (6.4), AVG (3.3), Driver Rating (122.5), laps led (1380), laps in top-15 (5457, 90.7% of the time) and quality passes (414). Johnson scored big points last week at California, and should do it again at Martinsville.
3. Jeff Gordon (ARP: 6.5 AVG: 4.3 RAT: 120.5) – Gordon almost didn’t make the top category this week for one simple reason – he just hasn’t proven to Fantasy owners yet that he is capable of winning on a regular basis, and until he does it could be argued that he is a second-tier option. So why is he top-3 in this week’s picks? Because Jeff is great at Martinsville, and it would be a shame to leave him off your roster. In addition to finishing top-10 in 15 of the last 16 at the Virginia short-track, the seven-time winner has solid loop data stats over the past six seasons, being first in average start (6.6) and fastest laps (644) as well as being second in ARP (6.5), AVG (4.3), laps led (1090), laps in top-15 (5392) and Driver Rating (120.5). Sure, he hasn’t lit things up since his win at Vegas, but Gordon should be a solid contender Sunday.
Safe Best for a Solid Martinsville Finish
1. Tony Stewart (ARP: 8.9 AVG: 12.2 RAT: 106.8) - OK, here ‘s where things start to become a lot less clear. Beyond Hamlin and Johnson, a handful of drivers are in the mix, and Stewart makes a great bounce-back candidate in the second-tier. Tony didn’t have the best time at Martinsville in 2010, bringing home nothing more than a pair of finishes outside the top-20, but before that he was a consistent threat at the Paperclip – with top-10 results in seven of the previous nine races, including one of his two victories here. Tony has struggled a little bit since briefly taking over the point lead at Las Vegas, but don’t let that scare you away from him Sunday – he’s not as strong of an option as Hamlin or Johnson, but is capable of being in the mix and even competing for the win.
2. Kevin Harvick (ARP: 14.5 AVG: 16.0 RAT: 92.6) - This pick is more about Harvick’s overall performance this year than it is about how he runs at Martinsville – coming off his thrilling win at Fontana along with a sixth-place showing at Bristol – Kevin is one of the hottest drivers in the garage. His Martinsville stats, though, aren’t actually too shabby; he finished third here during the Chase last season, and while he hasn’t always lit it up here, Kevin has been consistently solid, with finishes of 12th or better in six of the last seven. Will Harvick score his first Martinsville win Sunday? Probably not, but he should end the day near the pointy end of the field, so play the hot hand and go with the No.29 team.
3. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (ARP: 11.6 AVG: 12.7 RAT: 98.7) - Before all of the Fantasy owners run screaming from the room, take a minute to look at Junior’s stats this season; his only bad finish of the year came in the Daytona 500 thanks to a wreck, but other than that, Dale has come in 12th or better every single week. So the No.88 team has definitely come out of the gate a little stronger than usual, and Martinsville is a great track for Little E, with top-10 finishes in five out of the last eight. Over the last six years, Junior is fifth in Driver Rating (98.7) and laps led (397) while leading the way in green-flag passes (627). If you’ve been waiting for the opportunity to add Dale to your roster at a non-plate track – this is the week to do it.
One of the most difficult things to do when picking a Fantasy NASCAR team is filling those last few slots – either “C List” drivers in category leagues, or low-budget drivers in salary leagues. Here are a few drivers that could present a good value for your team this weekend – I’ll do my best not to drift to far into drivers that might be in higher categories in your league:
1. Joey Logano (ARP: 18.0 AVG: 13.0 RAT: 81.0) – Martinsville usually eats young drivers for lunch, but Logano has been impressive here – posting finishes of 12th or better in three of his four career races at the half-mile, including a second and a sixth-place result in the two races last season. Joey has yet to finish inside the top-20 this year, but that should change Sunday afternoon. He may not be a C-List driver in your league, but as a low budget option, the No.20 car is a solid pick.
2. Bobby Labonte (ARP: 23.2 AVG: 25.0 RAT: 66.3) - The C-list is pretty thin (as always) this week for Yahoo owners, but when there is a guy available who actually has a win at the current track, you have to give him a serious look. Labonte took the checkered flag at the Paperclip back in 2002 while it is true that was a long time ago, Bobby has had a few good runs since then, including finishes of 13th and 16th in 2009. Plus, he is driving the car Marcos Ambrose piloted to an 11th place showing one year ago…and Labonte actually helped the team set that car up for Marcos. Add it all up, and you are left with a viable C-list option that doesn’t require you to burn off a start on Paul Menard.
3. David Ragan (ARP: 20.3 AVG: 19.1 RAT: 70.0) - Ragan almost made me look like a Fantasy hero last week – qualifying sixth and then hanging around in the top-10 for awhile before finally fading to 22nd. Why did he make the list again, then? Well, David had finishes of 16th and 17th last season at Martinsville, and has finished as high as 11th in 2008. Roush is producing good cars and stout engines – eventually it will even trickle down to the struggling Ragan. You could do worse.
Martinsville is a tough track for drivers and Fantasy owners – if you go with at least one of the big-guns (or better yet, both) and then fill in around them with drivers who are off to a good start this season, you can maximize the number of points your Fantasy NASCAR team scores Sunday.