The Frontstretch: Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans: Martinsville Edition by Cami Starr and Mike Neff -- Wednesday March 28, 2007

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Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans: Martinsville Edition

Cami Starr and Mike Neff · Wednesday March 28, 2007


Here we go again! After the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow at Bristol, the Nextel Cup boys are back in their new wheels for the second week in a row, mixing it up at another short track just down the road…Martinsville. It’s the second test for a new car that was met with mixed reviews following its first go-round; surprisingly, the driver who won the race gave it a glaring thumbs down, but plenty of other drivers decided they would give it a chance and work with the hand they were dealt. So what does that mean for fantasy players? Look for drivers that ran well last week, those that have good records at Martinsville, and start cross your fingers. Anything can happen anytime, anywhere on a short track, and it usually does, providing the perfect opportunity for the bad luck bug to bite off a giant chunk of points away from your fantasy team.

So, which drivers do we think can rise above it all and come out big at NASCAR's smallest track? What about the ones who will find themselves lucky to simply make it out of the race in one piece? Let's find out the highs and lows of racing ahead in this week's Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans:

Cami's Race Rewind:

After dominating at Martinsville for the past three years, Tony Stewart was finally able to close the deal in last year's DirectTV 500. Stewart led 288 laps in the 500 lap race and took the lead from Jimmie Johnson on lap 474 on his way to the victory. Johnson was the other dominate car of the day, leading 195 circuits, before finishing third. His Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon battled back from an early tire problem on lap 90 to challenge Stewart for the win after the race was red flagged with just six laps remaining. Overall it was a good day for Hendrick, who placed three drivers in the Top 5; Kyle Busch finished fifth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. rebounded from an early crash to finish fourth.

Mike's Keys to the Race:

Martinsville is the oldest track on the Cup circuit. The track puts a greater emphasis on the ultimate challenge for Cup teams on a weekly basis, getting the car to roll through the center of the corner. The teams that master that piece of the puzzle are able to pick up the throttle more quickly than their competitors and therefore get down the straightaways faster. Coming off of Bristol, it is a safe bet that teams that figured out the Car of Tomorrow for that short track will most likely have a leg up on the competition for Martinsville. Most likely Tony Stewart will be the car to beat just like he was at Bristol for most of the race before his fuel issue. Another team to look at will be the #24 of Jeff Gordon. A seven time winner at the track, and coming out of the same stable as last week's winning car, they will certainly be a force to reckon with this weekend.

Mike's Picks:

Crank ‘em up:

Tony Stewart was the dominant car at Bristol last week. Were it not for a faulty fuel system, he most likely would have walked away with the event. Stewart is a two time winner at Martinsville and has finished in the top five the last three times the series has stopped in this southern Virginia town. Between Denny Hamlin and Stewart last week, it appears that Joe Gibbs Racing has a handle on the Car of Tomorrow.

Jeff Burton not only has had a resurgence in his career over the last year and a half, but he has had a long successful history at Martinsville. The Virginia native is fourth on the list of average finishes among active drivers with a 12.9 average finish. He was also very strong at Bristol last week, coming home second and possibly winning had there been any more laps left in the race. The #31 Cingular team should be up front again this weekend.

Sit ‘em down:

Carl Edwards has simply not done very well on short tracks in his Cup career. Martinsville has been no exception with only one top 15 finish in his five career starts and nothing better than 12th place. While Edwards has shown some signs of life recently with his old crew chief back on the box, this is a week where it would be a good idea to let him ride the pine and hope for a back flip in the future.

Clint Bowyer has not been encumbered by the sophomore jinx as of yet in his second season as a Cup driver. The #07 team has been rather competitive through the first five races of the season. Martinsville is a different animal though, often taking drivers years to master. Bowyer's history at the track does not speak well either, with finishes of 22nd and 23rd in his only two starts at the track. Look for the Jack Daniel's team to have a less than stellar weekend this week.

Roll the Dice:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a very underrated short track racer, having led the series in short track points earned in two of the last five seasons. Junior brought home a car with most of the front end missing for a fourth place finish last spring, and was poised for a top five finish last fall before his overexuberance caused him to spin and end up with a 22nd place finish. The DEI stable seemed to have a decent handle on the Car of Tomorrow at Bristol, look for them to have another solid outing this weekend in Martinsville.

Cami's Picks:

Crank ‘em up:

Things didn't look good for Jeff Gordon for the majority of last Sunday's race at Bristol. But give the No. 24 team credit, they never gave up and when it counted they were up front again in the mix for the win. After finishing third, Gordon heads to Martinsville this week where he has recorded seven victories and 22 Top 10 finishes in 28 races. The Car of Tomorrow gave them fits last weekend, but they have had time to work on what was lacking early in the race last week. I look for them to once again but up near the front this weekend.

At Bristol last Sunday, Denny Hamlin showed that the results from the earlier test at Bristol were no fluke. After sitting near the top of testing, Hamlin flexed his muscles in Sunday's race and looked to be in a position to takeover where teammate Tony Stewart left off toward the end of the Food City 500. But as luck, or bad luck in the case, would have it; engine problems developed and Hamlin finished 14th. All things considered, not a terrible ending. This week I believe we'll see more of the same from Hamlin (minus the engine trouble). In three Martinsville starts, he has two Top 10 finishes and he seems to have this CoT thing figured out. Watch out for the FedEx team to deliver another top finish this weekend.

Sit ‘em down:

For some reason, short tracks haven't been Robby Gordon's cup of tea. Perhaps it's because he doesn't make many friends on the track with his sometimes over aggressive style. He got in a few scrapes at Bristol and probably we'll see more of the same from him this weekend. His record at Martinsville doesn't give you much reason to want to overlook that and give him a chance. In 13 starts at the Virginia short track, he has never finished in the Top 10 and has finished in the Top 25 only three times. Wait for Sonoma to put him in your lineup.

While teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored a Top 10 last Sunday, *Martin Truex Jr.*once again found his hands full at another short track. Truex finished 25 laps down after contact put him behind the wall for repairs. Prior to that he wasn't exactly setting the world on fire, managing to run near the back of the Top 20. He scored finishes of 19th and 36th at Martinsville last year, which doesn't give me much encouragement he'll turn things around this weekend.

Roll the Dice:

One driver that has seen a recent resurgence is Jamie McMurray. After getting off to a slow start early in the season, he has bounced back with three straight Top 15 finishes, including two in the Top 10. At Bristol last week he finished ninth and should be able to back that up this weekend at Martinsville. In eight races run there, he has scored five Top 10 finishes and was second here in 2004. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him get Top 10 number six this weekend and continue his climb up the standings.

Trash Talk:

Mike: So you’re drinking the Hamlin Koolaid? Thinking he’s going to be able to do the local boy comes home and runs well deal?
Cami: Well he was strong last week until the motor issue at the end and he still finished 14th. I think Gibbs’ has the CoT thing handled right now. Plus he has 2 Top 10s at Martinsville. So if that’s drinking the kool-aid, then yeah I guess I am.
Mike: I hope you’re right, that would be a good story, I just feel like that sophomore jinx thing is still hounding him a little bit. The Gordon pick is strong though. He could end up going home with and eighth grandfather clock this weekend.
Cami: Yeah, Gordon struggled during the race last week. But I give them alot of credit for hanging in there and making it work. Plus, he won’t be afraid to lay a bumper to somebody if he needs to. I think he’ll be good two weeks in a row. I see you picked Mr. Nice Guy Burton.
Cami: That’s not much of a stretch either.
Mike: No, not at all. He’s got a strong record at Martinsville anyway, and after last week, I feel like RCR is another organization that has figured out the COT stuff pretty well. It won’t surprise me to see the Cingular boys in Victory Lane on Sunday.
Cami: Yeah, they having been running well lately that’s for sure. But then you sat Bowyer, so all the RCR teams must not have it figured out.
Mike: Bowyer’s team had it figured out last weekend, but Martinsville is a different animal. It is so much about the driver there, and the experience factor is huge. I give you a little on Hamlin because he’d raced there before going to the big time. I just think Bowyer needs more seasoning, that pick may come back to bite me like it did last weekend.
Cami: You never know, they have both been running well.
Cami: Speaking of running well, we both stayed away from the brothers Busch this weekend.
Mike: Yeah, I was tempted to go with Kyle, but I just had to think Stewart was the car to beat at Bristol before that fuel issue, and Burton has just been too good at Martinsville. I’m not touching Kurt until he can start showing some consistent results because Penske just doesn’t have their stuff together.
Cami:The Kurt Busch pick blew up in my face last week. He was the only bad pick I had last week. Finally I sat the right guys!
Mike: Yeah, you did a good job with your sit picks. You’re still thinking that Truex isn’t getting to where he needs to be yet? I thought the way Junior ran last week he might have a decent week this week, but the experience factor is against him too.
Cami: He didn’t finish well at all last week and plus he’s struggled at Martinsville in the past. I think he’d be a better pick some place else. And with Robby Gordon, he’s not making any friends out there lately, I think someone will get him back this weekend.
Mike: Yeah, I never look for Robby to make an impact on a short track, too many people have grudges against him for there to be much of a chance for him to make it through unscathed.
Cami: Edwards has really turned a corner lately I think. But I notice you still decided to sit him. What’s up with that?
Mike: I just think he’s not strong on short tracks. He does seem to finally be getting the chemistry back, and I know he won in the Busch car at Bristol, but he’s never finished higher than 12th at Martinsville, so I just am not feeling the back flip love this week.
Mike: I must admit, I’m a little surprised to see you jumping on the hair gel bandwagon. You know I never pick McMurray so that was a safe bet.
Cami:: Just don’t flip out if you regret that pick.
Mike: I don’t plan on it. LOL.
Cami: One of these days your hatred of him will come back to bite you in the butt. And I’m hoping it’s this week! He’s like Edwards, started off slow but I think they are heading in the right direction too.
Mike: I hope you’re wrong about that. I have always said he is the most overrated driver in the series, and he has yet to prove me wrong. You may be right one of these days, but I still don’t picture it being any time soon.
Cami: I guess we’ll have to see how it pans out.


Season Averages:

Crank ‘em up- 18.2
Sit ‘em down- 19.5
Roll the Dice- 25.2

Crank ‘em up- 13.9
Sit ‘em down- 25.6
Roll the Dice- 25.0

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