As NASCAR’s first short-track leg of the season continues, the Cup circuit heads from a drastically altered Bristol Motor Speedway to a track that, well, hasn’t changed much at all since the 1950s. Martinsville Speedway is still a flat-banked, claustrophobic paperclip that provides the most old-school racing still seen today in big-time stock car competition. And with the help of Frontstretch’s Fantasy Insiders, there will be no need for fantasy racers to make use of the ample free samples of Goody’s that will be circling the track this weekend. We’ll leave those to the drivers knocked out in all those crashes, leaving your fantasy team to dominate on the .526-mile oval with the right drivers capable of making it through.
Perhaps the only thing more surprising than how long Gordon has gone without winning is how long he’s gone without winning at Martinsville. But, checkered flag or no checkered flag, there is no surer fantasy bet out there than starting the No. 24 at this Virginia short track. Gordon has scored eight consecutive top-five finishes at Martinsville, failing to finish a race outside the top 10 since 2002. And if the way the No. 24 ran at Bristol is any indication, this team has certainly rediscovered its short-track package. Look for Gordon to have another grandfather clock by week’s end. – Bryan
Johnson owns Martinsville Speedway. He has only finished outside the top 10 once in his entire career at the paperclip-shaped track in southern Virginia and has won four of the last five races there, including the hurricane-postponed event last fall. Johnson had his best finish ever at Bristol last weekend and looks poised to get back into the win column this Sunday. His average finish at Martinsville is 5.6, in case you needed another reason to put your eggs in the No. 48 basket. Johnson is the closest thing to a sure bet this coming weekend. – Mike
Over the Counter Meds
Anyone who’s listened to Hamlin knows just how much winning on any of NASCAR’s Virginia tracks means to him. And while Richmond may the crown jewel for the No. 11 driver, there’s no doubting that the win he scored at Martinsville last year was something special. Hamlin was perhaps the only driver in remotely the same league as Kyle Busch last weekend at Bristol, and is now returning to a home track where he has scored five consecutive top-10 finishes and is the defending race winner. The JGR guys may well be the only team with something to challenge Hendrick’s recent dominance at Martinsville. – Bryan
Stewart did not run up to his new team’s standards last weekend at Bristol. Still, it is surprising to see how well this car is running to start the new season. Stewart has three eighth-place finishes and is in the top 10 in points with a team that struggled to run even last year in the Top 35. Stewart has won at Martinsville before and has an average finish of 12.6. He finished fifth in this race last spring and won this race in 2006. It may be a bit of a gamble after his subpar performance last weekend, but the risk is worth the potential reward having Stewart on a short track. – Mike
You wouldn’t know it, but Martinsville Speedway is among the most consistent bright spots for AJ Allmendinger thus far in his Cup career. In his ill-fated 2007 campaign during Red Bull Racing’s pilot season, the ‘Dinger managed to qualify for both races at the track, joining only Bristol, Dover, Richmond and Charlotte as venues that he would race at twice in his rookie year. And last year, after being forced to sit out the Spring race in favor of Mike Skinner, AJ took GEM’s No. 10 car and drove it to a top-15 finish in only his third start on the track. ‘Dinger has been solid and consistent all season, and with sponsorship continuing to trickle in, his confidence level is only going to get higher. Back-to-back top 15s at Martinsville are all but a lock for this prospect. – Bryan
Marcos Ambrose had never raced at Bristol in a Cup car before last weekend. So, he jumped on the concrete half-mile and kept his nose clean all day, coming home with a 10th-place finish – even with an engine that was laying down at the end of the race. Several days later, Ambrose is taking to another track that he has not raced on in Cup this weekend when he hits the half-mile at Martinsville. One thing that has been consistent over the history of Martinsville is that drivers who are good on road courses seem to do well at the little track. Also, Ambrose is riding some momentum after last weekend and is poised for another strong run this weekend. Don’t let him go unpicked. – Mike
The Final Word
Unlike Bristol last weekend, Martinsville is a one-groove racetrack. Any driver that gets hung on the outside will have to scratch and claw his way back to the bottom line, most likely far back from where he stepped out. One advantage of being at Martinsville though is that the turns are so tight that the speeds are not very high, so it is relatively easy for drivers to avoid other people’s problems. The biggest key at Martinsville is track position, because passing is definitely at a premium. Drivers who qualify well and have solid pit crews will have the best chance of scoring well this weekend, while those who start back in the pack will have to use strategy to gain track position. Expect to see the usual cast of suspects at the front at Martinsville. After all, racing at the track is a skill that a driver just has; it is rarely learned.
Results from our experts in the Frontstretch Games
Game of Tomorrow
Hat Dance Dynasty
NASCAR Knockout (Average Finish)
Bryan 337 1522
Mike 303 1498