NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Friday: Hamlin, Bowyer, Kahne have a little extramotivation to win

It’s week seven of the Chase and as the Sprint Cup series heads into Martinsville, and with four races left this championship is looking more and more like a two-horse race. Sure, Denny Hamlin is within striking distance of the lead at 20 points, and Clint Bowyer is next at 25 out and even Kasey Kahne at 30. But for these drivers to have a realistic shot of getting into the title hunt they’ll need leader Brad Keselowski and second-place Jimmie Johnson, who is seven points back, to do something they haven’t done all year – have two bad races in these last four and it’s not likely to happen to either one of them, let alone both of them.

Top 5 Picks

1. Denny Hamlin. He may need to do what Tony Stewart did last year to win the title, and that’s win three of the last four races. He’s won two of the last five races at Martinsville, so he does have a chance this week.

2. Jimmie Johnson. He’s on Keselowski’s tail and he hasn’t won a race in the Chase yet. He has three career wins at Martinsville, so it makes sense to pick him here because he’s due for a victory and he’s had success at the paperclip.

3. Jeff Gordon. He very easily could have, and maybe should have, won the spring race here. He led 329 laps before a late accident relegated him to 14th.

4. Brad Keselowski. He’s still a must pick pretty much every week, especially because his bad days are still top-10 finishes. So, that means a good day will put him in the top two or three.

5. Clint Bowyer. It seems more and more that a lot of these races are coming down to which car gets the best fuel mileage. And if that happens again Sunday, look for Bowyer to be in the mix as the No. 15 seems to get better mileage than anyone else. And yes, like Hamlin, he really needs a win to have a shot at the title.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He’s coming back after a two-race hiatus due to a concussion, and Martinsville wouldn’t be a bad place to pick him because he’ll want to show he’s healthy. He also has a good track record at the 0.533-mile oval with an average finish of 6.8 and four top-10 finishes in the last five races.

ACCOUNTABILITY GROUP
Here’s a look at how last week’s picks fared in Week 6 of the Chase at Kansas.

Brad Keselowski – 8th. Never a factor to win it, but avoided enough wrecks for an OK day.

Jimmie Johnson – 9th. Actually had a shot to win, but a meeting with the wall ended those hopes.

Denny Hamlin – 13th. Got caught in pits during a yellow, so had to battle back from that.

Clint Bowyer – 6th. Was up front a couple of times and good finish kept his title hopes somewhat alive.

Carl Edwards – 14th. Took a shot with a non-Chaser here and was reminded there’s a reason he’s not in the Chase.

Season Stats
160 Predictions
15 Wins
49 Top 5s
73 Top 10s

Grade for the week: C-. Not a disaster in terms of having some decent finishes, just couldn’t get anyone in the top 5.

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