The NASCAR Sprint Cup season returns to action this week at the short track in Martinsville, VA. The action away from the track two weeks ago may well influence who you pick for your lineup this week. There will be a different driver in the No. 11 car for at least the next five weeks, the No. 22 car will likely be the hunted one at least this week, and then there’s the matter of winning the race, or at the least, coming up with a good finish for some desperate drivers.
With the half-mile oval being famous for drivers to use their bumpers to get slower cars out of the way, it won’t be surprising to see some of those desperate drivers use whatever tactics they can to finish in the top five.
That’s just one of the things to keep in mind when making picks this week.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
Of the top drivers, two of the desperate ones include Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Gordon stands 18th in points and Stewart sits in 22nd. Stewart may be particularly frustrated because he was looking at a top five finish, and maybe even a win, at California two weeks ago when he had to slow down to avoid an accident when Joey Logano blocked him on a restart. The post-race drama included Stewart throwing a punch at Logano and Logano throwing a water bottle. So, the drama here may not be done. But don’t forget that Stewart’s first priority will be to win the race Sunday. If Logano happens to be in the way, then so be it. He likely won’t be in Stewart’s way for long, if it works out that way.
As for Gordon, it was at last spring’s race when he was in the front row on a late restart, only to be eliminated when Clint Bowyer, after receiving a bump from Ryan Newman, slid up into Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson. And while Bowyer and Gordon aren’t best friends by any stretch, the point here is that Gordon runs well at Martinsville. In his last 10 races at Martinsville, Gordon has an average finish of seventh, including eight top 10 finishes, with seven of those being in the top five. He’s doesn’t have a win that stretch, but I’m picking him to be the winner this week.
Another serious consideration in the top tier is Bowyer. He was in position to win last spring at Martinsville and has three top 10 finishes in his last four races there. Of course, you could also use Jimmie Johnson at about any track, but I will be saving him for later this season.
MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
The obvious pick that sticks out in this group for the two Frontstretch Yahoo! leagues is Kyle Busch. He obviously can be considered as one of the elite and the trick here is to decide when to use him because this season it appears he is almost a lock to be one of the 12 drivers to make the Chase for the Championship.
Busch has two top-five finishes in the last four races at Martinsville and has led 277 laps in those races, the third most behind Gordon and Johnson. So, the question here is whether to make him active or not. One factor to consider, too, for Busch is that he is Denny Hamlin’s teammate. And since Martinsville is definitely one of those revenge type tracks, Busch may be on the lookout for Logano’s No. 22 car.
But just like Stewart, Busch will be worried about winning first.
If you are looking for a sleeper pick from this bunch this week, Aric Almirola may be your guy. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver had two top 10 finishes in his two races at Martinsville last year, finishing fourth and eighth.
Another driver in the mid-pack who is not always available, but will be this week is Mark Martin. And what’s notable here is that he will be in what is usually Hamlin’s No. 11. So, you know the car is going to be good enough, and even though Martin is the senior citizen on the Sprint Cup circuit, he has shown he is a contender week in and out, leading races, winning poles, and consistently a threat – even in a part-time capacity.
And that brings us to Brian Vickers, who will be in the No. 55 Toyota that he shares with Martin this week. Vickers doesn’t have a great track record at Martinsville, but since he’s not an every week guy and does have the ability and equipment to finish well, you have to look at him.
Also, it would be a mistake not to consider current points leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at Martinsville. He has two top fives and a top 10 in the last four races here. Junior also seems to have a knack to stay out of trouble on the short tracks and has no real enemies, so he could be a good pick this week.
The one bad pick this week from this group is probably Logano. With potential retribution from Stewart and friends of Hamlin, it would be surprising if he doesn’t end up in the wall at some point Sunday.
THE DARK HORSES
Just who to go with in what is considered the lower tier is always a difficult question. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has shown is an every week consideration here, but if you have a race limit to deal with he can’t be picked every week.
Since Daytona, Danica Patrick hasn’t run strong enough to convince anyone she can be an every week pick, but at some point she will have to be considered.
A.J. Allmendinger has been a popular pick in this spot, but he’s not entered this week, so no luck there. Regan Smith is in the No. 51 this week, so he is also an option. Smith did finish seventh in his last race at Martinsville.
If you don’t want to use Stenhouse, two other options are David Regan and Casey Mears. While their average finishes aren’t stellar in the last 10 races, Ragan does have an eighth-place finish and Mears has a sixth-place finish. So, it is possible for either of those two to run well at Martinsville.
The best advice here this week is to go with Stenhouse, or simply, good luck.
THE REARVIEW MIRROR
The top score in the two Frontstretch fantasy leagues on Yahoo for the last race at California went to Hot Rod Torino with a score of 347 points. That team had a lineup of race winner Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle in sixth, Matt Kenseth in seventh and A.J. Allmendinger in 16th.
The top scoring team for the season in the two leagues remains Hurtubise with 1,329 points. The next two are RWO Motoring at 1,273 and Tonysguys at 1,261.
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