OK, by a raise of hands, how many of you were screaming and cursing at the TV as one of your top fantasy picks fell by the wayside, late in Sunday’s race due to a blown tire? First, there was Jimmie Johnson, then Brad Keselowski, followed by Clint Bowyer. That final blowout/spin, in a cruel twist of fate, cost Jeff Gordon a win, along with a “locked up” Chase position this early in the season.
Those kinds of things are frustrating enough when you are playing in a free league such as the Frontstretch Fantasy Group on Yahoo! But it’s even more frustrating if you’re playing for money, losing significant points just because your driver had a tire failure after teasing you with the possibility of a top-10 finish going into the final 10 or 15 laps.
While you may be looking for a little relief from that frustration, heading into the next race, there’s no guarantee that will happen this week. That’s because the Sprint Cup Series heads to the half-mile oval at Martinsville, a place where the usual amount of bumping and banging is expected. That could be especially true in the later laps if there is a driver in the top two or three positions who does not have a win yet. If one of those drivers is Johnson, Gordon, or Bowyer, still searching for that elusive victory in 2014… watch out.
So, with all that in mind, here’s a look at this week’s picks.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
When looking at the top three drivers with the best average finish in the last four races at Martinsville, guess who they are: Jimmie Johnson at 4.75, Clint Bowyer at 5.0 and Jeff Gordon, tied with Brad Keselowski, at 6.25.
Johnson has won two of the last four races at Martinsville and has led a remarkable 773 laps in those events. During that stretch, Johnson has another top-10 finish and his worst result is 12th. So, if you are on pick limits and like to save Johnson for the later races, that’s understandable. But this Sunday is one regular season race where you have to take a serious look at using him.
Gordon has won one of the last four races at Martinsville while leading 499 laps, which is pretty remarkable as well. Gordon also has two other top-10 finishes in those races and his worst result is 14th. So it would also be no surprise to see him at or near the front Sunday.
Just as a side note, Johnson and Gordon are tied for the most wins among active drivers at Martinsville with eight each.
Bowyer hasn’t been quite as dominant as either of those other two, but he has been very good at Martinsville as well. Bowyer has not won, but he’s finished in the top 10 in each of the last four races, including three top-5 results. Bowyer has also led 216 laps in those events, a contender for the victory every time out. Overall, in 16 career starts at Martinsville, Bowyer has had ten top-10 finishes. History tells us he won’t tank you with a 35th.
Another top driver who has fared well at Martinsville recently, but has not won is Matt Kenseth. With 300 laps led and two top-10 finishes, including a second place the last four times out his worst performance during that stretch is 14th. Kenseth also does not have a win at Martinsville, during his career, so you know it is a place he would like to cross off the list.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS
One of the easy picks in this group, if you choose to use him and not save him for later in the season, is Brad Keselowski. Kes has finished inside the top 10 each of the last four races at Martinsville, peaking with a best result of fourth. But he hasn’t been up front much, leading just 10 laps in those races. So expect consistency here; just not many bonus points. For his career, Keselowski has five top 10s in eight races run at the paperclip.
Another driver looking for a win, assuming he is healthy enough to drive this weekend, is Denny Hamlin. He has four career wins at Martinsville and an average finish of 8.13 in 16 races there. Hamlin also has nine other top 10s in those events.
Just whom to pick from the rest of the B List group on Yahoo! is not nearly as easy. You’ve got Greg Biffle, who has three top-10 finishes in the last four Martinsville races, but those finishes have been either ninth or 10th and he has not led a single lap in those events. Biffle’s worst finish, though is just 13th, so do with that what you will. The Roush Fenway Fords – and his in particular – have not exactly been speed demons this season.
Then, there’s Tony Stewart, who has had some career success here with three wins and 12 other top-10 finishes in 29 career starts. However, in the last four Martinsville races, Smoke has had just one top-10 finish, a seventh, and has not led a lap. But with two top-5 finishes in the last two 2014 events, one could argue, too that the No. 14 team has gained some momentum. It’s just difficult to know for sure which way to go with Stewart here.
Finally, let’s not forget about Brian Vickers at Martinsville. He does have one top-10 finish, an eighth, in his last three races at the track and has led 27 laps, so that’s a little something to go on. Vickers also qualifies well at the short track, with an average start of 3.7 in those events, so if he can replicate that, it always helps to start up front. Vickers’ average finish is 12.3 in those races, with finishes between eighth and 18th, so you could do a lot worse than picking him here.
THE DARK HORSES
Yes, I took a bit of ridicule by saying in this spot last week that Danica Patrick was capable of having a top-20 finish at California. Saying that, if you picked her and that happened, that’s not a bad thing for the last spot on your roster.
There’s no expectation of any Danica haters changing their view here, but she did finish 14th last week and yes, I was kicking myself for not picking her, as I am choosing to save Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson for later in the season. I’m not going out on a limb and saying Patrick is the best driver ever, or anything close to that; I am saying she has shown some improvement and isn’t an automatic killer for your fantasy team. When looking at how Patrick did at Martinsville last year, she was 12th and 17th, so she’s clearly capable of a top-20 result once again and yes, that’s not a finish that will put your fantasy team to the back of the pack.
As for Larson and Dillon, they are two possible options every week this season. Last week, I also said Larson will win a Sprint Cup race sometime this year, a prediction that almost came true on Sunday. Only Kyle Busch kept the youngster out of Victory Lane, a confidence-building weekend that should make him even more of a threat come Martinsville.
Dillon hasn’t been as flashy as Larson, outside of his Daytona 500 pole, but he has been consistent and avoided disaster, sitting ninth in the point standings. He’s also shown a knack for getting better as races go on. So even if Dillon starts slow, running in the high 20s early, the team has managed to contend for a top-10 spot in most of these early events. That’s a credit to Dillon and his crew for not bailing out, especially when things don’t always look like they’re going to go their way.
There was a change in the overall lead in the Frontstretch Fantasy League on Yahoo! as bundy’s bombers took a five-point lead over Team Stallknecht with 1,386 points. The rest of the top 5 are Migrainehead’s Chargers with 1,362 points, Mojothemonkey at 1,343 and jimmie wins again at 1,333. bundy’s bombers and Team Stallknecht each actually had their worst weeks of the season, but were bailed out by the Lucky Dog provision and didn’t have to use those scores.
Mojothemonkey had the best week in Frontstretch’s 70-team league at 354 points, choosing race winner Kyle Busch, second-place Kyle Larson, seventh-place Brian Vickers and 10th-place Carl Edwards.
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