One of the interesting things about the fantasy world in NASCAR is that as the Chase field narrows, just who is in the Chase in real life means less and less for your fantasy picks most likely. It’s just simple numbers. With just eight drivers remaining in contention for the title heading into Martinsville, that means there are a whole lot of other drivers, and a lot of them are pretty good drivers, that have to be dealt with in both fantasy and reality.
So, sure, while we still want to pay attention to the Ryan Newmans and Carl Edwards of the world, we can’t forget about the Jimmie Johnsons and Dale Earnhardt Jrs either. Just because they hit a bit of a slump in the last three races for various reasons, they could just as easily turn things around in any of these next four races. You can bet, they still want to win just as badly, even if it will not help them to a championship run.
So, when looking at this week’s picks, sure, you want to look at the drivers who still have a shot at the title, but don’t forget about some of the other drivers who want and likely will be factors in this end of the season game as well.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
If there is one driver who could be asking “what if?” going into Martinsville it could be Johnson. Sure the still defending champion has six titles, but if he wins at Martinsville, he’s human and probably won’t be able to stop the thoughts of what might have happened had he still been able to contend for the title. In the last five races at Martinsville, Johnson has dominated with two wins while leading 1,070 laps, easily the most of any driver in that span. Johnson also has four top fives in those five races and his worst finish has been 12th. So, no matter what happened the past three weeks, Johnson’s still a favorite to win this week.
A driver who does have a chance to win the title and who has also been successful at Martinsville recently is Jeff Gordon. He has led the second most laps in the last five races there at 498 and also has a win in that span. Gordon has three top 10 finishes in the last five trips. And when you look at his career numbers at the short track, he, along with Johnson, has eight wins and has an active driver high 3,590 laps in 43 races there. He’s also been in the top five in all 27 of those races. So, it’s certainly not out of the question that Gordon can continue his drive for five titles at Martinsville.
A driver who did squeeze his way into the top eight to keep his title hopes alive is Matt Kenseth. He hasn’t been dominant at Martinsville, but he has been pretty good with three top 10 finishes in the last five races. He also been out front a lot in those races, leading 336 laps, third most in those races behind Gordon and Johnson. Of course, the interesting thing about Kenseth, along with Ryan Newman, is that they are still in title contention without having won a race this year. So, you know, with all this emphasis on winning this year, which is a good thing, it is still possible to have a non-winner capture the crown. And if this format had been in place last year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have won the title without a victory.
And speaking of Junior, he’s not been too bad at this track in recent times either. He has an average finish of 11.8 in the last five races, fifth best among active drivers, with a best finish of third in the spring race at Martinsville this year. He has led just 28 laps in those races though, but 25 of those laps did come in this past spring’s race. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him run well here either.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS
While there are of course eight very happy drivers heading into Martinsville, Newman may be the most happy of that bunch to see Martinsville come up on the schedule. He has been good there in the past, including one win in the last five races. In his 25 career races there, he has 11 top 10 finishes and you know he’s thinking this might be his best shot at a win in these next three races.
What was a bit of a surprise in the spring race was that Denny Hamlin did not contend for the win. With him now having a shot at his first title, you know his team is doing all it can to return to its past form. In his last four races there, he has just two top 10 finishes. But for his 17 career races there, he has four wins and 13 top 10 finishes and has led 1,153 laps in that span. So, he still has to be considered a serious contender.
Another serious contender has to be this year’s spring race winner in Kurt Busch. He wasn’t dominant in that victory, leading just 23 laps, but he was at the point at the right time. For his career, Busch has two wins at Martinsville, but just five top 10 finishes in 28 races there. So, this may really be a case of checkers or wreckers for The Outlaw. And if he’s battling a non-Chase driver for the win late Sunday, that front bumper may well be Busch’s best friend.
And we can’t get through this section of this column without mentioning the two Penske drivers. Joey Logano was in contention for the win in the spring, before settling for fourth. His career numbers there aren’t spectacular with just three top 10 finishes in 11 races, but with the season the No. 22 team is having, it’s all about there here and now for Logano. As for Keselowski, he has been solid at Martinsville with four top 10 finishes in the last five races there, but he has led just 10 laps in those races. With the dramatic win at Talladega pushing him into this round of the Chase, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him contend Sunday either as momentum is a very real thing in this sport.
When it comes to this group, it’s basically back to the regulars in what is considered the C list of drivers in Yahoo! leagues. That means more of Kyle Larson, if you still have picks left for him, or Austin Dillon, assuming you have picks left for him, too.
In the spring race, Dillon had the better finish of those two taking 15th. Larson finished 27th, but the way he has looked since the Chase began makes me think you can pretty much discount that first trip to Martinsville.
Also, while it was great to see Danica Patrick lead some laps late Sunday at Talladega (yes, I picked her in this spot last week), it’s hard to see that happening this week. Her best finish at Martinsville has been a 12th in three races and she finished 32nd in the spring race. So pick Danica at your own risk this week.
The only other possibility here is Justin Allgaier, who finished 23rd in the spring race. Not a finish to write home about, but you could do a lot worse, too.
The leader in the Frontstretch League on Yahoo! remains NoBarNASCAR with 8,529 points, followed by Mojothemonkey at 8,367 and LeftTurnOnly at 8,360. The biggest movers of the week were the RDR – Redneck Democrat Racing and Flying 7’s each moving up seven spots.
The top score of the week was also a tie as Savage Bros Racin and Hot Rod Torino each had 302 points. Savage Bros had second place Matt Kenseth, fourth place Landon Cassill, 20th place Brian Vickers and 27th place Martin Truex Jr. The Flying 7’s had Ryan Newman in fifth, Kevin Harvick in ninth, Michael Waltrip in 16th and Denny Hamlin in 18th.
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