The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to the east coast this Sunday for the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
The strategy for short-tracks is much different than any other type of racetrack. A smaller track means more laps, which means that you want to find drivers who will run up front and lead those laps. At Martinsville in particular it is tough to pass, so unless there is a great value play for a driver starting towards the back, it is crucial to pinpoint drivers starting towards the front.
Friday’s MENCS qualifying session was cancelled due to weather, so the starting grid is set via owners’ points. Series points leader Kyle Larson will be on the pole.
Kyle Busch ($10,300)
Martinsville: 23 Starts, 1 Win, 11 Top 5s (47.8%), 12 Top 10s (52.2%)
Average finish at Martinsville: 14.1
Starting Position: 10th
Kyle Busch will be starting from the 10th position on Sunday. He was the second fastest car in first practice, behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.
Kyle Busch’s first Martinsville victory came last April, in a race where he completely dominated the competition. Kyle started from the seventh position (+6 pts), led 352 of 500 laps (88 pts), and had 81 fastest laps (40.5 pts). To put that in perspective, he scored nearly 100 points more than the second-place point getters, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski (82.5 pts).
Busch ranks fifth among active drivers in average finish at the Paperclip (14.1). He also has three straight top fives, and five in his last eight races. Busch has not finished outside the top 15 at Martinsville since 2012.
Denny Hamlin ($8,800)
Martinsville: 22 Starts, 5 Wins, 12 Top 5s (54.5%), 17 Top 10 (77.3%)
Average finish at Martinsville: 9.2
Starting Position: 12th
Martinsville is by far the best track for Virginia native Denny Hamlin. He has five wins here, most of any track on the circuit. His last win came in 2015, where he led 91 laps.
Hamlin didn’t have the best day last April, as he wheel hopped into the corner, causing an early exit from the race. That 39th place finish is merely an outlier on an incredible Martinsville record.
In the fall race last year, Hamlin finished third. He led 48 laps (12 pts), and recorded 42 fastest laps (21 pts).
Hamlin has led laps in 16 of 22 Martinsville races. He ranks second among active drivers in laps led at the track (1,362), behind only Jimmie Johnson (2,838). He has finished within the top five in three of the last four races. Hamlin will be starting from the 12th position, but was fastest in first practice. Hamlin is as close to a guarantee at Martinsville as it gets. His salary of $8,800 is a steal.
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