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NASCAR Barometer: Bound for the Paperclip

C.J. Radune

C.J. Radune

Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the 2012 Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

The repaved surface at Kansas Speedway pushed speeds higher all weekend, and tires seemed to take a beating as well. A few teams were able to figure it out, though, and while some were forced to overcome adversity, a handful had it in hand all afternoon.

Mark Martin led for much of the late race, but it was a Roush Fenway Racing car that pushed its way forward in the closing miles. Matt Kenseth forced his way forward in the closing stages of Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400, capturing his second win in the 2012 Chase for the Championship, and sending his team off with style as he heads for new pastures in 2013.

This week, the series returns to Martinsville Speedway. This paperclip-shaped track tests driver patience, fuel mileage and the teams' ability to work the chassis each and every stop. Drivers and teams require tremendous concentration and communication in these events, and it was Stewart-HAAS Racing's Ryan Newman that figured out how to get it done in the dying miles of April's race.

Who has a chance to do it this week?

UPGRADE

Matt Kenseth -
Kenseth fought hard Sunday to come back from adversity and score a second Chase win in 2012. Kenseth is now ninth in the standings, doubtful to win his second Sprint Cup, but climbing up the order nonetheless. With a top-5 and two top-10s in the last five Martinsville races, Kenseth doesn't make a bad choice this week either. His five-race finishing average at the track is 14.8, and he has only finished outside the lead lap once in that time. Kenseth has the power behind him, and though he may not be one to count on for the championship, he could score some valuable fantasy points this week.

Jimmie Johnson -
A spin with contact caused Johnson to run behind the leaders for much of the race Sunday in Kansas. Though he may have been the class of the field, his early race troubles put him behind where he needed to be, and forced him to work hard to come forward. Through all of that trouble, Johnson persevered. He finished ninth, and remains in second place, just seven points behind the Chase lead. Johnson cannot be discounted when the circus comes to Martinsville. The No. 48 team tallied three top-10s in the last five Martinsville races, scoring an 7.8 average finish for fantasy players. He isn't the best driver in the field at this particular track, but is a very confident fantasy pick this week.

Denny Hamlin -
An average run in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 left Hamlin 20 points behind the two frontrunners in this year's Chase. He held station in the points, but just one finish in the top 10 in the last three will make capturing his first Sprint Cup championship a lot more difficult. Despite that small issue, Hamlin is a top fantasy option this week. Whenever the Sprint Cup Series heads to Martinsville Speedway, Hamlin is a name that springs to the top of the favorites list. His average finish in the last five Martinsville races is 5.0, which is the best through that period, and includes two wins and no finishes outside of the top 10.

Ryan Newman -
With a win in his back pocket earlier this season at the short paperclip, Newman might not be a bad fantasy option this week. His most recent five-race average result at the track is 13.0, and this week could be one where he comes good again this season. The Stewart-HAAS boys seem to have potential at this particular track, and Newman seems to make the better play. He came into contact with Kyle Busch during Sunday's race in Kansas, and the damage forced him to finish deep in the field, 30th position. Sunday wasn't the day that Newman could demonstrate what his potential truly is, but this week might be different. Newman has top statistics at Martinsville and should be a first-class fantasy option.

Carl Edwards -
Granted it has been a difficult year for Edwards, but he will be looking to end on a high, and this week's challenge could present him that opportunity. Edwards owns three top-10 finishes in the last five Martinsville races, and a 10.8 average finish. He might not have been the best choice other times this season, but fantasy owners should be willing to give him a shot this week. He finished 14th in the Hollywood Casino 400, which was somewhat of an average performance considering his teammate won, but Edwards has been struggling to keep up this season. This week could be one shining moment where he turns the tables and ends the season with an exclamation.

DOWNGRADE

Greg Biffle -
Biffle lost control and spun Sunday, making hard contact with the wall. The incident came after overcoming a speeding penalty that dropped him deep into the field earlier in the race, and the incident only made things worse. He finished 27th when all was said and done, which is not representative of his potential. Still, Biffle has two top-10 finishes in the last five races, which is not inspiring heading into this week's event. With just two lead-lap finishes in the last five Martinsville races, big question marks hang over Biffle's head this week. His average finish through that span is just 18.4, and includes a solitary top-10. Biffle isn't the standout option this week.

Tony Stewart -
Finishing fifth in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 scored Stewart his second top-10 in the past four races. That, while good, is still just a shadow of what he achieved last season. He climbed one spot higher in the Chase, but is probably already focusing on next season. While he did win at Martinsville in 2011, Stewart is not this week's optimal choice. He only has one other top-10 finish at Martinsville in the last five races, and those would be the only two times he finished on the lead lap in that span, too. Stewart just presents too much risk this week, and it might be best for fantasy owners to cool their expectations of him this week.

Kasey Kahne -
Four top-10s in the last six races show that Kahne is getting used to his surroundings at Hendrick Motorsports. The team is starting to get the job done, though it might be too late to claim a championship. He found his way into the Chase this year, despite not rising to the top every week, and is even more consistent now. Still, Kahne isn't the best option heading into Martinsville. Despite claiming a pole in his last five tries at Martinsville, Kahne hasn't been able to grab the glory here. He hasn't scored a single top-10 at the track since 2006. He may have been showing signs of life the last week or two, but that trend might be due to expire this week.

Kurt Busch -
Some might expect Busch to be in the upgrade column this week, a new team and a new outlook probably isn't enough to overcome his career statistics at Martinsville Speedway, though. His new team hasn't exactly given him the leg up that he might have expected, and therefore probably can't be expected to push him over the edge this week either. His last two races with the team haven't produced anything better that a 21st-place finish. Is it the driver or the team? Busch has one win at this Martinsville track, but hasn't seen the top-10 there since 2005, and has an average finish of 20.4 through the last five races. Statistics like that just don't make fantasy players take notice, new team or not.

Kyle Busch -
Busch felt that Newman took him out of contention Sunday. The two connected late in Sunday's event and both suffered heavy damage to their cars. That poor result doesn't bode well for Busch, who has only finished on the lead lap in two of the last five Martinsville races. His average finish in that time is 18.4, but includes two top-5s. Finishing statistics like that indicate some uncertainty and inconsistency, and if Busch carries his emotions forward into the coming week, it might spell more difficulty. Busch scored three top-10 finishes in the prior three races before the issues in Kansas, and now heads to Virginia with a hurdle to clear if he is to score a top result.

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