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NASCAR Barometer: The Champ Rides Again

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.

Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing were the two teams that dominated Sunday's running at Martinsville Speedway. Jimmie Johnson started from pole position, and Matt Kenseth was the main charger from Gibbs who shared time out front. While there was plenty of bumping and banging back in the field, the leaders ran cleanly, and encountered very little trouble.

Johnson scored pole position Friday with a track record, led the most laps Sunday and pulled away for victory in the closing laps. It was clear from the start of Friday's first practice that Johnson would be the man to beat, and in the end no one could do it. The domination was nothing short of impressive and sets up the No. 48 for another mighty season.

Not to be lost in the mix was a run of perseverance from Danica Patrick, who looked out of her league much of the early season, but hung tough and dug deep Sunday to finish 12th. There were plenty of stories from Sunday's race, but all eyes are now focused forward to this Saturday's NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson -
Starting from pole position, leading the most laps and claiming the victory, Johnson swept the Sprint Cup weekend at Martinsville Speedway. The No. 48 was a rocket ship on wheels at the tight track, and Johnson moved one win ahead of teammate Jeff Gordon at the track, scoring a valuable win, his second of the season. Johnson has a win, two top-5s and four top-10s in the last five Texas races, giving him a 6.8 average finish. The first driver to score a repeat victory in 2013, Johnson is looking every bit as strong as he has in each of his championship seasons. The competition better beware, and fantasy owners should look forward to another strong weekend from the Californian this week.

Matt Kenseth -
One win and five top-5 finishes in the last five races at Texas Motor Speedway make Kenseth a top choice this weekend. His average finish in those five races is 3.2, with a 7.6 average qualifying effort. Add those statistics to the competitiveness that Kenseth had last week at Martinsville, and you have a potent combination heading into Texas this Saturday night. Kenseth led 96 laps Sunday, one of only four drivers to lead, and really the only one that had anything for Johnson all afternoon. Unfortunately, the No. 20 simply faded at the end of Sunday's running, tallying a slightly disappointing 14th-place result. That shouldn't deter fantasy owners this week, though.

Clint Bowyer -
Despite looking like the car was falling apart at the end, Bowyer was running a top race Sunday at Martinsville. He was once backward on the front straight, but was racing in the top five and the laps started to wind down. Throughout the afternoon he was the only driver not in a Hendrick or Gibbs car who was able to challenge the leaders. At the final restart he could have gone for another banzai move, but was on the outside and didn't have the grip to match the streaking Johnson. Bowyer is a solid choice at Texas. His average finish in the last five races is 8.2, with a top-5 and four top-10s. Had he finished on the lead lap in last spring's race that statistic would be even better.

Tony Stewart -
Stewart took home a win and two top-5s in the last five Texas races, racking up a 10.6 average finish in that time despite failing to finish on the lead lap once. This Saturday could be a big one for Stewart, who nearly put together a full race Sunday at Martinsville. Stewart was close to scoring a top-10 in the last segment of Sunday's race, but slowly slipped backward and finished 17th when the checkered flag waved. Stewart continues to be sluggish finisher in the races this season despite showing speed, and another trying weekend at Texas may drop him from the Upgrade list. Still, he has the potential to surprise, and it could be this week.

Paul Menard -
Menard continues to make the grade this season. To make things even better, this week he heads to a track where he finished two of the last five races in the top 10. His average Texas finish in that time is 15.0. Menard was in the mix for much of the afternoon at the paperclip Martinsville Speedway, but the strong finish didn't fall into his hands. While his finish wasn't the best Sunday, coming home in 19th position, his three top-10 runs prior to last week's race should make fantasy owners take notice. This driver has impressed so far this season and could score his fourth top-10 of the year this season this week in Texas.

DOWNGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. -
Sunday was a seriously frustrating day for Truex. It seemed like nothing went right for the No. 56, and he was involved in more than his fair share of contact. Ultimately, the car couldn't stand up to the beating, and Truex spent a good portion of the afternoon in the garage. Despite two top-10 finishes and a pole in the last five Texas starts, Truex isn't a picture of consistency at this week's circuit. His average finish in those five tries is 20.0, and that number includes just three lead-lap finishes. Truex, coming off a trying weekend in Virginia, will simply be looking to get back on the horse this week. Fantasy owners should look for a driver they can count on running up front instead.

Jeff Gordon -
While he may be one of the top drivers to choose from most weeks, when the Sprint Cup rolls into Texas he doesn't exactly float to the top. In his last five efforts at the track his record holds just one top-5 and one other top-10, despite finishing on the lead lap three times. He failed to finish the 2010 fall race, and that dents his statistics. He hasn't won in Texas since 2009, nor has he been a factor for the lead much since 2010. Gordon put together a great afternoon in Martinsville, battling teammate Jimmie Johnson for the lead in the closing laps, finishing third once all the smoke settled, but it would be presumptuous to expect the same result this week.

Joey Logano -
By the end of Sunday's running Logano's car looked like it had been through a demolition derby. The No. 22 spent a lot of time bumping with other drivers and more than a handful of laps in a slugfest with Aric Almirola. He finished the afternoon a lap down and outside of top 20, the second time this season he's finished that deep in the field. All things considered, a top-5 in the last five Texas races isn't enough to boost Logano's record at the track to warrant a start this week. His average finish in the last five efforts there is 19.0, and he only managed to finish on the lead lap twice.

Ryan Newman -
Multiple flat tires put Newman behind the competition Sunday at Martinsville. It was a tough afternoon for the No. 39, who won at the track last season. Instead of continuing his string of top-10 finishes, Newman finished deep in the field for the first time in three races after an equally tough start to the season. Fortunes aren't looking brighter either. In the last five races at Texas Motor Speedway, Newman has failed to score a single top-10 finish. His average result in that time is 16.6, and he failed to finish on the lead lap twice. Leading only 10 laps in that span isn't enough to make fantasy owners take notice.

Kurt Busch -
Another driver who had a frustrating afternoon at Martinsville is Busch. At times he was very quick, but trouble seemed to find the No. 78 more times than Busch would care to remember. After a handful of spins and some flat tires, Busch spent his share of time in the garage, returning to the track only to end the day on fire. His two top-10 finishes at Texas in the last five races only push his average finish to 17.0 due to the fact that those were his only two lead-lap finishes in that span. Busch is on a strong start to the season, but as this team grows you can't expect week in and week out consistency. This week is one where Busch shouldn't be expected to continue his impressive form.