NASCAR Barometer: Martinsville

NASCAR Barometer: Martinsville

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Brad Keselowski dominated Sunday's running of the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway despite teammate Joey Logano starting from pole position. The Ford-powered machines were expected to have the advantage at the short track, and Keselowski put that advantage to good use by winning his second race at the track and his second of the season. Logano ended up being the only Penske driver not to finish in the top 10, but Keselowski had his car working to perfection from the beginning. The win leaves Keselowksi second in the standings behind the only other repeat winner, Kyle Busch.

This week the series returns to the new rules package at Texas Motor Speedway. Keselowski won his first race this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, one of the three 1.5-mile quad-ovals on the schedule. Texas is another track with that configuration, which could make him and the rest of the Penske organization one of the early favorites. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick won the two races at that track last season, which could make this Sunday's affair a bit more of a battle.

UPGRADE

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski was the quickest car in the first segment of Sunday's race and took the stage victory in dominating fashion. After that he went out and did the same in the second stage and continued that dominance in the final stage to win his second race of the season and his second at Martinsville Speedway. It was a dominating performance on a weekend when Ford

Brad Keselowski dominated Sunday's running of the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway despite teammate Joey Logano starting from pole position. The Ford-powered machines were expected to have the advantage at the short track, and Keselowski put that advantage to good use by winning his second race at the track and his second of the season. Logano ended up being the only Penske driver not to finish in the top 10, but Keselowski had his car working to perfection from the beginning. The win leaves Keselowksi second in the standings behind the only other repeat winner, Kyle Busch.

This week the series returns to the new rules package at Texas Motor Speedway. Keselowski won his first race this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, one of the three 1.5-mile quad-ovals on the schedule. Texas is another track with that configuration, which could make him and the rest of the Penske organization one of the early favorites. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick won the two races at that track last season, which could make this Sunday's affair a bit more of a battle.

UPGRADE

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski was the quickest car in the first segment of Sunday's race and took the stage victory in dominating fashion. After that he went out and did the same in the second stage and continued that dominance in the final stage to win his second race of the season and his second at Martinsville Speedway. It was a dominating performance on a weekend when Ford and Penske Racing were expected to have a handle on the field. Keselowski was the one who lived up the expectations of the weekend. He led 50 laps before finishing 12th in Texas last season and crashed out of the spring race. He has never won at the track.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney continues to run at the front of the pack nearly every week. He did the same again last week in Martinsville and was a solid top-five contender throughout the distance. By the time the 500 laps were complete he found himself in fourth position after a titanic battle between himself and Kyle Busch in the final segment. It was another impressive performance from the Penske Racing teammate still searching for his first win of 2019. In eight Texas starts Blaney has two top-fives and three top-10s. He finished as the runner-up there last fall after starting from pole. His pace this season shows that he is due to win, the only question is when that will happen.

Chase Elliott – Elliott's car was very fast in the early portion of Sunday's race and he did all he could to make the adjustments necessary to track down the lead but couldn't quite get there with Keselowski's dominance. He said the leader had an advantage by being able to work traffic to their preference, but he couldn't overcome Keselowski to get that perspective. He finished second in a great performance to be the best of the Chevrolet drivers last weekend. Elliott has finished in the top-10 five times out of six starts at Texas. The only race he didn't get a top-10 was this race last season when he finished 11th and led four laps.

Austin Dillon – Despite his starting position of 29th, Dillon worked his way forward and ran inside the top 10 for much of Sunday's race at Martinsville. He slipped just slightly and came home 11th in an impressive afternoon for the Richard Childress Racing driver. This team has done their homework over the winter and has come out swinging in the early weeks of 2019. Dillon has been running consistently fast nearly every week, and it seems like the team is able to make the changes week to week that keep them toward the front of the field as well. Despite starting on pole in the fall of 2016, Dillon's only top-10 Texas finish was the fall of last season. He might change that this week.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick described his team's performance on Sunday as "okay" despite another top-10 finish. He was upset with teammate Bowyer earlier in the race when racing hard against him, but with all team cars finishing inside the top 10, he should have plenty to be optimistic about. Harvick has yet to win this season but remains one of the favorites for the championship run later this season. The team needs to make some improvements to give the driver the type of car he needs to contend, and once that happens the rest of the field should be worried. Harvick has won twice at Texas and hasn't finished outside of the top five at the track in the last two years. Fantasy owners should pay attention. This could be the week Harvick rejoins the championship fray.

DOWNGRADE

Erik Jones – Jones had a tire rub in the final segment, but then additional contact with Kyle Larson put both left-side tires out of commission. It took multiple laps for him to successfully get to pit road, and he did so without a caution being thrown, which was a problem since the short lap time put him multiple laps down as he made repairs to his injured machine. He was classified in the 30th position when all was said and done, a disappointing result for a team that should be contending inside the top five. Jones finished fourth in both Texas visits last season and has an average finish of 10.4 from five Cup starts at the circuit.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer picked up two speeding penalties on pit road, which put him deep in the running order both times. One must wonder how high in the order he could have finished had those issues not happened. He walked away with an impressive top-10 despite the penalties, but could he have been battling for the win without the trouble? Fantasy owners will not want to forget about Bowyer this week in Texas, but the team seems to be defeating itself. Bowyer only has three top-five finishes at Texas. He finished ninth and 26th in the two races at the track last season despite starting in the top three both times, but will they be able to get out of their own way to push Bowyer to a top finish?

Daniel Hemric – Another finish outside of the top 20 will have fantasy owners asking when Hemric's promise will translate into top finishes. The rookie driver has had flashes of brilliance multiple times this season but hasn't been able to convert that promise into a finish that would truly turn heads, and Sunday's race in Martinsville was much of the same. Richard Childress Racing's resurgence this season has only added mystery to his seeming inability to land top finishes. He finished third and 10th at Texas last season in the Xfinity series, but fantasy owners may wish to take a pass until he shows he can deliver the goods in a full race distance in the Cup series first.

Jimmie Johnson – Where was Johnson on Sunday? The multiple-times series champion was virtually nowhere to be found throughout Sunday's race despite teammate Elliott being a contender for the win. Johnson finished on the lead lap but was only classified 24th. He was completely off the pace the entire afternoon and was the worst finishing driver on the Hendrick Motorsports team. It was a terrible afternoon for the team, and now there's a lot pressure for it to get the job done in Texas. Johnson has seven Texas wins, but it would be difficult to see him achieve the same this week given Sunday's performance. This team, as fantasy owners have now gotten used to, has plenty of work to do to return to a competitive stance.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Ty Dillon – The Dillon brothers are beginning to hold a lock on the biggest surprise section. Ty takes his turn this week with a confident 13th-place run at Martinsville after starting 23rd. The team has been better this season at tracks that don't use the new regulations, and Martinsville fit that mold. He finished sixth in Daytona, 15th at Phoenix and then 13th at Martinsville. Dillon has five starts in the Cup series at Texas, but following the past trend, he may not be one to choose despite a great Martinsville outing. In Atlanta, he started 21st and finished 25th, and Texas is a similar track to that configuration. While Dillon may not be one for fantasy rosters this week, he could be one to look at as the series heads to Bristol and Richmond Raceway in the following weeks.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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