This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
Like any bull ring in the Monster Energy Cup Series, not only is equipment preservation important but qualifying and track position is of the utmost importance. If you start in the back of the field here, you can find yourself a lap down in a matter of minutes from the start of the race, so teams must place high priority on qualifying well. Track position will become so important over the course of the race that you will see teams chose either not to pit certain cautions,
Like any bull ring in the Monster Energy Cup Series, not only is equipment preservation important but qualifying and track position is of the utmost importance. If you start in the back of the field here, you can find yourself a lap down in a matter of minutes from the start of the race, so teams must place high priority on qualifying well. Track position will become so important over the course of the race that you will see teams chose either not to pit certain cautions, or to take on two tires in order to grab valuable track position on pit road. All these factors make any Martinsville race a battle of survival and often times the best equipment preservation and pit strategy wins.
Since Martinsville Speedway is like no other track on the Monster Energy Cup circuit, we'll have to pay close attention to the loop stats this week. Recent historical statistics at Martinsville will be one of the biggest considerations in our weekly projections. Hot streaks go out the window to a certain extent when we visit this facility, so it's these recent numbers that require close scrutiny. The loop stats in the table below span the last 12 years or 24 races at Martinsville Speedway.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUALITY PASSES||FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||RATING|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||12.0||817||576||521||8,466||98.7|
|Martin Truex Jr.||20.6||443||145||198||4,896||74.2|
The short track in southern Virginia is shifting from a veteran's oval to a young guns' oval. For years, drivers like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson dominated at this facility. However, times are changing and so are the faces in victory lane at Martinsville Speedway. As for Johnson, he is a nine-time winner at the Martinsville oval, and looking to get his season on-track in Sunday's 500-lap event. In the last race at this facility last October, the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet turned in a clutch performance to grab his ninth win at the half-mile oval. It snapped a block of three first-time Martinsville winners in the last six races at the historic short track.
So we've had a 50/50 mix in the last three seasons of repeat Martinsville winners and first-time Martinsville winners in victory lane. In this event one year ago we saw Kyle Busch pound the entire field into the pavement and claim his first-career win at this facility. That has been more the trend of late. The old guard is fighting hard to hold onto Martinsville while the young drivers are asserting their rising dominance. Considering how well the rising stars of Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are performing entering this weekend, we could be in store for another first-time Martinsville winner this Sunday afternoon. They'll be battling fender-to-fender with the short track veterans like Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Johnson. One thing is almost certain this weekend… with the parity that we currently have in NASCAR's top division we're more likely to be surprised by the outcome and eventual winner this Sunday afternoon. We'll take a look at the stats and streaks and give you the drivers you need to dominate your fantasy racing leagues at Martinsville Speedway.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Denny Hamlin - Hamlin is usually one of the drivers to beat each time we visit Martinsville Speedway. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota is a five-time winner at the Martinsville oval and he sports a stellar 77-percent Top-10 rate here. With over 1,300-career laps led and 12 Top-5 finishes, Hamlin's excellence at this bull ring becomes clear. He's won here as recently as this event in 2015, and he's finished inside the Top 3 in three of his last four Martinsville starts. In his last start at the Virginia short track, Hamlin led 48 laps and finished third in last October's Goody's Fast Relief 500. The veteran driver has posted a pair of Top 10s in the last three races entering this week, so he should be hungry for a run at the checkers and a sixth grandfather clock trophy this weekend.
Kyle Busch - The Martinsville oval has been perplexing for Busch over the years, but he's shown some dramatic improvement in recent seasons of racing there. With a victory in this event one year ago (first-career at Martinsville) and a string of three-straight Top-5 finishes at the facility, the Joe Gibbs Racing star has become one of the drivers to beat when we visit here. His last start at Martinsville Speedway netted a ninth-place qualifying effort, 3 laps led and an impressive fifth-place finish in last October's Good's Fast Relief 500. Busch has been flirting with his first win of the season throughout the first five races of 2017, so this could be the weekend where the JGR No. 18 team puts it all together to visit victory lane.
Jimmie Johnson - The No. 48 team has stumbled out of the blocks this season, but nothing can turn around Johnson's campaign like a visit to his "comfort oval" Martinsville Speedway. Low downforce and some of the other puzzles that currently boggle this team will be non-factors at this short track. With nine-career wins at the Martinsville oval, Johnson is positioned to be one of the top drivers in this weekend's STP 500. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet won the last race at this facility in impressive fashion. Johnson took control on the last green-flag run and led the final 92 laps en route to the victory. His grip on Martinsville Speedway has slipped just a bit over the last three seasons, but we should see the Johnson of old this weekend at the Virginia short track.
Brad Keselowski - Keselowski has a short Martinsville resume, but it's improving with each passing season. The Penske Racing star has tons of success at the other short tracks of the Monster Energy Cup Series, but success has been slow to come at Martinsville Speedway. That all started to change in the 2015 season. Keselowski nabbed a runner-up finish at this half-mile oval in this event two years ago, and in the three races since he's claimed another runner-up (last October) and three total Top-5 finishes. It would seem that crew chief Paul Wolfe and this veteran driver have finally dialed-in this short track and that first Martinsville win is just around the corner, possibly this Sunday afternoon.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Kyle Larson - No driver comes to Martinsville this week with more momentum than Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team. He captured his first win of the season at Fontana last week and rides a string of four-consecutive Top-2 finishes into southern Virginia. He faces stiffer competition for the win this week, so we've placed Larson in the solid plays list as he will face more challenges to win this week. The most obvious obstacle is his record at this historic short track. In six-career starts Larson only has one Top-10 finish, but on the bright side it did come in this event one year ago and it was a brilliant third-place effort. It hasn't seemed to matter to Larson or this team where they're racing each week, they've been wicked fast this young season. This driver has tons of potential and will be upset minded in the STP 500.
Joey Logano - The Penske Racing ace has had a lot of up-and-down performances at the Virginia short track over the years, but of late showed signs of dramatic improvement. His last three seasons of racing at Martinsville has yielded well over 400 laps led, three pole positions, and four Top-10 finishes. Something has been missing from the list of ingredients thus far to get the No. 22 Ford into victory lane at this facility. All the puzzle pieces may fall into place this weekend. Logano could be the surprise winner in the field this weekend, but at the very least he'll represent well in fantasy racing leagues. With an average finish of 9.8 across his last six Martinsville Speedway starts, we're confident he'll race with the leaders and finish inside the Top 10 in Sunday's 500-lap battle.
Clint Bowyer - Bowyer finally broke his Top-10 drought and registered his first Top-5 finish with Stewart Haas Racing last week at Fontana. This veteran driver has a new lease on his NASCAR career and he and the No. 14 team are getting better each week. Now that we're entering the short tracks in the schedule, Bowyer should shine. His Martinsville stats are pretty spotless despite the fact he's been racing with poor teams the last couple seasons. 12 of his 22 career starts at Martinsville Speedway have netted Top-10 finishes. That works out to a very dependable 54-percent rate. Bowyer and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz have started to develop some chemistry and we should see it pay off in the STP 500. The veteran driver is on pace for about 15 Top-10 finishes this season, and Sunday's event should be one of those performances.
Chase Elliott - The Hendrick Motorsports rising star is off to a great start this season. Elliott has 149 laps led through the first five events and three Top-10 finishes. He checks in at a lofty second-place in the driver point standings as we enter Martinsville weekend. Elliott only has three-career starts at this half-mile oval, and while it's not been impressive to this point, we have seen incremental improvement with each start. It all culminated in his start here last October where he qualified fifth on the grid and finished a respectable 12th in the Goody's Fast Relief 500. Given how well Elliott has performed to this point in the season we believe the No. 24 team will unload a fast race car this weekend. Elliott should pilot it to his first-career Top-10 finish at Martinsville Speedway.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Martinsville who can provide a solid finish
Kevin Harvick - We always think highly of Harvick when it comes to short track racing and his Martinsville resume is pretty strong outside of the top contenders here. Harvick won this event in 2011 for his first career victory at Martinsville Speedway. He's also finished inside the Top 10 in three of his last six races at the paper clip. Harvick has led over 600- career laps at the Southern Virginia short track, so he has no shortage of experience here. The Stewart Haas Racing star doesn't have the trophies at this oval that he does at others, but he's capable of turning in a good performance. The No. 4 Ford team has been struggling with consistency this season, so that's the reasoning behind listing Harvick in the sleepers list this week. He presents great upside, but with some associated risk.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Earnhardt has not only maintained a solid resume at the paper clip over the years, he actually won his first-career victory at this oval three seasons ago. He led 79 laps in 2014's Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 and won his first victory at Martinsville Speedway. Earnhardt has started this season slowly, but he's been getting better with each race. He has Top-10 finishes in four of his last six starts at this Virginia bull ring. The electronic loop stats clearly show that the Hendrick Motorsports star is one of the top performers at this oval and his high number of quality passes shows he knows how to come through traffic at this facility. Coming off the hard-fought 16th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, we know Earnhardt has to be motivated heading to Martinsville Speedway this Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr. - Truex has started the season with a bang. With a victory and three Top 10s in the first five events, the driver of the No. 78 Toyota comes to Martinsville fourth in the driver points. The paper clip has not been a venue of much success for Truex over his career. However, his move to Furniture Row Racing a few seasons ago has improved his performance at this particular oval. He has Top-10 finishes in three of his last four starts at Martinsville Speedway, including a pole position, 147 laps led and a seventh-place finish at the oval last October. If the Furniture Row Racing team can qualify well, there's good reason to believe that Truex can race with the lead pack and finish up front this Sunday afternoon.
Matt Kenseth - The move to Joe Gibbs Racing a few seasons ago has really enhanced his performance and fantasy value at the flat short track of Martinsville Speedway. Kenseth has a runner-up finish and five total Top-10 finishes in his last seven visits to Martinsville Speedway. Over that span the veteran driver has led well over 450 laps and gone from being a bystander to a strong performer at this historic short track. Kenseth had a good run in his last start at Martinsville Speedway. He led 176 laps and finished fourth in last October's Goody's Fast Relief 500. The JGR star has been dealing with some tough luck lately, but he should rebound nicely at the paperclip. We expect Kenseth to shake his recent struggles and post the Top 10 he's capable of at the Martinsville short track.
Jamie McMurray - McMurray has been making great gains to start the new season and his No. 1 Chevrolet team has been running well right out of the gates. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has always liked racing the flat oval in Virginia. McMurray owns 15 Top-10 finishes in 28-career starts (54-percent) at Martinsville Speedway. That includes a 14th-place qualifying spot and eighth-place finish in the last race at the half-mile oval last October. That now makes three Top 10s in his last four starts at the southern Virginia short track. We're willing to bet he carries that level of performance into this battle at the paperclip. At a minimum he should be a Top-15 finisher in the STP 500.
A.J. Allmendinger - The JTG Daugherty Racing veteran hasn't exactly started the season with a bang. After a Top-5 finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, he's struggled on the other large ovals of the early season. Allmendinger will be very happy to see a short track this weekend, especially Martinsville Speedway. The driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has displayed incredible skill at this half-mile oval the last two years. Allmendinger has fetched finishes of 11th-, second- and 10th-place in his last three starts at this facility. That level of performance at this tough short track does not come by luck alone. We expect him to visit the Top 15 Sunday afternoon at this historic short track.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Kurt Busch - With his poor performance at Auto Club Speedway, Busch saw his championship standing tumble from ninth- to 14th-place overall. The good news is that we're coming to an oval where Busch is a two-time winner. However, the bad news is that it's been a short track of struggles for the veteran driver. Busch has only five Top-10 finishes in 33-career starts (15-percent) at the Martinsville oval. For whatever reason he can lead laps and race up front here, but the good finishes simply don't follow. Some drivers are just snake bitten at certain tracks, and that would be the case here. The risks of starting Busch in the STP 500 far outweigh the gains.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - The No. 17 Ford team limps into the STP 500 this weekend. Stenhouse finished 22nd at Fontana this past week and that caused the veteran driver to slide to 24th-place in the series standings. Martinsville Speedway has presented nothing but struggles to the Roush Fenway Racing driver. In eight-career starts at the flat short track, Stenhouse has only one Top-15 finish to his credit. Most of his performances have yielded finishes outside the Top 30. That is the prime reason he carries a bloated 32.8 average finish at Martinsville Speedway. With this driver and team struggling entering the weekend, there's not much prospect for a rebound effort in this 500-lap contest.
Trevor Bayne - The Roush Fenway Racing veteran struggled to a 23rd-place finish at Auto Club Speedway last Sunday. That effort cooled what had been an otherwise decent start to the season for the No. 6 Ford team. Bayne will look to rebound in Sunday's STP 500, but his Martinsville resume doesn't boost our confidence much. His five-career starts at this half-mile oval have netted only one Top-20 finish and an average finish of 26.8. The short tracks are not this driver and team's strength. Looking at that average mark, that's probably a very close finish to what we expect for Bayne Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. It's best to keep him benched in weekly lineup leagues this week.
Ryan Blaney - After Top-10 finishes in three of the first five events, the Wood Brothers Racing team rides high coming to Martinsville Speedway this week. Blaney looks good almost every race and he races competitively each week. However, we feel like the visit to Martinsville could be a good time to put Blaney on the bench. His first career starts at this facility came last season. They weren't all that bad with a pair of 19th-place finishes. However, that's a pretty stark contrast to the numbers he's been throwing up on the board recently. This is likely a down weekend for the No. 21 Ford team, at least to the extent of cracking the Top 15. It's probably a good idea to pass on this driver and team and deploy them later at a much friendlier intermediate oval.