Mother Nature did her best to prevent the Cup Series drivers from practicing for Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway, but in the end, NASCAR managed to give teams one Saturday afternoon session to dial in their cars. While having just one practice means less data for fantasy owners to work with, one practice is a lot better than going into a race without any kind of data. For once, NASCAR officials deserve a pat on the back for rearranging the schedule of events to allow the drivers some track time. After all, a championship is hanging in the balance.
The surprising leader of the lone practice of the weekend was Michael McDowell. However, owners need to keep a few things in mind before adding him as a sleeper pick. Most importantly, McDowell is likely going to start and park Sunday and won’t even finish the race. As a result, he and a majority of the drivers outside the top 35 in points simply stayed in qualifying trim for the practice while the drivers guaranteed a starting spot were in race trim, accounting for McDowell’s seemingly fast lap.
As for the serious contenders, Clint Bowyer led the way with the second-fastest lap of the session. He has been solid but not spectacular in his Martinsville career, but coming off a win last weekend, he could be a nice momentum play. He was followed by Martinsville ace Jimmie Johnson, and the six-time winner should be considered the top fantasy option for Sunday’s race. After all, he averages a top-five finish at the track.
Jamie McMurray ranked fourth in the session, while Scott Speed rounded out the top five. While Speed can be lumped in with McDowell in terms of fantasy value, McMurray could be a real sleeper. He has finished 11th or better in four of his last five Martinsville starts, including a seventh-place run earlier this year. Despite his overall struggles, he remained a top-10 option at the track in the spring race and could help owners again this weekend.
In terms of 10-lap average speeds, Johnson and McMurray paced the field. For Johnson, the fast average speeds only cement his status as an elite option this weekend. As for McMurray, the impressive 10-lap average should help ease any doubts fantasy owners may be having about his chances Sunday.
Johnson’s teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ranked third and fourth in the session, while Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top five. Like their Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Gordon and Junior have been impressive at Martinsville. Gordon is a seven-time winner at the track and has 12 top-five finishes in his last 13 starts. Meanwhile, Junior has six top-15 efforts in his last seven starts, including a second-place run in the spring. Owners may want to load up on the HMS stable this weekend.
Ambrose actually has some value as well. He has led more laps at Martinsville than any other oval track and has a pair of top-15 finishes in five starts. Granted, he is a long shot option for sure, but Ambrose does have some potential.
The big story of the session was the performance of title frontrunners Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart. All three ranked well outside the top 20 in terms of both fastest lap and 10-lap average speed. While it is possible that all three have simply missed the setup because of the lack of practice time, there is a good chance that all three worked on long run setups. After all, qualifying was rained out earlier in the day, setting the field by owner points. As a result, all three drivers already knew they were starting in the top five. Edwards and Kenseth aren’t the best fantasy options at Martinsville to begin with, but the chances of all three being as slow as their times indicate are slim.
Happy Hour Speeds (Sorted by Average Speed)
Rk Indicates Fastest Lap Standing
10-Lap Average Speeds
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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