It has been a rough start to the 2012 season for Jeff Gordon. He enters Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway 25th in the standings, and the four-time champ has never been lower after the first five races of a season in his career. That being said, there is reason for fantasy owners to be optimistic about his chances this weekend. He is a seven-time winner at the paperclip-shaped track, and he and got his weekend off to a fast start by topping the charts in Friday's opening practice.
Gordon was followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, and Hamlin is a strong option whenever the series visits Martinsville. He has a 6.5 average finish at the track, and three of his four career wins at the track have come in the last five races. Busch on the other hand is a boom or bust option this weekend. In his last 10 starts at Martinsville, he has five top-five finishes to go along with five finishes outside the top 20. If owners are debating between which JGR driver to roster this weekend, Hamlin is the way to go.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five, and both drivers are worthy of fantasy consideration. Junior has finished seventh or better in three straight starts at Martinsville, including a second-place effort last April when he came within four laps of winning. Meanwhile, Newman has top-10 finishes in four of his last six starts at the track.
In terms of 10-lap average speeds, Gordon again had the car to beat. However, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson wasn't far behind. Johnson is a six-time winner at Martinsville, and his 5.5 average finish at the track is the best in the series. Johnson has finished 11th or better in 19 straight starts.
Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and Brian Vickers completed the top five, and even though he is the point leader, owners could be burned by Biffle. He has just two top-10 finishes in 18 career starts at Martinsville, and he has never finished in the top five. Vickers doesn't have a top-five at the track either, but he could make a nice sleeper pick. He is making just his second start of the season as a part-time driver for Michael Waltrip Racing, but in his first start of the year at Bristol a few weeks ago, he cracked the top five.
During Happy Hour, some of the drivers outside the top 35 in owner point stayed in qualifying trim, but a majority of the regulars spent time in race trim. Either way, Gordon remained the fastest car on the track, topping the charts again. Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski followed the No. 24, and of the two former teammates, Keselowski is the driver to target. He won the first short track race of 2012 and has a 14.5 average finish at Martinsville in four starts. Meanwhile, Busch has gone 12 straight races at the track without cracking the top 10.
Newman posted the fourth-fastest lap of the final practice, but seven of the nine drivers to follow him were in qualifying trim for most of the session, led by David Stremme. Juan Pablo Montoya was the next series regular on the charts, and as unpredictable as he has been, he does have a little value this weekend. Montoya finished fourth at Martinsville last April, and he has finished as high as third in his career. If he manages to stay out of trouble, which is a big if, Montoya has the potential to help fantasy teams.
Kevin Harivck topped the charts in terms of 10-lap average speeds, and he is name fantasy owners should know. Not only is he the defending race winner, but he has three straight finishes of fourth or better at Martinsville. Gordon and Dale Jr. posted top five times, as well, along with MWR teammates Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. While neither Bowyer nor Truex have outstanding numbers at Martinsville in their career, both drivers are off to strong starts. On momentum alone, fantasy owners may want to take a chance on one or both of the MWR guys.
One big name that struggled a bit was Tony Stewart. Granted, it's tough to write off a guy that has two wins in 2012 and won at Martinsville last fall, but his last four starts at the track do include three finishes of 24th or worse. Even in his victory last year, Stewart battled an ill-handling car in the early stages and rallied from a lap down. Stewart has been lights out to start the year, but he isn't a lock to deliver elite numbers this weekend.
Outside of Vickers, fantasy owners looking for a sleeper option may want to consider Joey Logano. He posted the seventh-fastest lap in the opening practice Friday, and he ranked in the top 10 in terms of 10-lap average speed in both sessions. Logano has a 13.8 average finish at Martinsville in six starts, and he has finished in the top 15 in four of his last five starts at the track.
Happy Hour Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
First Practice Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
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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