While track position has become a crucial part of racing in the Cup Series these days, an argument can be made that it is more important at Martinsville Speedway than at any other track on the schedule. Since 1979, 56 of the 74 races at Martinsville have been won by a driver that qualified in the top 10. More importantly, 71 of the 74 races have been won by a driver starting inside the top 20. It's not impossible for a driver to recover from a bad qualifying effort to win, but it's pretty darn close.
With the importance of track position obvious, it should come as no surprise that Jimmie Johnson hung on to the top spot in the final driver rankings on the heels of a record-setting pole run. Of course, the strong practice times and his series-leading 122.3 driver rating and 5.5 driver average at Martinsville don't hurt either. We are talking about a driver that hasn't finished worse than 12th at the track for more than a decade and has picked up seven wins along the way. Johnson is an elite option in any format, and for those owners in survival-type league that have been saving him, Sunday's Gas Booster 500 is a golden opportunity to use him.
Although Johnson merely hung on to his spot in the rankings, two drivers that boosted their stick up after qualifying and Saturday's practices were Brian Vickers and Joey Logano. Vickers backed up his third-place effort in qualifying with top-five times in practice, and after starting second and finishing eighth at Martinsville last fall, he appears headed for a similar showing this weekend. Logano on the other hand cracked the top 15 in the driver rankings thanks in large part to his fourth-place qualifying run. He has finished as high as second at Martinsville and has four top-15 finishes in eight starts. Logano will also be driving for the same No. 22 team that finished second at the track last spring with A.J. Allmendinger driving. Assuming Tony Stewart doesn't decide to dish out some payback this weekend, Logano should have a shot at sneaking into the top 10.
Fantasy owners looking for a sleeper option may want to take a chance on Jamie McMurray. After qualifying a respectable 13th Friday, he showed up in the top 10 on the speed charts in race trim during Saturday's practices. Not to mention the fact that he has cracked the top 20 seven times in his last 10 races at Martinsville and has logged five finishes of 11th or better during the stretch. McMurray also notched his best finish of 2013 thus far when he finished 10th at Bristol, and it looks like he could rekindle the short track magic this weekend. He cracked the top 20 in the final driver rankings, but a top-15 finish isn't out of the question.
On the other end of the spectrum was Mark Martin. He figured to be in prime position for a big weekend after getting the chance to sub for the injured Denny Hamlin for a No. 11 that has won at Martinsville four times since 2009. However, the veteran tumbled outside the top 10 in the driver rankings after a dismal 35th-place effort in qualifying and practicing outside the top 15 Saturday. Maybe Martin will figure things out on Sunday, but it sometimes take time for a driver and crew to figure out how to communicate with each, and a setup that works great for one driver might not yield good results for another. Martin's one-race gig in the No. 11 isn't shaping up to be a memorable one.
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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