I don't want to jinx to anything, but I'm cautiously optimistic that the strategy I have championed since the start of the week is going to pay off. Martinsville masters Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin have been my top three fantasy options all week, and after all three qualified in the top five, I have no reason to lose confidence in the trio. After all, the three have combined for 20 wins at Martinsville with 14 of those wins coming from a top-10 starting spot.
Meanwhile, both of Saturday's practices at Martinsville were washed out by rain, and as a result, teams will be even more dependent on setups and info from previous races. With the practices getting canceled, Mother Nature essentially took away a couple of chances for the rest of the teams to hit on something that could have helped close the gap that clearly exists between Johnson, Gordon and Hamlin and the rest of the field. While pit strategy can always throw a wrench in things, I'd be surprised if someone other than Johnson, Gordon or Hamlin is doing burnouts this weekend.
The top 3
1) Jimmie Johnson
As if leading all drivers in just about every statistic imaginable wasn't enough, Johnson qualified fourth for Sunday's race, so he won't even have much traffic to get through to get to the front of the field. He is also the defending winner of this weekend's race, and he owns a ridiculous 3.8 average finish in the last 20 races at the track.
2) Jeff Gordon
It's safe to say that Gordon's excellence at Martinsville has stood the test of time. In 42 career starts at the short track, he has eight wins and 34 top-10s, and if there was a question of whether or not he was slowing down, he won the fall race last season. After qualifying fifth for Sunday's STP 500, achieving back-to-back wins at Martinsville is a real possibility.
3) Denny Hamlin
With his eye now free of rusty metal shards, Hamlin celebrated by qualifying on the front row for Sunday's race. Considering his four wins at Martinsville since 2008 are tied for the most in the series, he might just be celebrating when the checkered flag waves, as well. Even if he doesn't win, Hamlin should have an excellent day. He has 14 top-12s in 16 starts at the short track, including 11 finishes of sixth or better.
14) Brian Vickers
While his overall numbers at Martinsville aren't great, he has been solid in his recent outings. Vickers finished eighth at the track in the fall of 2012 while driving for Michael Waltrip Racing, and he ran 11th last spring while subbing for Denny Hamlin. Vickers is back with MWR for this weekend's race, and after qualifying in the top 15, he could continue his recent success at the paperclip-shaped short track.
17) Jamie McMurray
He has been running well at Martinsville lately, and McMurray solidified his status as a viable fantasy option with a top-10 effort in qualifying Friday. Keep in mind that he has six finishes of 11th or better in the last 10 races at the short track, including top-10s in both races last year.
18) A.J. Allmendinger
While Allmendinger's numbers at Martinsville are respectable in their own right, it's a little easier to justify taking a chance on him now that he will be starting in the top 15. Allmendinger has also finished in the top 15 in six of his last nine starts at Martinsville, including four times in his last five starts. He should have a rock solid showing this weekend.
24) Danica Patrick
Patrick was a sleeper special at the start of the week because she managed finishes of 12th and 17th in two starts at Martinsville last year. After a surprising top-10 qualifying run, she is definitely worth a flier. Qualifying near the front should help ensure that Patrick doesn't get lapped early on, which only enhances her chances of grinding out another top-20 finish at the track.
Big names outside the top 10
16) Kasey Kahne
He actually finished fourth at Martinsville last spring, but with just two top-10s in his last 14 starts at the track, there are definitely some questions about his reliability. A dismal 27th-place effort in qualifying did little to alleviate those concerns, and the way things have been going this weekend, another lackluster performance from Kahne at Martinsville seems likely.
21) Kurt Busch
Busch has had his issues with Martinsville throughout his career, and after qualifying outside the top 20, he could be headed for another long afternoon. He has gone 16 straight starts at the track without finishing in the top 10, and that streak is likely to continue.
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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