Short tracks usually aren't the most fantasy-friendly stops on the schedule, but after the plague of cut tire at Auto Club Speedway last weekend, I can't wait for Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway. My pre-race favorite, Kyle Busch, actually won last weekend, but after practice and qualifying, I made the brilliant call to plug in Jimmie Johnson instead, only to watch him cut a tire while leading with seven laps to go and finish 24th. Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch were just a few of the other drivers I rostered that suffered tire issues, leaving Brian Vickers, Tony Stewart and Kyle Larson as my only great picks in most formats. Like I said, I'm happy to be moving on to Martinsville.
My strategy this week is pretty simple. Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin have been by far the most dominant drivers at Martinsville, and I'm going to build my rosters around them in any and all formats. The trio has combined to win 20 races at the paperclip-shaped track, including 17 of the last 21. Since NASCAR installed electronic scoring loops in 2005, Johnson, Gordon and Hamlin also rank in the top three in driver rating, laps led, average running position, fastest laps run, green flag speed, quality passes and speed in traffic. I'm going all-in with the three kings at Martinsville, and I'll fill in the rest of my roster around them.
Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Auto Racing
Jeff Gordon (A): When it comes to Martinsville, Gordon ranks second in just about every statistical category to his teammate Johnson. However, both drivers are near locks to finish in the top five, and while I'm confident I can find plenty of other tracks where Johnson is also a safe bet for a top-five finish, I'm not confident I can do the same with Gordon. In this format, I'll save Johnson for another week.
Hamlin: great deal for STP 500
Denny Hamlin (B): He is medically cleared after getting a piece of metal removed from his eye that kept him out of the car last weekend, and I'll gladly take advantage of Hamlin's demotion to the B List following his rocky 2013 season to plug both he and Gordon into my lineup. In years past, it was possible to own only one of three fantasy monsters of Martinsville because all have been A List options. Hamlin is clearly the third-best driver at the track by a wide margin. Teaming him with Gordon gives me a chance for a huge points day.
Ryan Newman (B): I like what I've seen out of Newman this year, and he already looks comfortable with his new Richard Childress Racing team. Meanwhile, he has six finishes of 11th or better in his last 10 starts at Martinsville, including a win. I think he will have a solid showing Sunday and challenge for a top-10.
Danica Patrick (C): While I would love to keep getting ridiculously awesome finishes from my C List drivers by using either Kyle Larson or Austin Dillon again this weekend, Patrick gives me a chance to get a decent finish while saving a start from the two big guns in the group. She actually finished in the top 20 in both starts at Martinsville last season, and I would be thrilled with a top-20 run this weekend.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Jimmie Johnson ($27.75): The thing I love about this game's scoring system is that even though Johnson cut a tire and finished 24th last weekend, he was still the top scorer because of his dominance in the laps led and fastest laps categories. This system rewards the driver with the best car on the track, and Johnson usually has the best car on the track whenever the series heads to Martinsville.
Jeff Gordon ($27.50): If Johnson doesn't have the best car Sunday, there is a good chance Gordon will. Since the scoring loops were installed in 2005, the eight-time Martinsville winner ranks second in almost every relevant statistical category at the track, including laps led and fastest laps, which factor heavily into this game's scoring system.
Denny Hamlin ($23.75): Hamlin may be the third-best driver at Martinsville, but the gap between him and anyone else is big enough to justify spending a bulk of my remaining salary on him. Not to mention that since 2008, his four victories at the track are actually tied with Johnson for the most in the series.
Michael Annett ($8.50): I need some bargain drivers after assembling a very top-heavy lineup, and I think Annett can string together a decent day. For one, he has been improving all year and is coming off his first top-20 last weekend at Auto Club Speedway. Meanwhile, his tendency to qualify poorly and work his way up pays dividends in the place differential category this game includes. My lineup is going to live and die with my first three picks, but Annett could be a nice cherry on top if things go well.
Reed Sorenson ($6.75): While I'll happily take the cap relief that comes with Sorenson's minimal salary, this pick is about more than making the money work out. He has been a sneaky sleeper play in this format all year because of the league's inclusion of place differential in the scoring format. For the year, Sorenson has an average starting position of 37.8 compared to an average finish of 26.0. By moving up almost 12 spots per race on average, he adds valuable points to his total score. Entering Sunday's race, he actually ranks 17th in total points. You can't beat that for the price.
NASCAR.com Streak to the Finish
Jeff Gordon: Tire issues also killed me in this game as Greg Biffle was a frequent visitor to pit road for fresh rubber. On the plus side, I should at least be able to start a new streak by using Gordon. After all, he has 34 top-10s in 42 Martinsville starts, including 18 in his last 20 races at the track.
FOX Fantasy Auto Racing
Jimmie Johnson (captain): No matter which statistic you are using, he has been the best driver in the series at Martinsville. When the No. 1 option is this obvious, I don't mind using up one of his starts, and it only makes sense to assign him as my captain to double his points.
Jeff Gordon: I just can't pass on Gordon's reliability. He is averaging a top-five finish in the last 20 races at Martinsville, and during the stretch, he has never finished outside the top 20. In fact, he has 15 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s during the stretch.
Denny Hamlin: It's all about consistency with this pick, as well. Hamlin's 8.1 average finish at Martinsville is the third best in the series, and in 16 starts, he has only two finishes outside the top 12 and only three finishes outside the top eight.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has become an absolute stud at Martinsville since joining Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012. He has a 5.0 average finish in four starts at the track with MWR and has three straight top-five finishes. Last year, Bowyer finished in the top three in both races at Martinsville.
Jamie McMurray: Every good lineup needs a sleeper, and I like McMurray this weekend. He has always been an underrated option at Martinsville, and in the last 10 races at the track, he has six finishes of 11th or better. McMurray actually finished in the top 10 in both races last year.
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.