Fantasy NASCAR preview: Tums Fast Relief 500
by C.J. Radune
on October 21, 2009 @ 00:00:00
Martinsville Speedway is relatively flat. This, combined with its paperclip shape, makes it difficult to pass. With passing at a premium, track position is a must for racers. If a driver attempts a pass, it will usually be to the inside; because of this, cars hook the bottom in hopes of holding off potential passers. A successful pass will almost certainly require a driver to either out-brake the lead car or nudge the car out of way, and often both. Brakes are also important for slowing out of the relatively long straightaways into the sharp turns. All told, there isn't a track on the Sprint Cup circuit where brakes are more important.
It is no coincidence that pain relievers Tums and Goody's sponsor the Martinsville races. Drivers and teams often leave the bull ring with numerous bumps and bruises, and the cars are often damaged as well. Jimmie Johnson was the class of the field when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visited the track in March. It was his first win of the season, and he now has a chance to sweep the season's races at the track.
Location: Martinsville, Va.
Drivers to keep an eye on
McMurray probably isn't the name on the tip of everyone's tongues when picking sleepers for the Tums Fast Relief 500, but he might be a good option. His results this season have not been earth shattering, but his resume at Martinsville is pretty respectable, and it is the scene of one of his three top-10 finishes so far this season. His average finish in the last six Martinsville NASCAR Sprint Cup races is 17.6, but one result was a 38th-place finish in a race where he led 37 laps. He has finished inside the top-10 in eight of his 13 starts there. McMurray could end up being a surprise this weekend, so it is worth taking a look at him.
After making the "temper your expectations" list often recently, Newman finally comes to a track where fantasy owners can get excited about his prospects. He holds eighth in the Chase for the Championship and had a good run in the last Martinsville race in March. Newman's average finish in the last five Martinsville races is 12.8 with a top-five and a top-10 in that period. He has never won at the track, but he scored two poles in 15 tries and has consistently nailed the right setup for speed.
After three finishes outside of the top 10, Busch finally found his way back to the front with an eighth-place run in the NASCAR Banking 500. While he may not be the strongest finisher at Martinsville Speedway, he is certainly one of the fastest. His average finish in the last five races there is 19.8, but his average qualifying result is 8.2 over the same span. Busch, with a fast car, is usually not something to bet against. While he works to improve his consistency issues, Busch is still a solid contender for a top-five or top-10. During a five-race stretch from 2005 through 2007, Busch finished in the top 10 in four of six races. One of those poor finishes was due to overheating, too.
Hamlin made a point of criticizing the Chase format after his poor outing in the NASCAR Banking 500. Granted, he has taken two DNFs on the chin in the last two races, but his performances should be his own. Martinsville Speedway offers Hamlin a chance for redemption, though. He has a stout record on the Virginia track with a win, five top-fives and seven top-10s in eight starts. His average finish in the last five Martinsville races is 3.4. His career average finish in eight starts is 8.0. Any driver with those numbers deserves a starting position on fantasy players' rosters.
After writing off the 2009 season, Harvick has finally started to gain some traction. Three of his six top-10s so far have come in the last seven races. In addition, he nearly broke into the top 10 in March's Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500. He finished that race 11th and his average finish in the last five Martinsville Speedway races is 16.2. With his recent ability to finish in the top 10, and his earlier season form at Martinsville in the wake of a dismal start to the season, Harvick becomes a solid fantasy option for the Tums Fast Relief 500.
Temper your expectations
Edwards took a hit in the Chase for the Championship when he retired from last week's NASCAR Banking 500 with a blown engine. He was classified in 39th position and is now 10th of the 12 Chase contenders. Unfortunately, Edwards' Martinsville resume is kind of spotty. He turned in back-to-back top-10 finishes in the 2008 visits to the track, but backed those up with a 26th-place result in this year's Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500. His average finish in the last five starts there is 13.2, which wouldn't be bad had his March performance been a bit more encouraging.
Truex's average finish in seven career starts at Martinsville Speedway is 23.3. It has been a bogey track for him in the past, and he scored just one top-10 finish there in the 2008 Tums QuikPak 500. In his March visit to Martinsville he finished the day just 29th in another disappointing outing at the short Virginia track. He scored a top-10 in last week's NASCAR Banking 500 but has struggled to find a top finish in his career at Martinsville. Due to his past results at the track, Truex may not be the strongest play for the Tums Fast Relief 500.
Vickers is having the worst run of the Chase contenders. He is last of the 12 contenders and hasn't scored a top-10 result since making the Chase field at Richmond International Raceway. His average Martinsville finish in the last five tries is 18.4 with just one top-10 finish, his only one at the track. Vickers' qualifying average at the track isn't great either at 25.4 in nine tries. Some drivers get the hang of Martinsville, while others do not. Vickers hasn't found the sweet spot of the flat oval and is floundering in the Chase. Now isn't the time to be resting your fantasy hopes on his shoulders.
Biffle ranks seventh in the NASCAR Chase for the Championship but has been slightly behind the curve in the two races since leading 113 laps in the Price Chopper 400. He couldn't break into the top 15 in the two races since that run. Specific to Martinsville Speedway, Biffle's average finish in the last five races is 19.8 with just one top-10. That top-10 result is still his only one at the track. While Biffle started the Chase respectably, he has trailed off recently. Until he gets back on the horse, at a track other than Martinsville, Biffle will be a driver to think carefully about before giving him the fantasy start.
Kahne had a strong run in the NASCAR Banking 500, but Kahne's average finish in his last five Martinsville starts is just 21.8. He has clearly struggled at the track, and unfortunately that isn't just a new trend. His best Martinsville result was second back in the 2005 Advance Auto Parts 500, and has only scored one top-10 there since. In last year's edition of this race, Kahne suffered electrical gremlins and finished 33rd, 29 laps down. Kahne is a Chase driver with some inconsistency, and his past Martinsville results suggest this may be one of those weekends to avoid him in the fantasy realm if possible.
About C.J. Radune
Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.
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