Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Goody's Fast Relief 500
Shaped like a paperclip, Martinsville Speedway is among the oldest and most unique tracks on the circuit. The flat straightaways and sharp turns led to extreme braking conditions, as drivers come screaming into the corners. Patience and timing are the keys to making passes at Martinsville. Drivers who can set someone up and out-brake their rivals going through the turns will find it easiest to get to the front. Those relying on straightaway speed alone will lose their handle and give back their position in the turns more often than not.
Martinsville is the second flat track on the schedule. The first came at Phoenix International Raceway back in February; the next will be in late April at Richmond International Raceway. These tracks are all configured quite differently but the required braking skills are universal.
For owners facing pre-qualifying deadlines, there will be two Friday practice sessions before qualifying on Saturday. Be sure to review those results for the drivers most likely to via for the pole and possibly capture the checkered flag.
Location: Ridgeway, Va.
Drivers to keep an eye on
In the last dozen races at Martinsville, Stewart has held an average running position of 12th or better on 10 occasions. However, three of those runs resulted in finishes outside of the top 20. The latest such example the bad luck came last October when Stewart had a top-10 run spoiled by tire going down with only 10 laps to go. Through five starts this season, Stewart has held an average running position of 13th or better each time out, including sixth or better in three of the last four. Look for Smoke to keep rising.
Of the 14 tracks that held two events last season, Menard's best average finish came at Martinsville. In March he finished 14th, a new career best, and topped that in October with a 13th-place result. Menard has yet to hold an average running position worse than 15th this season and 10th or better in three of five starts. The butt of yesterday's joke has been one of today's most consistent drivers.
Over the last nine Martinsville starts, Earnhardt owns five finishes of eighth or better. On eight occasions he held an average running position of 11th or better. With 848 laps led, Earnhardt has spent more time running up front at Martinsville over his career than anywhere else. Earnhardt has finished 12th or better in four straight races this season despite poor qualifying efforts. Earnhardt's new team is making the proper adjustments and will get to prove their worth at one of his top tracks.
With Jimmie Johnson sure to get a lot of attention at one of his best tracks, his top teammate could be overshadowed. Last year, Gordon led 92 and 56 laps in the two Martinsville races while Johnson did not lead any. While Gordon hasn't won here since sweeping in 2005, he recorded 11 straight top-fives until finishing 20th last October following late contact with Kurt Busch. In February, Gordon led 139 of 312 laps en route to winning at Phoenix, another flat track where braking is paramount.
It has been a rough beginning to the season for Hamlin, culminating in an engine failure last week at Auto Club Speedway. As a team, Joe Gibbs Racing has experienced three blown engines thus far. However, the average speed of a race at Martinsville doesn't break 76 mph and is not taxing on motors. Last year, Hamlin won from the pole and with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Despite three straight victories at Martinsville, Hamlin could be a great value given his slow start.
Thanks to some in-race strategy Keselowski finished 12th and 10th, respectively, last year at Martinsville. However, his best average running position was 19th, and he spent no more than 31 percent of his laps in the top 15. Keselowski's best finish this season, 15th, came at Phoenix, so he does have something to offer at level venues. Consider Keselowski a sleeper selection and prime budget option in salary cap formats.
Last year at Martinsville, Burton held average running positions of third and fourth with over 96 percent of laps in the top 15. However, late race issues found him both times. After leading 140 laps last March, Burton finished 20th after a tire starting going down as the race drew to a close. In October, he led 134 laps and was out front with 45 laps to go but faded all the way to ninth. After a dreadful first four races, Burton is coming off a 15th-place finish with an average running position of 11th. It's a risk, but Burton may finally be able to put it all together.
After five finishes of seventh or better over the final six races of 2010, many figured Logano would pick up where he left off. That has been far from the case as Logano has yet to finish better than 23rd. Look for things to start turning around this week. A year ago at Martinsville, he finished as the runner-up in March and sixth during the Chase to give Logano three straight finishes of 12th or better at the site.
Temper your expectations
In 16 career starts at Martinsville, Biffle has only two top-10 finishes to his credit. The most recent came last year in March after he qualified fourth, but with an average running position of 20th. Since loop data was introduced in 2005, Biffle's average running position has been a dreadful 23.8. The No. 16 camp heads to Martinsville with two finishes of 11th or better, but this track Biffle's worst oval in terms of average finish.
With only one top-20 finish this season, McMurray is struggling to the find the consistency currently in the corner of his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. At Martinsville, McMurray has finished 11th or better in three of the last four starts. However, two of those finishes came with fewer than 26 percent of laps spent in the top 15. Big wins from a year ago made many forget about McMurray's up-and-down performance and caused him to be overvalued. Take a pass until he starts to heat back up.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. Follow @EricMcClung
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