Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Tums Fast Relief 500

by Eric McClung on October 26, 2011 @ 17:28:19 PDT


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 Chase schedule, following New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The final low-banked event will come in two weeks at the newly-reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway. These tracks are all configured quite differently but the required braking skills are universal.

Owners facing prequalifying deadlines will get the benefit of two Friday practices session prior to qualifying on Saturday. Checking these results is a huge benefit in order to see what drivers have unloaded with an early edge and are most likely to score a prime starting position.

Location: Ridgeway, Va.
Shape: Oval
Length: 0.526 miles
Laps: 500
Turns 1-4: 12 degrees
Front stretch: 0 degrees
Back stretch: 0 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

Thanks to a fourth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway, tops among the Chase field, Keselowski catapulted from sixth to third in points, 18 markers out of first. Now six races into the Chase, the blue deuce has captured four top-fives and has not finished outside of the top 20. Back in April, Keselowski finished 19th at Martinsville, his worst in three career Cup starts. However, he's looked like a completely differently driver in the second half of the season with a pair of wins, two more runner-up finishes while totaling a dozen top 10s over the last 17 races.

Kyle Busch
A bounce-back week in store?

Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&M's Halloween Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Back in April, the younger Busch brother paced the field at Martinsville with an average running position of third and led a race-high 151 laps. Over the last four races on the paperclip, he's registered three top-five finishes and with an average running position of 14th or better in each. Prior to being collected in a wreck at Talladega, Busch had four straight finishes of 11th or better and had climbed to fourth in points. Rowdy's calculated aggression and elite skills should allow him to bounce back this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 MyLowe's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Even though Johnson's hopes for a sixth consecutive championship are in major jeopardy, Martinsville is among his best tracks. Over the last 18 races there, he's collected six wins, 13 top-fives and had a streak of 17 top-10s end in April with an 11th-place result. Johnson leads all drivers with a career average running position of 6.4 at Martinsville. With four races to go, Johnson's best hopes for winning at this week and at the redesigned Phoenix International Raceway next month. If anyone can stage such an epic comeback, it's the No. 48.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew "Paint the 88"/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

After finishing third in the Chase opener, Earnhardt has been a non-factor in the postseason with only one other top-15 in the five races since. However, even during his struggles in recent years, he's remained a pretty consistent performer at Martinsville. Since joining Hendrick in 2008, Earnhardt owns two runner-up performances and five top-10s in seven starts. In that time, his average running position has dropped below 11th only once. While Earnhardt disappointed at Talladega, he's worth another shot.

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Since 2003, Gordon has been remarkable at Martinsville with four wins, 13 top-fives and 16 top-10s in 17 starts. Over the last 10, he's led an average of 94 laps per race with an average running position that has never dipped below ninth. Although he's had a forgettable Chase, Gordon did finish fourth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the only other flat track in the postseason thus far. Regardless of the recent struggles, Gordon is always among the safest bets at Martinsville.

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Although Hamlin's season has been a disappointment by most measures, he's recorded consecutive top-10 finishes and heads to his home state to compete on a track that has been a playground. Hamlin won three consecutive races at Martinsville starting in the fall of 2009 and concluding with a sweep in 2010. Although he finished 12th back in April, Hamlin's first finish outside of sixth in nine races, he held an average running position of fifth. In fact, he's run at least seventh in seven straight.

Clint Bowyer | No. 33 American Ethanol Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Coming off a win at Talladega, Bowyer will look to keep playing spoiler for the duration of the Chase. In his last nine starts on the paperclip, he's finished 11th or better on seven occasions with two top-10s in the last three. Despite Bowyer's announcement to join Michael Waltrip Racing starting next season, his team doesn't seemed phased given the four top-10s in the last six races. Bowyer nearly won last month on the flat track in New Hampshire but ran out of fuel with two laps to go.

Jamie McMurray | No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Even though Jamie Mac has yet to record a top-10 in the Chase, Martinsville presents a good opportunity to do just that. Back in April, McMurray qualified on the pole and registered a seventh-place result with 31 laps led while spending 98.8 percent of the race in the top 15. Dating back to 2007, he's finished 11th or better in six of nine starts. While McMurray certainly carries a lot of risk, he's a middle-tier driver worth gambling on.

Temper your expectations

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Despite finishing just 18th at Talladega, Kenseth climbed from third to second in the standings thanks to issues for several other drivers in the Chase field. While he finished sixth at Martinsville in April, it was his first top-10 in five starts at the site. Kenseth's finish was somewhat remarkable given his average running position of 21st after spending much of the day a lap down. With a pair of 1.5-mile tracks left on the remaining docket, Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, owners would be wise to conserve remaining allocations for those events as they are his biggest strengths, Fort Worth in particular.

Kurt Busch | No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

Since 2006, Busch has gone 11 races at Martinsville without a top-10. In the last three, he's even failed to finish on the lead lap. Among all drivers, the elder Busch brother's average running position of 17.8 ranks only 16th on the paperclip. Many of the elite wheelmen in the sport excel on a driver's track like Martinsville but Busch is one of the exceptions. Like Kenseth, wait for the 1.5-mile venues when it comes to reinserting the double deuce.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's 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. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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