Heading into this weekend's race at Martinsville Speedway, it was no secret that Jimmie Johnson
was the frontrunner. After all, he is a six-time winner at the track and averages a top-five finish. While his reputation already preceded him, Johnson left little doubt that he is going to be the man to beat Sunday when he went out and won the pole. Four of his six victories at the half-mile oval have come after he qualified in the top 10, and the last time Johnson won the fall race at the track, he started on the pole. All the numbers point to a big day for Johnson, and while the rest of the field has to be worried, fantasy owners shouldn't hesitate to add the five-time champ to their rosters.
Of course, fantasy owners have a few other strong options to choose from that are starting near the front of the field. Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are all starting 11th or better, and all three have had their share of success at Martinsville, as well. In fact, Hamlin leads all drivers with four wins at the track since the start of the 2008 season, and he has finished sixth or better in 11 of his last 12 starts. Gordon is a seven-time Martinsville winner in his career, and in his last 15 starts at the track, he is 13 top-five finishes. Meanwhile, Stewart is the defending winner of this weekend's race and a three-time winner at the track overall.
While Johnson, Hamlin, Gordon and Stewart have been the masters of Martinsville recently, there are a couple intriguing sleeper options starting in the top 10, starting with Jeff Burton. While the veteran certainly hasn't done much in 2012, he has finished in the top 10 in the last two fall races at Martinsville. After qualifying fourth, Burton might be able to keep the streak alive. Aric Almirola is the other potential sleeper. He qualified 10th, and he finished eighth at Martinsville earlier this year. The fact that he has had two of his best cars of the season the past two races doesn't hurt his value either. Burton and Almirola are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum in terms of experience, but both could deliver surprise results this weekend.
One big name missing from the top of the leaderboard during qualifying was championship leader Brad Keselowski. He qualified a dismal 32nd, and while poor qualifying efforts are nothing new for the point leader, this was a bad performance even by his standards. Not to mention the fact that since the start of the 2003 season, there hasn't been a single race winner to start outside the top 20. Keselowski has never finished in the top five at Martinsville, and he could have a tough time changing that this weekend.
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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