Given his impressive numbers at Martinsville Speedway, it was going to take a terrible warm-up performance from Jimmie Johnson to knock him out of the top spot in the driver rankings for Sunday's Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500. Instead, the eight-time track winner qualified second Friday and was one of the strongest cars in practice Saturday. Needless to say, Johnson easily hangs on to the No. 1 spot in the final rankings, and now, he will try to add to a Martinsville resume that includes a series-leading 5.3 average finish and 16 top-five finishes in 23 starts. Johnson needs to be owned in all fantasy formats, and for owners who have been saving him in survivor-style leagues, this is the race to use him.
McMurray: valid sleeper
While Johnson holds steady atop the rankings, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer both move up a spot within the top five. Both drivers qualified in the top five Friday, and both continued to post fast times in race trim during Saturday's practices. Meanwhile, Busch has four top-five finishes in his last six starts at Martinsville, including a second-place run last fall and fifth-place finish earlier this year. Bowyer on the other hand has been on a tear at the track since joining Michael Waltrip Racing. He has a 5.7 average finish in three Martinsville starts with MWR, including a career-best second-place run in the spring. Both deserve heavy consideration in all fantasy formats.
Rounding out the top five in the final rankings is Denny Hamlin, and no driver has boosted his stock more this weekend. After all, he won the pole in record-breaking fashion Friday. Granted, Hamlin has basically been useless for the last four months as far as fantasy owners are concerned, but his career numbers at Martinsville are excellent. In addition to his four wins at the track, he has finished sixth or better in 11 of his 15 starts. Hamlin appears poised to break out of his slump in a big way this weekend, and fantasy owners should definitely take advantage.
Fantasy owners looking for a safe, reliable option outside the top five should consider turning to Dale Earnhardt Jr. He moves into the No. 9 spot in the final rankings thanks to a 12th-place qualifying run and stout practice times. He has also finished in the top 15 in seven of his last 10 starts at Martinsville, and in his last six starts, he has four finishes of seventh or better, including a pair of top-three runs. Fantasy owners should feel confident that they will get a solid top-10 performance out of Junior, and a great run isn't out of the question.
Fantasy owners looking for a sleeper option this weekend may want to consider Jamie McMurray, who jumps into the top 15 in the final rankings after a top-10 effort in qualifying and solid practice times. He has also finished in the top 20 in five of his last six starts at Martinsville, and during the stretch, he has three finishes of 11th or better, including a seventh-place run in the spring. McMurray is coming off a win last weekend at Talladega, and it is looking increasingly likely that he can help out fantasy teams again this Sunday.
In deeper leagues, David Ragan could be worth a flier from fantasy owners as he slides into the top 25 of the final rankings. He delivered a surprising eighth-place effort in qualifying, and while his practice times weren't as strong, they weren't awful either. At worst, Ragan should be able to use his excellent track position to stay on the lead lap through the early stages of the race and finish in or around the top 20. Meanwhile, there is always a chance that he hangs around the top 10 all afternoon and ends up being an incredible sleeper pick.
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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