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Fantasy NASCAR Race Preview: Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500
Shaped like a paperclip, Martinsville Speedway is among the oldest and most unique tracks on the circuit. The flat straightaways and sharp turns lead to extreme braking conditions as drivers come screaming into the corners. Patience and timing are the keys to making passes at Martinsville. Drivers that 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.
Practice sessions: Friday, Oct. 25 at 12:00 p.m. EDT; Saturday, Oct. 26 at 10:30 a.m. EDT, 12:00 p.m. EDT
Drivers to keep an eye on
Last week, Johnson was able to get past Matt Kenseth in the Chase standings during an intense finish to an otherwise tame race at Talladega Superspeedway. The five-time champ has a great opportunity to extend his lead at Martinsville, where Johnson has won the last two events from the pole and has totaled eight victories in 23 starts. The No. 48 machine has paced the paperclip for at least 61 laps in five straight and led at least 111 in each of the last three. If you can start Johnson at Martinsville, you always do it.
Since 2009, Busch has held an average running position of 10th or better in six of the seven races at Martinsville to go along with four top-five finishes. Rowdy began the Chase with a pair of runner-up performances and three consecutive top-fives before crashing at Kansas Speedway. Busch immediately brushed off the latest of several mishaps at his least favorite track with top-fives in the last two races.
Going back to 2003, Gordon owns 11 podium finishes and 16 top-fives over 21 starts at Martinsville. During that span he finished outside of top 10 just twice. Also remarkable: Since loop data was created in 2005, Gordon's average running position has been ninth or better 20 tunes. Coming down the stretch, Gordon checks in with nine consecutive top-15s and seven results of eighth or better.
Even though Earnhardt finished outside of the top 20 in the last two Martinsville races, he ran pretty well. In fact, he's recorded an average running position of 12th or better in seven straight and 13 of the last 14. Earnhardt is coming off his second runner-up performance of the Chase and has led multiple laps in every postseason event so far.
Despite poor qualifying results, Biffle has seen his finish improve in five consecutive Martinsville races. The Biff started that run by placing outside of the top 30 and moving all the way up to ninth earlier this season to give him four top-15s in a row. Biffle has been equally solid as of the late with a dozen straight finishes of 16th or better this season.
Since 2006, Bowyer has finished 11th or better in 10 of the 13 events held at Martinsville. Earlier this season, Bowyer finished as the runner-up after he led 154 laps in this race one year ago. Bowyer is coming off his third top-10 of the Chase, during which he's only finished outside of the top 15 once over six races.
Over the last four races on the schedule, Keselowski has finished inside of the top 15 just once. However, that came as a victory in Charlotte Motor Speedway as he continues to be a boom-or-bust driver during this disappointing season. At Martinsville, Keselowski has finished inside the top 10 in three consecutive races with an average running position of fifth on two occasions.
McMurray is coming off a victory at Talladega, his first trip to victory lane since 2010. Earlier this season, he finished seventh at Martinsville with an average running position of eighth and recorded the fastest lap a career-best 29 times. If you are short on middle-tier options, Jamie Mac could prove useful for another week.
Temper your expectations
Back in 2011, Harvick won the spring race at Martinsville for the first time and put together another top-five during the Chase. Last year he had to settle for a pair of underachieving results, dropping to 19th from the outside pole in the spring and blowing an engine in October. This season Harvick ran well for much of the day but finished back in 13th. Harvick is a decent option but not a driver to be considered given the number of preferred elite drivers to select from.
Hamlin won his four career Martinsville races in a span of six starts from 2008-10, all top-fives that included three victories in a row. A back injury kept Hamlin from competing here earlier in the season after leading double-digit laps in eight straight on the paperclip. The huge downside here is what Hamlin has done over his last 18 starts of the season, which features more DNFs (six) than top-15 finishes (two).
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