The Chase for the Sprint Cup Series championship goes to the short track of Martinsville Speedway for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500. Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. ($9,400) is on the pole for the second consecutive weekend, and he looks for much better results than at Talladega. MTJ saw his dreams of a championship end on the superspeedway in Alabama despite the fact he has been one of the most dominant drivers on the circuit this season. Unfortunately for Truex, the playoffs are cruel and he picked the worst time of the season for rather middling results, posting a 13th in Charlotte, 11th at Kansas and a last-place 40th in Talladega. It will be interesting to see how he responds. According to NASCAR’s Loop Data, he does not rank in the Top 10 in Driver Rating over the past five Martinsville races, and he has just two Top 5s and six Top 10s with a 21.2 Average-Finish Position (AFP) in 21 career starts at the Virginia paperclip. That makes him a risky DFS play this weekend.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch ($10,700) is the defending champion at Martinsville, winning the spring race. That gives Toyota two wins in the past three starts after a run of Chevrolet dominance for four-plus years. Rowdy has a 107.2 Driver Rating over the past five outings on the Virginia short track, running 85.5 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 to lead all drivers. His 7.8 AFP during the five-race span is second-best on the circuit, and he has led 374 laps, which is also second-best over the stretch. While Busch has just the one Martinsville win in 22 career starts, he has managed 10 Top 5s and is a short-track specialist. There is a reason he has the most expensive salary on the board this week.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson ($10,500) and Jeff Gordon ($8,800) have a combined 17 victories in 75 career starts at Martinsville. Johnson has eight wins with 18 Top 5s and 2,747 laps led with a 7.5 AFP, second-best only to his now part-time teammate. Gordon is back behind the wheel subbing for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. (concussion) in what might possibly be his final Martinsville laps. We thought we saw that last fall in a storybook win. Gordon leads all drivers over the past five races at Martinsville, posting a 112.6 Driver Rating and 6.0 AFP in four starts (he missed this season’s spring race). Both Johnson and Gordon are a great one-two punch for one of your lineups in GPPs. Johnson starts third Sunday, while Gordon will go off from the 10th position.
Penske Racing’s Joey Logano ($9,800) will start on the outside of Row 1 next to Truex as he looks for his first-career grandfather clock, the ‘trophy’ awarded to the winner of the Martinsville race. Logano has managed four Top 5s and 11 Top 20 finishes in 15 career starts at the track, posting a respectable 14.6 AFP. He ranks second in Driver Rating at 110.4 over the past five starts, running 84.8 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. Logano is a safe play with some upside, and he should tick off a handful of laps led before it’s all said and done.
Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski ($9,600) is trying to pick himself up off the mat after also being eliminated from Chase contention last weekend. Unlike Truex Jr., Kes struggled in qualifying and will go off 19th in Sunday’s race. The Blue Deuce hasn’t faired well on the short track of Martinsville, falling outside of the Top 10 in Driver Rating over the past five starts. In 13 career starts he has no wins with just three Top 5s and 171 laps led with a 14.7 AFP. He won’t be terrible this weekend, but he is also not a driver to build your lineup around.
JGR’s Denny Hamlin ($10,000) is back as a five-figure driver in DraftKings, and that’s because the NASCAR boys are back at a short track. The Chesterfield, Va. native usually fares well in the Old Dominion, and he ripped off a victory in the Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond at the last short track race. Hamlin has steered his No. 11 FedEx Toyota to Victory Lane five times in 21 career starts in Martinsville, posting 11 Top 5s with 1,315 laps. If you extrapolate those numbers to 46 career starts, he would be about as dominating as Gordon. Hamlin starts eighth, so positive Place Differential points are expected.
Hamlin’s teammates Carl Edwards ($8,900) and Matt Kenseth ($9,200) have been rather ordinary at Martinsville over the years. Neither has a victory while ranking 11th and 12th in Average-Finish Position. Both are safe plays, as they will not kill your DFS squad, but they’re also rarely in the Top 5 swapping paint with the leaders, either. Contrarian players might find value in Edwards and Kenseth, but most will avoid them in GPPs due to their lack of victories. Edwards starts seventh, while Kenseth begins 17th in the grid.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick ($10,300) remains in the Chase, and a good finish at Martinsville would go a long way in keep him in the hunt for a championship. Martinsville hasn’t been very good to him over the years, however, as he has just one win and three Top 5s in 30 career starts wtih a 15.9 AFP. He is set to start from the 20th position, as he was mediocre in qualifying, and a finish between 10th and 19th is not exactly what you’re paying top dollar for. Harvick is a driver to fade this weekend.
Harvick’s teammate Kurt Busch ($9,000) checks in ninth in Driver Rating over the past five Martinsville starts, and he has two wins in 21 career starts. But he has also struggled over the years at the short track in the Appalachian foothills, managing just three Top 5s and five Top 10s in 32 career starts, good for a very average 21.22 AFP. He finished in the unlucky No. 13 position in the spring race. SHR’s Tony Stewart ($7,600) makes his final Martinsville start, at least as a full-time driver, and he’d love to go out with a bang. He has three career wins in 33 starts and ranks fifth among active drivers with a 13.7 AFP. He could be a very favorable mid-tier lineup option, although keep in mind he ranks outside of the Top 10 in Driver Rating over his past five starts at Martinsville. Smoke starts sixth Sunday.
Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman ($7,800) is another one of those mid-tier drivers who can come up and surprise at Martinsville. The ‘Rocket Man’ has a win with eight Top 5s and 14 Top 10s in 29 career starts at the Virginia short track, posting a solid 15.0 AFP which is better than the higher-priced Edwards, Kenseth, Harvick, etc. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray ($7,900) is another of those solid mid-tier drivers you will want at Martinsville. While he has never hauled home a grandfather clock, he has ticked off two Top 5s and 14 Top 10s in 27 career starts with 201 laps led and a solid 16.6 AFP. As a No. 4 or 5 driver option you’ll be very pleased with Jamie Mac’s Fantasy points per dollar spent.
HScott Motorsports driver Clint Bowyer ($7,700) is nearly out of limbo, as he moves to Stewart-Haas Racing and the No. 14 car next season. He could make noise in his final Martinsville race under the HScott flag, as he checks in sixth in AFP (14.2) in 21 career starts, including 12 Top 10 finishes. He tumbled to 25th in the spring race, but his knowledge of the track is outstanding and he has upside as a No. 4 or 5 driver option.
ON THE DOWN LOW
As far as the lower-priced options are concerned, there is plenty of good picks for a high-low DFS lineup strategy.
JTG Daugherty Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger ($7,300) will be a very, very popular DFS selection this weekend, and rightly so. He is coming off back-to-back Top 10 finishes at Kansas and Talladega, and he was a runner-up in the spring race nipping at the heels of Kyle Busch on the final laps. If that wasn’t good enough to boost his DFS profile, ‘The Dinger’ had a strong qualifying effort and will go off in Row 2 next to Jimmie Johnson. While all of those results are very good, keep in mind Allmendinger has not led any laps over his past 10 starts, and he has been out front for a total of 24 laps in 32 races this season.
Richard Childress Racing’s Paul Menard ($6,400) is usually pretty effective on the short tracks, and he proved his worth to DFS owners with an eighth-place run in the spring Martinsville race. In 18 career starts he has just 10 laps led at Martinsville. That’s the bad news. The good news is that he has nine Top 20s and a decent 19.6 AFP which makes him a solid No. 5 or 6 lineup option at a cut-rate price.
BK Racing’s David Ragan ($5,800) had a surprisingly effective qualifying session, and he will start in the 12th position. He has never really challenged for a win at Martinsville, and has zero laps led in 20 career starts at the track. However, he has managed a Top 5, three Top 10s and eight Top 20s with a 21.3 AFP, so Ragan isn’t a terrible choice for your No. 6 driver, saving plenty of salary to spend up top.
Rookie Gray Gaulding ($4,900) will make his Sprint Cup Series debut in the No. 30 Feed the Children Chevrolet, the first of three starts for The Motorsports Group. The 18-year-old is an up-and-comer signed under the Roush Fenway Developmental Program earlier this spring, and he has torn up the circuit on the K&N Pro Series East for years. While Martinsville is a difficult track to master even for veterans, the rookie is used to smaller ovals and could surprise. At the very least, he will save you a boatload of salary to load up with three or four high-priced studs at the top of your lineup.