This weekend’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway is a pretty significant race. Not only is it the kick off of Round 3 of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, but this weekend NASCAR will be doing same-day qualifying as well, with the Cup Series teams earning their starting spot before the race on Sunday. The good news for Yahoo! players is that we got to see two practice sessions on Saturday before lockdown, and those speeds are taken into account in the rankings below. Be sure to check back here after qualifying on Sunday for my final rankings and starters!
Yahoo! A Group Picks and Rankings for Martinsville 2
Kyle Busch (1 start remaining) – Rowdy Busch has had his fair share of bad finishes here at Martinsville Speedway–which is why his average finish is just 13.6 at this track–but you can’t look past the fact that he has posted a top 5 result in half of his 24 career starts at “The Paperclip.” Busch has also led 1,116 laps at this track, which is good enough for 3rd-best among active drivers–and only behind Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who have 14 total wins between the two of them. Kyle Busch has one trip to victory lane here at Martinsville (last season) and is currently on a four-race streak of top 5 finishes here. This weekend, the #18 Toyota had the best ten-lap average in the opening practice session and was P1 on that chart in Happy Hour as well. Rowdy should be a threat for both the pole and the win on Sunday, and I have no issue using my final Kyle Busch Yahoo! start this weekend.
Denny Hamlin (8 starts remaining) – When Denny Hamlin was interviewed on Saturday, he seemed a little more confident than usual, and that means the rest of the Cup Series competition should watch out on Sunday. Hamlin is a five-time winner here at Martinsville Speedway and knows when he has a car that can compete for the win. This weekend, the #11 Toyota was fastest in Practice #1 and ranked 3rd-best on the ten-lap average chart; in Happy Hour, Hamlin was 16th and 12th on those two charts, respectively. Denny is a consistent front runner here at Martinsville and should be up front all day on Sunday.
One driver that is probably needs a good run this weekend to stay in contention for one of the final four playoff spots is Brad Keselowski. This #2 team just isn’t performing right now, but the good news is that Martinsville is a track where driver talent can overcome some of what is lacking mechanically. Keselowski won here at Martinsville in April and is currently on a three-race streak of top 5 finishes at this track. He was 6th-fastest in the opening practice session this weekend and ranked 4th in Happy Hour when it came to ten-lap average. The best part about BK this week in Yahoo!, though, is that he’s getting overlooked: he was at just 20% ownership on Saturday afternoon.
Speaking of overlooked, Matt Kenseth was the lowest-owned A Group driver as of Saturday afternoon, which is kind of surprising considering he’s finished 9th or better in six of his nine starts here with Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth also seems to run better here in the fall than he does in the spring, so as far as an off-sequence pick, he’s definitely your guy. The #20 Toyota was 6th in ten-lap average during Practice #1 on Saturday and ranked 20th on that chart in Happy Hour, but should be significantly better than that second number on Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson is the opposite this weekend, as he’s going to be one of the higher-owned A Group drivers simply because he is a nine-time winner at this race track. He’s also the defending winner of this race. With that being said, it seems like this #48 team is still missing something right now, so I don’t mind staying away from Johnson in Yahoo! this weekend. Sure, he could end up winning here on Sunday, but he’s not going to dominate and lead the most laps, and that’s what I really want out of my A Group driver. Johnson was 13th in ten-lap average during Practice #1 and ranked 3rd on that chart in Happy Hour.
This might be the weekend to give Martin Truex, Jr. a break. Typically whenever the #78 Toyota isn’t inside the top 5 in the first practice session of the weekend, the team has some work to do for race day, and that seems to be the case this weekend: Truex was just 21st-fastest in Practice #1 on Saturday, although he did rank 8th in ten-lap average. In Happy Hour, though, he was 3rd and 2nd on those two charts, respectively, and if he’s able to get the pole on Sunday, we all know what this #78 team can do with a lead. They also have that #1 pit stall, which will pay dividends. Still, Truex hasn’t had a top 5 finish here at Martinsville since the 2012 season, and while that could easily change this weekend, Martin isn’t the #1 A Group choice like most other weekends.
Another driver worth giving a break this weekend is Kevin Harvick. He’s a previous winner here at Martinsville Speedway but with only three top 5 finishes in 32 career starts at “The Paperclip,” it’s hard to use him over someone like Denny Hamlin or Jimmie Johnson–especially when the speed isn’t there. Harvick was 23rd-fastest in Practice #1 on Saturday afternoon, and also ranked 23rd on the ten-lap average chart. In Happy Hour, he ended up 25th-fastest and had the 21st-best ten-lap average. I think Harvick could easily contend for a top 10 finish in Sunday’s First Data 500, but it’s hard to imagine the #4 Ford really challenging for the win.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Denny Hamlin, (3) Jimmie Johnson, (4) Martin Truex, Jr. (5) Brad Keselowski, (6) Matt Kenseth, (7) Joey Logano, (8) Kevin Harvick, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Post-Qualifying A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Denny Hamlin, (3) Martin Truex, Jr., (4) Brad Keselowski, (5) Joey Logano, (6) Jimmie Johnson, (7) Matt Kenseth, (8) Kevin Harvick, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
My Starter: Kyle Busch over Denny Hamlin
Yahoo! B Group Picks and Rankings for Martinsville 2
Chase Elliott (2 starts remaining) – If you have two or more Chase Elliott starts, I think you have to roster him this weekend. And if you start him, go ahead and plan on using another one at Texas next week. This #24 team is running the best they’ve ever ran right now, and don’t forget that Elliott finished a career-best 3rd here at “The Paperclip” back in April. Speed-wise, Chase looks pretty solid this weekend, as he was 5th-best in ten-lap average during Practice #2 on Saturday and then ranked 10th on that chart in Happy Hour. It took a few races here at Martinsville for Elliott to get things going in the right direction, but I think he’s finally got the hang of it.
Kyle Larson (1 starts remaining) – Kyle Larson looks to have a good car this weekend, but let’s not forget that we thought the exact same thing back in April, and despite starting on the pole in that race, Kyle led only 23 laps and ended up finishing 17th. The fact of the matter is that Martinsville isn’t a great track for Kyle Larson. Yes, he has that 3rd-place finish in last year’s spring race, but that’s his only finish better than 14th in seven total starts. As far as this weekend goes, I plan on rostering him for potential qualifying points only.
A.J. Allmendinger (7 starts remaining) – Aside from the road courses, Martinsville Speedway is A.J. Allmendinger’s best track on the circuit, and he makes an excellent start save option in Yahoo! this weekend. A.J. has a pair of 2nd-place finishes to his credit here (including one last season) and has ended up 11th or better in six of his seven starts here with JTG Daugherty Racing. That includes his 6th-place effort back in April, even though he qualified 30th that weekend. As far as practice speeds go this time around, Allmendinger was 9th-fastest in Practice #1 with the 7th-best ten-lap average, and he ranked 12th and 6th on those two charts (respectively) in Happy Hour.
Ryan Newman (7 starts remaining) – One surprise near the top of the practice chart on Saturday afternoon was Ryan Newman, who wound up 3rd-fastest in the first session and 11th-fastest in Happy Hour. In terms of ten-lap average, “The Rocketman” ranked 10th and 7th in those two sessions, respectively. Flat tracks are where Ryan Newman excels at, and the same can be said about Richard Childress Racing as a whole this season. Newman wound up 8th here at Martinsville back in April and has posted a finish of 10th or better in four of his last six starts at this track. I’ll be more than happy with a finish like that on Sunday if I’m able to save my B Group studs for the final three races.
Ryan Newman’s teammate, Austin Dillon, is a nice sleeper option this weekend, especially with how RCR has raced on the flat tracks this year. Austin has finished inside the top 5 in the last two spring races here at Martinsville and has posted four results of 15th or better in his seven career starts at this track. Additionally, Dillon has just one finish worse than 18th at this track. Speed-wise, the #3 Chevrolet was 15th-best in ten-lap average during Practice #1 this weekend and ranked 18th on that chart in Happy Hour.
You shouldn’t avoid Ryan Blaney like the plague this weekend, but at the same time, having only one top 10 finish on short tracks isn’t exactly the best statistic to be associated with. And even when this #21 Ford has shown speed during short track weekends, it seems like something always happens on race day. Here at Martinsville, Blaney has made three career Cup Series starts and has an average starting position of 11.3 with an average finishing position of 21st. With that being said, Ryan was 4th-fastest in the opening practice this weekend and had the 11th-best ten-lap average as well. He ranked 22nd and 15th on those two charts (respectively) in Happy Hour. You won’t find him on my roster for Sunday.
One B Group driver that makes a very good option this weekend is Jamie McMurray. Martinsville is one of his best tracks on the circuit, and the last time we were here, he actually had a top 5 car–that was until the #1 Chevrolet developed a tire rub about 100 laps into the race and went slamming into the wall. Still, the speed was there, and should be this weekend as well. McMurray finished 8th in this race one year ago and has wound up inside the top 10 in five of his last nine starts at “The Paperclip.” I’d probably roster him this weekend, but I only have one start left, and I’d rather use Jamie Mac at a 1.5-mile track.
On the flip side of McMurray is Kurt Busch, who simply isn’t very good at Martinsville, believe it or not. He did go to victory lane here back in 2014–with a half-wrecked race car, mind you–but that is Kurt’s only top 10 finish here in his last 23 starts. Yes, he has just one top 10 at Martinsville in the last 23 races, that is not a typo. Overall, Kurt’s average finish here is 21.7. This weekend, the #41 Ford was 26th-fastest in the first practice session of the weekend and then wound up 21st-fastest in Happy Hour. Kurt was 17th- and 26th-best in those two sessions (respectively) when it came to ten-lap average.
Meanwhile, Kurt Busch’s teammate, Clint Bowyer, is definitely an option at Martinsville this weekend, and will actually probably make my roster for Sunday. He started 8th and finished 7th in the race here back in April, and don’t forget that six of his eight races at Martinsville with Michael Waltrip Racing ended with Bowyer inside the top 10. Speed-wise, the #14 Ford ranked 4th-best in ten-lap average during Practice #1 on Saturday and was 5th-best on that chart in Happy Hour. Clint could have a very good run here in the First Data 500 if he can qualify near the front before the race.
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) Chase Elliott, (2) Kyle Larson, (3) Clint Bowyer, (4) Jamie McMurray, (5) Ryan Newman, (6) A.J. Allmendinger, (7) Austin Dillon, (8) Ryan Blaney, (9) Kasey Kahne, (10) Kurt Busch, (11) Paul Menard, (12) Aric Almirola, (13) Danica Patrick, (14) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (15) Trevor Bayne, (16) Chris Buescher
Post-Qualifying B Group Rankings: (1) Chase Elliott, (2) Clint Bowyer, (3) Kyle Larson, (4) Jamie McMurray, (5) Ryan Blaney, (6) Ryan Newman, (7) A.J. Allmendinger, (8) Austin Dillon, (9) Kasey Kahne, (10) Aric Almirola, (11) Kurt Busch, (12) Paul Menard, (13) Danica Patrick, (14) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (15) Trevor Bayne, (16) Chris Buescher
My Starters: Chase Elliott and Clint Bowyer over Kyle Larson and A.J. Allmendinger
Yahoo! C Group Picks and Rankings for Martinsville 2
Short tracks are still the best venues for start save options in the C Group to close out the year despite Erik Jones wrecking out himself, Daniel Suarez, and a load of others at Kansas last weekend to try and prove my theory wrong. Those two are still the best options this weekend, and if you have enough starts left, go ahead and use them. I’m personally down to one Erik Jones allocation left, and he won’t even make my roster. Unfortunately, looking at the rest of the C Group options, none look too appealing this weekend, so a good finish is going to come down to your driver having some luck on race day. For what it’s worth, David Ragan posted top 20 speeds in both practice sessions here on Saturday, but you can hardly trust him. With that being said, this #38 team did finish 21st at Dover a few weeks ago and also wound up 17th at Kansas last week, so that could be a good sign for them this weekend. Ragan came home 24th in the first Martinsville race this weekend. Michael McDowell showed some speed in the first practice session here on Saturday but wasn’t fast at all in Happy Hour. He started and finished 26th at Martinsville earlier this year. Of course, Ty Dillon is the best C Group option behind Suarez and Jones. He finished 22nd here in April and was 10th-fastest in the opening practice session this weekend. In Happy Hour, though, that #13 Chevrolet was bad. Chances are, I’m going to roster Ty Dillon and David Ragan this for Sunday.
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Erik Jones, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) David Ragan, (5) Michael McDowell, (6) Landon Cassill, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
Post-Qualifying C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Erik Jones, (3) Michael McDowell, (4) Ty Dillon, (5) David Ragan, (6) Landon Cassill, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
My Starter: Ty Dillon over David Ragan