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Geoffrey Miller breaks down the best Fantasy NASCAR picks for Martinsville Speedway
To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its Sprint Cup Series driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s nine-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned drivers strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.
Next: Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 (Martinsville Speedway)
Race: 500 laps, 263 miles (.526-mile oval)
April 2013 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
A-List (Pick two, start one)
The groans have officially started. Jimmie Johnson emerged unscathed from Talladega Superspeedway with a decent finish and even larger points lead. The road to No. 6 seems to be growing ever clearer for the five-time champ — especially with Martinsville Speedway this weekend.
The 35,000-foot look at Johnson's performance is one revealing utter domination. He has seven wins at the track in the last 14 races and eight for his career. Only seven times has he failed to finish worse than fifth. It gets worse for the competition, too: Johnson dominated the spring race by leading 346 laps and averaging a running position of first. He never crossed the start/finish line worse than fifth during the 500-lap race.
Clint BowyerMartinsville's unique layout with the long straightaways and ultra-tight corners requires a pretty specific and repeatable rhythm behind the wheel in order to run fast. Jimmie Johnson has obviously found that groove, and it's not a stretch to think Clint Bowyer is gaining on what it takes to lead and win.
In Bowyer's last five Martinsville starts, he's finished worse than 10th just once. He's also reeled off consecutive top-5 finishes thanks to 154 laps led in the fall race a year ago and a second-place run this past spring. That's even an improvement from a respectable career at the track that has provided an average finish of 13.2 in 15 starts.
Also consider: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth
B-List (Pick four, start two)
There were two drivers in the spring Martinsville race that completed every lap in the top 15. One of them won the race. The other, Kyle Busch, finished fifth. Busch led 56 laps that day and never sank lower than 12th. Busch, never a winner at Martinsville, seems to be getting closer. A year ago he finished second and in the spring 2012 race he was running near the front when a rear track bar broke. In the fall 2011 race, he led 126 laps before a loose wheel broke off and he crashed. With some luck, Busch might challenge for a win.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.A common story coming to Martinsville Speedway is the one told about Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s second start during his rookie season at the track. Earnhardt was a part of three crashes — the final one featured his No. 8 ramping over Dave Blaney's car and into the Turn 1 wall with 20 laps left — and famously even hit a tow truck during one of his garage visits. But for all of the talk about Earnhardt's troubles that day, he's been decidedly able at Martinsville in recent portions of his career, save for his last two finishes. Earnhardt has five top-15 finishes at Martinsville since 2010 and boasts a B-List best 12.3 average finish in the last 17 races. He's still searching for a win, however.
Ryan Newman's recent history at Martinsville has one highlight — his win in the 2012 spring race — and a few disappointments, thanks largely to unexpected problems. In the spring race, he suffered a flat tire and other problems that left him eight laps down. However, if Newman can manage to score a lead lap finish on Sunday's race, there's a good chance he'll knock in a top-10 finish. Newman has 15 career lead lap finishes on the half-mile and 11 of them have produced top-10 finishes. Newman also holds the third-best average running position at Martinsville (14.8) in the last 17 races.
Jamie McMurrayThanks to his win Sunday at Talladega, Jamie McMurray is already having a pretty good week. Should he replicate his spring Martinsville performance on Sunday, it'll get even better. McMurray was the highest-finishing B-List driver in April with a seventh-place run. It was an all-around good day for McMurray, as he started 13th and steadily moved forward. For his career, McMurray averages a 17th-place finish at Martinsville.
Also consider: Mark Martin, Jeff Burton
C-List (Pick two, start one)
The career history of Elliott Sadler in the Cup Series at Martinsville doesn't bode too well for his debut this weekend as a relief driver for Brian Vickers in the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55. Sadler, in 24 starts, has notched just three top 10s. But Sadler is a C-List driver who gets to wheel a car that finished 11th at Martinsville in April with Vickers behind the wheel. Even he manages just a top-20 from the effort, it'll be a start that's at least as successful as any other in the C-List.
Danica Patrick has one career start and thus one career finish at Martinsville Speedway. It's not exactly the most revelatory of a database for a driver who has struggled so mightily for much of the season. Patrick, however, scored her second-best finish of 2013 back in April when she finished on the lead lap in 12th. The finish was more a lesson in Patrick picking off spots from those ahead of her through attrition, but it's still a reasonable feat for any rookie at the tight track. If Patrick can replicate the feat Sunday, it'll be a major win for C-List players who start her.
Also consider: David Ragan, Casey Mears
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.