The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season continues down its home stretch, and as we head back to Martinsville Speedway this weekend, just four races remain. Sunday’s First Data 500 is the first race of the Round of 8 of the playoffs, and it is also the final short track event of the year.
From a fantasy standpoint, short tracks can offer the opportunity to be a little more creative your lineups, but you probably won’t want to stray as far from the big names this weekend as you would at Bristol or Richmond. There has been a small group of drivers who have put together dominant stretches at Martinsville, and I plan to lean on them heavily this weekend.
The good news for fantasy owners, at least for the Fantasy Live contest, is that a couple of those Martinsville studs were eliminated from the playoffs last weekend at Kansas. With Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer now a part of the non-playoff pool drivers, you should be able to assemble a powerhouse lineup for Sunday’s race. Unless you are desperate to make up ground in your league and need to take some chances, I recommend sticking with the proven plays this weekend.
Depending on how you have been allocating your starts, things could be a little bit trickier in the Driver Group Game. If you have guys like Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney at your disposal, then I recommend using them Sunday, even if you are down to your final starts. On the flip side, I do think you can use Martinsville as an opportunity to save a start from Group C studs Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto.
For Slingshot Fantasy Auto, I valued past Martinsville success over pure place differential upside. Obviously, drivers who check both boxes jump to the top of the list, but I’d rather give up a few differential points to own a proven Martinsville stud. Of course, a major curveball could be coming if several drivers fail post-qualifying inspection. A driver with average numbers here becomes a lot more appealing if they are starting outside the Top 30.
Make sure to check back Sunday for any updated picks after the starting lineup becomes official, but in the meantime, here are my preliminary Fantasy NASCAR season-long lineups for the First Data 500 at Martinsville.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Kyle Busch (Playoff)
Since the start of the 2015 season, Busch has cracked the Top 5 in all nine of his starts at Martinsville, picking up a pair of wins and leading more laps than any other driver. Since NASCAR introduced stage racing, he has collected points in nine of the 10 at Martinsville, and his 68 total stage points in those races are the second most in the series. Starting 13th with a car that showed Top 5 speed in practice, this is a no-brainer pick.
Denny Hamlin (Playoff)
The five-time Martinsville winner has been knocking on the door of another win at the track. He was the runner-up in the fall race last year, finishing first and second in the two stages, and he finished fifth here in the spring, finishing fourth and third in the two stages. Hamlin ranks third with 60 total stage points at Martinsville, earning points in eight of the 10 segments. On the provisional pole, he’s a must-own option.
Brad Keselowski (Non-Playoff)
Keselowski won’t be winning a championship this year, but he can definitely help you win your fantasy league title. He has eight Top 10s and seven Top 5s in his last nine starts at Martinsville, and his 72 stage points and four stage wins here are the most in the series. Keselowski clobbered the field in the spring race at Martinsville, leading 446 of the 500 laps while sweeping both stage and winning the race. He is the top non-playoff option available, but if you want to fade the chalk to try to gain some ground, Erik Jones looked surprisingly stout in practice.
Clint Bowyer (Non-Playoff)
I won’t blame anyone who wants to stay on the Jimmie Johnson bandwagon this weekend, but I think Bowyer is the better play. He’s an excellent short track driver, and he has finished seventh or better in four of his five starts at Martinsville with Stewart-Haas Racing, winning the spring race in 2018. More importantly, Bowyer has earned points in eight of the 10 stages here, including both stages in this year’s spring race. Meanwhile, his 36 total stage points at Martinsville rank second among non-playoff options and are 16 more than the next closet driver. He had arguably the fastest car in practice Saturday and qualified seventh. I love him this weekend.
Garage Driver – Chase Elliott (Playoff)
He’s come close to winning at Martinsville on a couple of occasions, and he was the runner-up back in the spring race, finishing second and fourth in the two stages. He has earned points in seven of the 10 stages here, and his 47 total stage points rank fifth. If you are looking for alternatives, Martin Truex Jr. is always a high-floor, high-upside option, and Ryan Blaney is my favorite contrarian. Blaney has earned points in nine of the 10 stages at Martinsville, and he ranks fourth with 55 total stage points earned. Yes, he’s starting in the back after losing an engine in practice, but he had one of the strongest cars in Happy Hour.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kyle Busch (A)
His consistency at Martinsville has been in a league of its own, and Busch has reeled off eight straight Top 5s at the track, winning twice and posting a 2.9 average finish in that stretch. His 68 stage points at Martinsville rank second overall, and he has earned points in all but one segment here. This is my final start from Busch, but I believe this is the best remaining track to use him. If you don’t have Busch available, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott would be my top alternatives.
Denny Hamlin (B)
Hamlin has been one of the best to ever get behind the wheel at Martinsville. He is a five-time winner here, and he has finished second and fifth in his last two starts at the track. He also ranks third with 60 stage points, earning points in eight of the 10 segments and logging two stage wins. Throw in the fact that he might be the hottest driver in the series and is on the provisional pole, and Hamlin checks all the boxes you look for in a fantasy option. If you have any starts left from him, I recommend using one this weekend. If Hamlin is off the table, Jimmie Johnson is should be a safe, solid alternative.
Ryan Blaney (B)
I went back and forth between Blaney and Clint Bowyer, but with Blaney still being alive in the playoffs, I think he offers a little more upside, especially after qualifying sixth. Plus, he’s been strong at Martinsville. He has cracked the Top 5 in two of the last three races here, and he finished fourth back in March, earning 15 stage points. Blaney actually ranks fourth with 55 total stage points at Martinsville, earning points in nine of the 10 segments and accumulating 19 more stage points than Bowyer. If you are hurting for Group B options, Erik Jones and Aric Almirola are a couple of high-risk, high-reward plays that could be worth a roll of the dice after strong showings in practice.
Ryan Preece (C)
I’m saving my final starts from Chris Buescher for Texas and Homestead, and while I have one start left with Matt DiBenedetto, I think my best strategy is to save him for Phoenix and try to steal a Top 20 out of Preece this weekend. He has been running better recently, posting a 19.0 average finish over the last 10 races. He also finished 16th at Martinsville in the spring. If you don’t trust Preece, Ty Dillon is the driver I’d consider as an alternative to Buescher and DiBenedetto, but I thought Preece looked better on the practice charts, and he starts eight spots better.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Brad Keselowski ($11,800)
I like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, Keselowski is significantly cheaper and also has a decent amount of place differential upside and an elite resume at Martinsville. He clobbered the field here in the spring, and after qualifying 15th, I’m expecting him to gain double-digit spots and deliver some stage points.
Denny Hamlin ($11,700)
I normally don’t roster the pole-sitter in this format, but I am going to roll the dice with Hamlin. The five-time Martinsville winner appears to have one of the best cars this weekend, and I am going to bank on him piling up a lot of stage points and winning the race.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,900)
The nine-time Martinsville winner is no longer unstoppable here, but he does have seven Top 15s in the last eight races here. Rolling off 24th, Johnson has the place differential category working in his favor. I like his floor.
Ryan Newman ($9,200)
He is one of the best at grinding out solid finishes, especially at flat tracks, and Newman has a 13.5 average finish in his last 10 starts at Martinsville. He has finished 16th or better in seven of those starts, cracking the Top 10 five times. Starting 27th, I think he can push for a Top 15 and earn 20-plus differential points.
Ty Dillon ($7,000)
Dillon starts back in 29th, but he has finished 22nd or better in four of his five starts at Martinsville, logging back-to-back Top 15s. I think he can challenge for a mid-pack finish and gain around 20 differential points.