Fantasy NASCAR: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway Driver Rankings

Fantasy NASCAR expert Brian Polking gets you ready for some short track action under the lights with his Driver Rankings for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Oct 27, 2018; Martinsville, VA, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. (78) and NASCAR Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer (14) during the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Sandwiched between last Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and next weekend’s trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway, the Cup Series will make a stop at Martinsville Speedway Wednesday night. The flat, half-mile track will host the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500, and while the paperclip-shaped oval is the shortest and slowest on the schedule, it can deliver plenty of action.

From a fantasy standpoint, short tracks like Martinsville can always be a bit of a wild card. Attrition tends to be higher, and certain drivers have much higher ceilings than they do at larger ovals. While it can force you to adjust your lineup strategies a bit, it is also a golden opportunity to save some starts from the top drivers in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.

Granted, many of the top drivers still have excellent resumes at Martinsville, but as we saw at Bristol, there is a much higher likelihood of surprise names popping up in and around the Top 10 at short tracks. Christopher Bell and Bubba Wallace ninth and tenth, respectively, and Ryan Preece, John Hunter Nemechek and Michael McDowell landed inside the Top 15.

I plan on using some alternative options in all three tiers in the Driver Group Game, and even in Fantasy Live, I am probably going to use three or four drivers who I won’t use the maximum number of times over the course of the year. You can sprinkle in a few studs, but you should be able to post big points totals Wednesday without relying solely on the big names.

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1. Brad Keselowski

Keselowski won the spring race at Martinsville last year, leading 446 of the 500 laps in the process. He followed the victory up with a third-place effort in the fall race, giving him seven Top 5s in his last eight starts here. Keselowski can anchor any fantasy lineup Wednesday night.

2. Denny Hamlin

The five-time Martinsville winner remains one of the most reliable fantasy options at the paperclip-shaped track. He has six Top 5s in the last 10 races here, including three straight, and he has led laps in eight of the races in that stretch. Hamlin can carry season-long and DFS lineups this weekend.

3. Chase Elliott

He still hasn’t won a race at Martinsville, but he has come close on a number of occasions, including a runner-up effort last spring when he led 49 laps. Elliott has been stout at flat tracks in general throughout his career, and nobody has been faster week in and week out in 2020. He could get the Martinsville monkey off his back Wednesday night.

4. Martin Truex Jr.

Truex smashed the field in the fall race here last year, sweeping both stages and leading 464 of the 500 laps on his way to the win. The victory was his fourth Top 5 in his last five starts at Martinsville and fifth straight Top 10. Truex is also the only driver who has finished on the lead lap in each of the last 10 races here.

5. Kyle Busch

A 14th-place finish at Martinsville last fall snapped a streak of eight straight Top 5 finishes at the track for Busch. He has two wins during that span, and he has led at least 100 laps four times. Busch hasn’t quite been his dominant self so far in 2020, but the Top 5 upside is still there.

6. Joey Logano

Logano has been locked in at Martinsville recently, finishing 11th or better in seven of the last 10 races here. He has led 20-plus laps six times and 100-plus laps three times in that span, leading 309 laps in a win here in the fall of 2018. Logano could prove particularly valuable in DFS contests.

7. Ryan Blaney

He has been trending in the right direction at Martinsville, logging four Top 10s and three Top 5s in his last five starts here. Blaney notched Top 5 finishes in both races here last year, finishing in the Top 5 in all four stages.

8. Kevin Harvick

Martinsville isn’t on his list of best tracks, but Harvick has reeled off five straight Top 10s here. I wouldn’t use him in Fantasy Live or the Driver Group Game, but he should still deliver a solid finish.

9. Clint Bowyer

Bowyer does some of his best work at short tracks, and Martinsville has been no exception. He has four finishes of seventh or better in six starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing, and led 215 laps in a win in the spring of 2018. Bowyer should be on your short list of Group B options in the DGG.

10. Kurt Busch

His overall numbers at Martinsville haven’t been great, but Busch has been enjoying one of his better stretches at the track. He has finished 12th or better in four straight starts here, logging a pair of sixth-place finishes. Busch should contend for a Top 10.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

11. Jimmie Johnson

Johnson had a pair of rough outings at Martinsville last year, but he had reeled off seven straight Top 15 finishes at the track prior to 2019. He is a nine-time Martinsville winner for his career, and with Johnson running as well as he has in several seasons, I think he could turn back the clock a bit this weekend adn be a surprise Top 5 threat.

12. Alex Bowman

He has one Top 10 in six starts at Martinsville, but he has Top 15 finishes in both spring races here in the No. 88. Bowman has also been solid at flat tracks in general, and he has been showing high-end speed all year. I’d save him for the 1.5-mile tracks in the Driver Group Game, but don’t be surprised if he runs in the Top 10.

13. Aric Almirola

Almirola has notched three Top 15s in four starts at Martinsville with Stewart-Haas Racing, logging a ninth-place finish last spring. He isn’t the driver to target if you are looking for upside, but Almirola can be a fallback Group B option in the Driver Group Game.

14. William Byron

After finishing 20th or worse in his first three starts at Martinsville, Byron delivered a runner-up effort here last fall, finishing sixth in both stages. Hendrick Motorsports has always run well at Martinsville, and the organization has been fast all season. Byron isn’t a sure thing, but his upside makes him a potential X-factor for fantasy lineups, especially in GPP contests at the DFS sites.

15. Ryan Newman

He isn’t a flashy pick, but Newman can typically be counted on for a decent finish at Martinsville. He has a 14.2 average finish in the last 10 races here, and he has only finished outside the Top 20 twice in that span. Newman also has two Top 10s in his last three Martinsville starts. If you are saving starts from the top Group B options in the DGG, he’s a high-floor alternative.

16. Matt DiBenedetto

DiBenedetto had some of his best runs at short tracks and flat tracks last year, and he picked up a pair of Top 20s at Martinsville, including a 16th-place run in the fall. He is essentially driving Team Penske equipment this year, and I have all three Penske cars ranked in my Top 6. Needless to say, DiBenedetto could be a sleeping giant and a sneaky Group B play in the DGG.

17. Tyler Reddick

Reddick will be making his first start at Martinsville, but the rookie has impressed all year. Yes, he crashed out at Bristol in the first short track event, but wrecks happen at short tracks. I expect Reddick to be in the mix for a Top 15, but I also recommend saving him in the Driver Group Game for a track where attrition tends to be lower.

18. Erik Jones

Joe Gibbs Racing has had a lot of success at Martinsville, but Jones has been an exception. He has a 21.8 average finish in six starts here, and he hasn’t even cracked the Top 15 since his debut. At best, Jones could be a DFS dart throw if he starts deeper in the field.

19. Austin Dillon

Dillon has had a couple of solid runs at Martinsville, including an 11th-place run last spring when he gained 18 spots. On the flip side, there have also been plenty of bad finishes, and he has failed to crack the Top 20 in three of the last four races here. The inconsistent results are worrisome, but Dillon has been running well in 2020. If he starts outside the Top 25, I’m willing to roll the dice on him in DFS contests.

20. Christopher Bell

I touted Bell’s short track prowess at the XFINITY level prior to the race at Bristol, and the rookie delivered, driving from 35th to ninth. Another Top 10 in his Martinsville debut may be asking a bit much, but he certainly brings some upside. Dial him up as a Group C option in the Driver Group Game.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

21. Chris Buescher

Buescher has been solid, not special, at Martinsville since moving to decent equipment. In six starts here since 2017, he has three Top 15s and hasn’t finished worse than 23rd. Buescher is firmly on the list of qualifying-dependent DFS options.

22. Matt Kenseth

Kenseth had several strong runs at Martinsville throughout his career, but a majority of those came while he was driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. His most recent result here was a 23rd-place effort for Roush Fenway Racing, and while I think he can be a serviceable Group C option in the DGG, I wouldn’t bank on more than a Top 20 out of him Wednesday.

23. John Hunter Nemechek

I thought Nemechek was overachieving prior to the break when he was cracking the Top 25. He’s been battling for Top 15s since NASCAR’s return, and he finished 13th at Bristol. Nemcheck also won a Truck race at Martinsville in 2018. I think he will be able to handle himself just fine Wednesday. I love him as a Group C option in the DGG and as a DFS sleeper.

24. Bubba Wallace

After struggling in both starts at Martinsville as a rookie, Wallace delivered a pair of solid efforts at the short track in 2019. He gained nine spots and finished 17th in the spring race, and he gained 13 spots and finished 13th in the fall. Throw in his 10th-place effort at Bristol a little over a week ago, and Wallace could be a useful source of cap relief in Slingshot or at the DFS sites if his starting spot is right.

25. Ryan Preece

Preece delivered a couple of Top 20s at Martinsville in 2019, including a 16th-place run in the spring race. A mid-pack finish is probably his ceiling again Wednesday, but if he starts deep enough in the field, there could be some DFS appeal.

26. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Aside from a pair of 10th-place finishes at Martinsville in 2017, Stenhouse has had his issues at the track. He has a 27.0 average finish in 14 starts overall, and he has finished 25th or worse nine times. Stenhouse is no more than a shot-in-the-dark DFS plays.

27. Ty Dillon

Dillon has managed a couple of Top 15 runs at Martinsville recently, but he owns a 21.0 average finish in six starts. He won’t get it done on raw speed or talent, but he does have a knack for stealing decent finishes if attrition takes its toll on the field. If he starts towards the back, he is someone to throw into DFS lineups to save some cap space.

28. Cole Custer

There have been a few high points and some low ones for Custer in his rookie season, but more often than not, he lands right around the 20th spot. The mid-pack floor gives him some value in the Driver Group Game, but I don’t know what to expect out of him at Martinsville. I’d rather go with Christopher Bell or John Hunter Nemechek as my Group C play if you want to save Tyler Reddick.

29. Michael McDowell

McDowell has managed to land in the Top 25 on a regular basis across his eight Martinsville starts, but there’s not a ton of upside here. He will need to roll off outside the Top 30 before he lands on my radar in DFS contests.

30. Corey LaJoie

LaJoie needs some attrition to be more than a 25th-place driver, and Martinsville is a track that could provide it. He gained 18 spots and finished 18th in the fall race last year, and if he starts outside the Top 30 Wednesday, LaJoie could be worth a flier as a DFS punt play.