After a wild finish at Kansas that saw Brad Keselowski bounced from the playoffs, the Round of 8 will get rolling this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. The flat, paperclip-shaped half-mile is the smallest and slowest track on the schedule, but as we have seen in recent years, there will be no shortage of drama and excitement in Sunday’s First Data 500.
Short tracks naturally lend themselves to a physical brand of racing, but when a win means a guaranteed spot in the Championship 4 and a shot at championship, the bumping and banging goes to another level.
While I fully expect a few drivers to leave Sunday’s race with hurt feelings, Martinsville does tend to be a fantasy-friendly track overall. A select group of drivers have been able to put together impressive resumes here, and while several of those drivers are your typical big names, there are also some midrange drivers who excel at Martinsville.
I plan to take full advantage of these Martinsville masters across all the season-long Fantasy NASCAR contests. Don’t forget that the latest round of eliminations means that we have four new drivers added to the non-playoff pool at Fantasy Live. We have reached the point that you should be getting stage points and strong finishes out of both your playoff and non-playoff plays in this contest.
1. Kyle Busch
Busch has is enjoying a dominant stretch at Martinsville, and his third-place finish here in the spring was his eighth straight Top 5 finish at the track. He has picked up a pair of wins during the same span, leading a series-best 937 laps and leading at least 100 laps four times. Busch should be considered the No. 1 fantasy option in all formats.
2. Brad Keselowski
He put an incredible beatdown on the field in the spring race at Martinsville, leading 446 of the 500 laps on his way to the win. Keselowski has seven Top 5s and eight Top 10s in his last nine starts here, topping 100 laps led four times. He should be an excellent option in season-long and DFS formats, and after his surprising playoff exit, he should be locked into one of your non-playoff spots for Fantasy Live.
3. Denny Hamlin
The five-time Martinsville winner remains one of the most reliable fantasy options at the short track, and he has finished 12th or better and lead laps in eight of the last 10 races here. Hamlin has five Top 5s in that same stretch, including a second-place run last fall and a fifth-place in the spring.
4. Martin Truex Jr.
A last-lap bump from Joey Logano cost him the win at Martinsville last fall, but Truex has still built a strong resume at the track. He has finished eighth or better in seven of his last nine starts here, leading double-digit laps five times and cracking the Top 5 in three of his last four starts.
5. Chase Elliott
He’s developed into one of the stronger flat track performers, and Elliott has finished 12th or better in five of his last six starts at Martinsville, notching three straight Top 10s. Elliott led 49 laps and finished second in the spring race earlier this year, and he will have Top 5 upside again this weekend.
6. Joey Logano
Logano is the defending winner of the fall race here, leading a race-high 309 laps in the process. He has finished 11th or better in seven of his last 10 starts here, leading 20-plus laps in seven of those starts and 100-plus laps three times. Logano also has seven front row starts in that span, including five poles, so keep him in mind when hunting for qualifying points in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.
7. Kevin Harvick
Martinsville won’t qualify as his best track by any means, but Harvick does have four straight Top 10s here, and he has finished sixth or better three times in that span. I wouldn’t burn up a start from Harvick in the Driver Group Game or use him as a playoff option in Fantasy Live, but I do expect a solid finish.
8. Clint Bowyer
He has always been at his best on short tracks, and Martinsville has been no exception. Bowyer has finished seventh or better in four of his five starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing, leading 215 laps in a win in the spring race last season. I like him as a Group B option for the DGG, and I love him as a non-playoff option for Fantasy Live.
9. Ryan Blaney
Blaney has been coming on strong at Martinsville, and he has finished eighth or better in three of his last four starts at the track. He led 145 laps and finished third in the spring race last year, and he finished fourth in the spring race this season. Blaney has sneaky Top 5 upside, and he is a great target for fantasy owners looking to go with contrarian options to try to gain ground late in the season.
10. Jimmie Johnson
He has a miserable run at Martinsville back in the spring, but Johnson’s career numbers here are incredible, and he has been running much better in the second half of the season. Throw out his wreck at Talladega, and he has finished 11th or better in the other five playoff races thus far. The nine-time Martinsville winner should be a solid option in season-long contests.
11. Kurt Busch
Busch has been an all-or-nothing option at Martinsville for most of his career, but he has actually finished 12th or better in each of his last three starts. Granted, he only has three Top 5s in 38 starts here, but two of those were wins. His high ceiling could make him a great season-long option for fantasy owners trying to make a late-season push.
12. Aric Almirola
Even when he was driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, Almirola was usually able to crack the Top 20 at Martinsville. Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, his performance has jumped up a notch at the track. Almirola has cracked the Top 15 in all three of his starts here in the No. 10, finishing ninth here in the spring. He offers a safe floor as a Group B option in the DGG.
13. Alex Bowman
Bowman has had some strong runs at flat tracks in his career, but he has just been solid, not spectacular, at Martinsville. He has finished seventh, 17th and 14th in three starts here in the No. 88, so you can’t count on a Top 10. If you are running low starts from Bowman in the DGG, you are better off saving him for Texas and Phoenix.
14. Ryan Newman
He isn’t a flashy pick, but Newman can typically be counted on for a decent finish at Martinsville. He has a 13.5 average finish in his last 10 starts here, and he has finished 16th or better seven times in that stretch, notching five Top 10s. For fantasy owners who have burned up all their starts from the elite Group B options in the DGG, Newman is a solid alternative this weekend.
15. Daniel Suarez
The sample size isn’t huge, but Suarez has been trending in the right direction at Martinsville. He has finished 18th or better in four straight starts here, finishing ninth in the fall race last year and 10th in the spring race earlier this season. Suarez could be worth a roll of the dice as a Group B sleeper in the Driver Group Game.
16. Erik Jones
Joe Gibbs Racing has been excellent as an organization at Martinsville, but for whatever reason, Jones just hasn’t had much success here. He has a 22.2 average finish in five starts, and he has finished 26th or worse three times. Jones is talented enough to have a breakout run, but he’s a boom-or-bust, DFS-only option for me this weekend.
17. Kyle Larson
Martinsville might be his worst track on the schedule, and Larson just can’t seem to handle long runs here. He has a 23.6 average finish in 11 career starts, and he has managed just a single Top 10. Larson has finished outside the Top 15 in his last five Martinsville starts, and I don’t expect to use him much in any fantasy format this weekend.
18. Matt DiBenedetto
His career numbers at Martinsville leave a lot to be desired, but he finished 20th here in the spring in his first start at the track in the No. 95. Considering how much better DiBenedetto has been in the second half of the year, a Top 15 run could certainly be on tap Sunday. If you have the starts to spare, target him as a Group C option in the Driver Group Game.
19. William Byron
Martinsville has been an Achilles’ heel for Byron early in his career. He has finished 20th or worse in all three starts, posting a 27.0 average finish. Of course, the sophomore enters Sunday’s race running better than he ever has, and Hendrick Motorsports is typically solid here. I’m expecting to see his best run at Martinsville to date this weekend, but he is a still a roll-of-the-dice fantasy play this weekend.
20. Paul Menard
Menard has mainly been a mid-pack performer at Martinsville in his career, but he has cracked the Top 15 in two of his three starts here with the Wood Brothers. I don’t think he has enough of a ceiling to use in most season-long contests, but he could be a serviceable cash game option at the DFS sites if he qualifies outside the Top 20.
21. Austin Dillon
He finished 30th in both Martinsville races last year, but Dillon has actually been a decent DFS option here recently. He has finished 18th or better and gained at least 12 spots in six of his last eight starts here, gaining 18 spots and finishing 11th here in the spring. Dillon could also be a solid option in Slingshot Fantasy Auto if he qualifies in the back.
22. Chris Buescher
Buescher has been a little better at Martinsville since joining JTG Daugherty Racing, logging a pair of Top 15s and three finishes between 21st and 23rd in five starts. A Top 20 finish is a reasonable expectation, but if you are running low on starts from Buescher in the Driver Group Game, you should absolutely save him for Texas and Homestead.
23. Ryan Preece
There haven’t been a lot of memorable moments for Preece during his rookie year, but he did have a solid showing at Martinsville back in the spring, starting 15th and finishing 16th. Keep Preece in mind as a source of cap relief at the DFS sites and as a Group C sleeper for the DGG.
24. Ty Dillon
Dillon has quietly been a Top 20 driver in recent weeks, and he has notched back-to-back Top 15s at Martinsville. You shouldn’t ever expect a Top 15 out of Dillon, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him challenge for a Top 20. I like him as a potential alternative to the top Group C options in the DGG and a cheap DFS play.
25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Aside from the 2017 season when Stenhouse delivered a pair of surprise 10th-place finishes at Martinsville, he has struggled just to crack the Top 20 at the track. He finished 25th in the March race earlier this year, and a mid-pack finish is likely his ceiling. I don’t expect to use him in season-long contests.
26. Bubba Wallace
Wallace finished 34th in both of his starts at Martinsville last year, but he jumped up to 17th in the spring race this season. Based on his typical results this year, another Top 20 finish could be a bit of a reach. However, Wallace could be worth a look as a DFS lottery ticket if he qualifies deep in the field.
27. Daniel Hemric
The rookie had a forgettable Martinsville debut in March. He started 27th and finished 28th, four laps off the pace. With a little more experience under his belt, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hemric improve a bit. Still, I wouldn’t expect more than a Top 25 out of him. He’s a reach in fantasy circles.
28. David Ragan
Ragan has put up his typical numbers at Martinsville. He has finished 28th or better in all five of his starts here in the No. 38, finishing no better than 24th in four of those starts. At best, he could be a low-ceiling DFS punt play.
29. Michael McDowell
He managed to sneak into the Top 20 in a couple of his starts at Martinsville in the No. 95, but he has finished outside the Top 20 in all three of his starts here in the No. 34. McDowell finished 31st in the spring race earlier this year, and a Top 25 is probably the best-case scenario.
30. Matt Tifft
Tifft made his first Cup start at Martinsville earlier this year, and he ended up finishing a forgettable 29th. I’m expecting a similar showing out of the rookie this weekend, and if you are hunting for punt plays at the DFS sites, I think you are better off with either of his Front Row Motorsports teammates.