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FANTASY: Chasing the Tail

Thursday, October 25, 2012
Jimmie Johnson edged Denny Hamlin back in 2009 for the win at Martinsville Speedway. Photo: Getty Images

Tums Fast Relief 500 Fantasy Preview

Round ... and around ... and around ... and around.  If you like cars going in circles, this weekend's Tums Fast Relief 500 is for you!

Martinsville Speedway is the shortest of short tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at just 0.526 miles.  While the race itself is listed as a "500," it's actually the shortest non-road course race of the season at 263 miles.  The number refers to the laps, not the miles.  As I said, if you like cars driving in lots and lots of circles, this is your race.

Bristol Motor Speedway also runs 500-lap races, so Martinsville doesn't stand alone on the podium in terms of most laps, but the races are vastly different.  Bristol has large banking and the cars roll around it like pinballs.  Martinsville is a flatter track with tighter, hairpin turns; it's almost like a small version of New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Its setup puts a lot of emphasis on driver ability.  Whereas Bristol involves a lot of traded paint and takes an answered prayer to avoid wrecks, Martinsville is much more about a driver's ability to make the most of the short straightaways and tight corners.  It's not impossible to pass, but it does take skill and timing to move up in the race.

When it comes to picking fantasy drivers, this should be an easier track to make a pick and stick to it.  More than most any other track on the circuit, there seems to be a certain set of drivers that do well here over and over again.  Not coincidentally, the faces that appear regularly in Martinsville's victory lane are those that are often considered among the series most talented drivers.

Strategy: The statistics rarely lie at Martinsville.  This is a track where team owners should go with what has been proven to work, even if you're trying to make up ground in the point standings.  If you stray away from what appears to work best, you'll find yourself falling off the pace.

A-List

Start

#11 Denny Hamlin - The Virginia native does very well at this track with four wins and nine top-fives in 14 starts.  He really needs to pick up win number five if he's going to make a run at the Cup this season.

#24 Jeff Gordon - The No. 24 ran very well at this track in April, leading 329 laps, but was taken out on a late restart and finished 14th.  He has seven career wins and 25 top-fives in 39 starts at Martinsville, so his strong performance was of little surprise.

#48 Jimmie Johnson - As well as the previous two drivers have run at this track, Johnson has been even better with a 5.8 average finish.  That includes six wins in 21 races, which means he wins nearly once in every three starts.  It's been seven starts since he's won here, so he's overdue at this point.

Park

#17 Matt Kenseth - It's too bad Kenseth was in such a hole early in the Chase.  Having won two of the last three races, he really has made a case to be the series' best driver.  However, he's not close to being the best here with just three top-fives in 25 Martinsville starts.

B-List

Start

#15 Clint Bowyer - A lone top-five in 13 career starts at this track is nothing to write home about.  That said, he has seven top-10s in the last 11 races here.  With how shallow the B-List is, consistency is something to consider.

#31 Jeff Burton - Ouch.  It's really a sign of just how little the B-List has to offer that I'm dusting off The Mayor as an option this week.  Burton hasn't had the bounce-back season for which he'd hoped, but with starts running out on most everyone, his 88.9 Martinsville driver rating is third-best on the B-List, so he's an option.

#39 Ryan Newman - Don't go expecting another win like he got in April, as it was Newman's first in 21 races at the Ridgeway, Va. speedway.  However, his seven top-fives and a 90.1 driver rating at the track make him a solid option.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - He's back and just in time for fantasy owners.  His 100.1 driver rating is a full 10 points better than any other B-List driver at Martinsville (the aforementioned Newman).  If you played the allocation game right, you probably have a few left with his absence the past two weeks and should be able to deploy him for this one.

Park

#5 Kasey Kahne - He has twice as many DNFs (four) as he does top-10s (two) in 17 Martinsville races.  What hope he has left to win the Cup hinges on an unexpectedly strong finish this weekend.  He finished 38th in April's race at this track, just in case you wondered if maybe he was close to figuring it out.

#16 Greg Biffle - It'd be a lie to say I wasn't disappointed in Biffle.  It seems like most of the times I started him recently, he let me down and I'm now out of Biff starts on my team, having gotten little return.  If you still have some left, don't use one this weekend.  He has an ugly pair of top-10s in 19 Martinsville races.

C-List

Start

#43 Aric Almirola - An eighth-place finish at Martinsville earlier this year gives him some credit; a strong showing before a wreck at Kansas last week gives him some more.  He's definitely a good option.

#55 Brian Vickers - Racing with something to prove this season, Vickers has three top-fives in seven starts.  He only managed an 18th in the April race at Martinsville, but I'm willing to give him a mulligan.

Park

#13 Casey Mears - Go ahead and ignore that he has two top-10s in the 11 most recent races at this track.  Both of those came in 2008 in far better equipment.

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The picks in this blog are based around Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game and its standard scoring rules.  The preview is designed to provide suggestions, while still encouraging managers to make their own decisions.  Once sorted into Yahoo's A, B and C-Lists, they are organized based on car number and not directly associated with a rank value.