There's a certain art to short-track racing that brings most drivers back to their roots. Similar to Bristol Motor Speedway two weeks ago, Martinsville Speedway in Virginia is more about good, old-fashioned bumping and shoving your way to a win.
At a Cup level that so often rewards the state-of-the-art machines with the best funding, short tracks still put an emphasis on overall driver ability. I mean, it's certainly not a coincidence that those with the best overall driving ability often end up in the most pristine cars, but this is the kind of track that reminds us what got these drivers to the levels they're at now.
Push just about any driver for a pre-Cup career story and you'll probably hear about how he crashed his way to a victory on some half-mile (if that) track that was lucky to have asphalt. These types of tracks are abundant in New England.
Lee USA Speedway in Lee, N.H., hosted a K&N Pro Series East race as recently as 2010; the Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre, Vt., serves as the home for the regional American-Canadian Tour; and, Kyle Busch made an off-week appearance last year at Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford, Maine, for a late-model race.
Down in Virginia, Martinsville might have much bigger grandstands, but it's still speaks to a similar history. It opened in 1947, hosted its first NASCAR race on July 4, 1948, and latched on to what would become the Cup Series during its inaugural season in 1949. While most of the average speedways that have sprung up since get tagged as cookie-cutters, Martinsville is anything but.
If we're talking household objects, Martinsville is a paper clip. It has short tight corners coupled with flat straightaways (like a small version of NHMS). It's a totally different beast than the similarly-sized Bristol, which is laid out more like a roller derby arena. The cars don't go overly fast, but the play between the gas and brake, especially getting in and out of the corners, is the difference between running up front and running a lap down.
It's evident that this track is one on which a driver either a) knows how to drive or b) does not. Those that have figured it out rarely ever miss the top-10; those that never have rarely do well enough to command a post-race mention. Most of the unforeseen factors that affect race outcomes seem to get left behind when the drivers hit this track.
Strategy: The stats don't usually lie at Martinsville. Sure, there's an element of luck involved in every race, but a lot of it seems to get cut out on a small track like this one. You'll probably want to stick to the numbers this week. If you get burned by bad luck, that's racing. If you get burned by taking risks, that's on you.
#11 Denny Hamlin - More than just about anyone, the Virginia native loves his home state tracks (Richmond being the other one). He has an average finish of 6.5 at Martinsville with four wins and 11 top-10s in 13 starts.
#24 Jeff Gordon - Gordon has had a terrible start to the year, but he's too good to struggle much longer. This would be the perfect time for him to snap out of his funk. He has a crazy 25 top-fives and 31 top-10s with a total of seven wins in 38 starts at Martinsville.
#48 Jimmie Johnson - As gaudy as Hamlin and Gordon's numbers look at Martinsville, Johnson's 5.5 average finish actually tops both of them. He has six wins in 20 starts, but more incredibly, he has 18 top-10s; that's 90% of his starts!
#18 Kyle Busch - The younger Busch has six top-fives in 14 starts at this track, but just one more top-10 and an average finish of 16.4. Why mess around with inconsistency when you can take your pick of the drivers above?
#1 Jamie McMurray - McMurray is the darkhorse pick of the week, if you will. The B-List gets taxed so quickly that you're sometimes better off thinking outside the box on a start, now and again, to save some of your top driver's allocations. McMurray has just one top-five, but 10 top-10s in 18 starts, so he finishes a lot in the 6-10 band. That's not bad at all for the B-List.
#20 Joey Logano - The problem with most everywhere Logano goes is that there's a small sample size compared to most drivers. His 13.8 average finish at this track puts him second among the B-List's entries this week, so he's worth considering.
#39 Ryan Newman - I think of Newman as a driver's driver; the kind of guy that does well on tracks where he needs to out drive the competition. (He tends to fair well at a track like NHMS, where he's required to do that). A total of 10 top-10s in 20 Martinsville starts isn't dominant, but it's comparable to most of the B's.
#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - For all the times I'll encourage players to wait on Junior, this is a week where I'm waving the green flag like it's about to get blown away. When it comes to Martinsville, he has the B-List's highest average finish, highest driver rating, and he nearly won this race last spring before being passed late by Kevin Harvick.
#16 Greg Biffle - If Biffle performs well this week, the rest of the field better get worried about beating the current points leader in 2012. He doesn't have a single top-five and just a two top-10s in 18 starts at this track.
#55 Mark Martin - This is another one of the races where the part time driver won't be behind the wheel. It's too bad because his average finish of 13.4 suggests he could have been a good start. However, in case you didn't realize what that red "NE" next to his name meant, you probably want to remove him because he's NOT ENTERED!
#32 Ken Schrader - Historically, Schrader's 18.0 average finish at Martinsville just edges out former great, now C-List companion Bobby Labonte. I don't think Schrader's a great choice, but the C-List is just so painfully thin. I do think a track like this gives him a shot to put up a respectable finish.
#55 Brian Vickers - As Vickers proved last year, the only thing that could really slow him down is himself. A disastrous fall race at this track in which he either a) was innocently swept into several wrecks (according to him) or b) drove like he was in a demolition derby was the last straw in leaving him out of a Cup ride this year. When he is in there in 2012, like this week, he's a great value in the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
#34 David Ragan - "Front Row" Motorsports is a marketing name, people! It doesn't actually mean that their team starts or finishes in the front row...or the top-20, for that matter. I feel bad for the way Ragan's offseason worked out, but I have no intention of marching him out there based on the numbers he put up with Roush Fenway Racing. My opinion, however, contradicts 35% of Yahoo players (at the time of this post). I'm willing to bet that many of them are among the 33% doing worse than I am so far this season.
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.
You can sign up and play for free, by visiting http://racing.fantasysports.yahoo.com. If signed up, the "Fans of NHMS" group may be joined by clicking here.