First of all, congratulations to Dave Blaney. He finished third at Talladega last week, his best career Cup finish.
But, that leads to the question, what the heck!?
There are 12 drivers allegedly competing for a championship and Blaney's just excited he has enough points to qualify automatically each week. How did all 12 finish behind him Sunday!?
I don't mean to knock Blaney, he seems like a good guy, but based on his track record, he shouldn't have the car nor ability to finish in front of the entire Chase field over the course of a 500-mile paint trading affair. Yet, there he was at the end of the day, on the bottom step of a metaphorical podium, while fans tried to stomach what happened to their favorite Chasers.
In the case of the two Busch brothers, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman, that was easy. They wrecked out. It's still tough to watch if you were pulling for one, but it's like a headache, take a few ibuprofen, lay down for a little while and you'll feel better; that's racing!
In the case of the Hendrick Motorsports team and, for much of the day, Carl Edwards, it was much more a stomach illness. You heard the explanation they were waiting back to make a move until the end, but that didn't make you feel better. In Edwards case, he managed to sneak up for an eleventh-place finish, but the Hendrick boys, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson finished 25th and 26th in their tandem, while Jeff Gordon finished right behind them in 27th after he mysteriously lost the partnership of Trevor Bayne.
If any of those three drivers had a shot at making it back into the Chase, it's gone. They moseyed around the track for 186 laps and by the time the green-white-checkered hit at the start of lap 187, it was too late to anything but mosey for another two laps.
The strategy was on full display with about a dozen laps left when Jimmie Johnson radioed over to Dale. Jr to see if he wanted to make the move yet and Junior hemmed-and-hawed his way to a no. Ultimately, they weren't up front for much longer than to lead a lap midway through the race for a ceremonial point in the standings. Other than that, they were content to just hang around in the back in the hopes everyone else wrecked out. That left many fans with uncontent stomachs.
For fast relief to those fans, I'm recommending the Tums Fast Relief 500 this Sunday at Martinsville. This track is completely different. It's a tiny 0.526-mile paperclip, the smallest track on the circuit, so drivers should get up front early and stay there. Plus, there's no room for a two-car draft, so we'll just be back to the good ol' "boys have at it" and may the best driver win.
If you're a Johnson or Gordon fan with a stomachache, those drivers have combined for 13 wins at this track. If you're a Junior fan, well, he puts up got numbers here as well, and he's gotta win sometime, right!?
Here's a look at the predictions for this week in terms of a recommended fantasy lineup. I also felt ill looking at my roster last week, so I'll be looking forward to something where I can count on the fastest cars winning.
*In case you're new to this segment, check out my first fantasy post on how the system works.
Strategy: As I said, it's back to the normal concept: fastest car wins. This track is similar to one like NHMS in that it has tight turns with not too much banking that make it hard to pass. It's far different from the similar sized Bristol, whose severe banking lends to passing. Qualifying will be important, as will track position, and that means that the drivers that typically do well here should continue to do so. There are seven drivers with ratings better at Martinsville than the best rating at Talladega, if that proves my point.
#11 Denny Hamlin - Congratulations to Denny on finally making it out of the Chase's basement! He's now posted two straight top-10s and appears to be out of the doldrums he found at the start of the Chase. He's won four times at Martinsville in 12 starts and averages a finish of 6.6, so this is good week to continue his resurrection.
#24 Jeff Gordon - Whether or not Trevor Bayne had pushed him on the last two laps, the excuse overshadows that Gordon has slumped at the wrong time. He has just one top-10 (at NHMS on Sept. 25) in six Chase races. However, he has seven wins and seven poles and an amazing 30 top-10s in 37 Martinsville starts. He also has never, ever recorded a DNF here (uh oh, did I just jinx it?).
#48 Jimmie Johnson - Jimmie has an incredible 5.6 average finish and leads the series with a 121.9 driver rating at Martinsville. He has six wins and 13 top-fives in 19 starts. He might have faded in the Chase, but he shouldn't fade here.
#22 Kurt Busch - Sure he has a win here, but four top-10s in 22 starts and an average finish of 21.1. Ick!
#2 Brad Keselowski - While every other Chaser was busy trying to figure out if and when they might make a move toward the front, Keselowski was busy finishing fourth. He still might not have beat Dave Blaney, but at least he tried!
#4 Kasey Kahne - Kahne doesn't have a good track record at Martinsville, but he's finished sixth or better in the last four races this season and hasn't finished worse than 15th since the Chase started (too bad he's not in it, oh well).
#20 Joey Logano - He's finished 13th or better in the last four races at Martinsville. Unfortunately, he's finished 24th or worse in three of the last four this season, so that raises a yellow flag. He's an option if you're struggling for starts in a depleted B-List, let's put it that way.
#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Man, did I look like a fool waiting about 12 weeks to use his final allocation in a craps shoot of a Talladega race! Oh well, if you have allocations left, he has the best driver rating of any B-Lister at Martinsville (98.9).
#31 Jeff Burton - I like Clint Bowyer, but even I was bummed to see Burton passed for the lead coming out of turn 4 in last week's finish. Keep in mind that Talladega tends to be fluky (as we already said, Dave Blaney got third), so don't buy too much into the second-place finish. He has the B-List's second-best driver rating at Martinsville, but I don't expect to see him near the front. It's been a tough year for the veteran.
#56 Martin Truex Jr. - Iroinically, it's been anything but Martin's ville, as he has just two top-10s in 11 starts. The suspensions of his crew and car chief will only compound the struggles.
#6 David Ragan - Ragan is the top option on the C-List both at Martinsville and on the season. He finished eighth here in the spring.
#27 Paul Menard - Menard hasn't finished any worse than 20th since the Chase started, so he's a consistent option in the C-group.
#78 Regan Smith - Only once in six Martinsville starts has he finished better than 26th. He's not a good option.
My Preliminary Roster
A - JOHNSON (2), Gordon (6)
B - KESELOWSKI (4), NEWMAN (2), Kahne (1), Logano (4)
C - MENARD (2), Ragan (1)
*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.