Martinsville has been considered one of the biggest wild cards in the playoffs. With major shakeups occurring already at Las Vegas, the Charlotte Roval and Talladega already, this race promises to be just another in what is becoming a long list of unpredictable races in the 2018 playoffs.
In the NASCAR America Fantasy Live game, two active drivers need to be playoff eligible and two must come from the remainder of the field. The playoff field has shrunk to eight drivers. Five of them are listed among those with the 10 best average finishes during the past three seasons, but if the chaotic races that have already been run have taught us anything, it is that no one is immune to having a bad race regardless of their stats.
Players need to maximize points. So far during the playoffs, the better strategy has been to have a playoff eligible driver in the garage because the negative impact of an early retirement among them has been greater. With so many strong contenders outside the playoff drivers, it is time to change that strategy and place a non-playoff contender in the garage in order to hedge one’s bets.
1. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 2.20) Playoff
Busch has struggled during the playoffs and might not automatically be considered one of the top choices each week. Short tracks are an entirely different story, however, because he has been almost perfect on them in the past two seasons. Busch has five wins in the last eight short track races. One of these came in last year’s fall Martinsville race after he bumped teammate Denny Hamlin out of the lead on the final lap.
2. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 4.40) Non-Playoff
Contenders have won every playoff race this season. Keselowski has the potential to disrupt that because he enters the weekend with four top fives and a top 10 in the last five Martinsville races. Keselowski won last year’s spring race and finished second in fall 2016. Wait until practice is in the books before deciding to start him though. In five short track races this year, Keselowski has not yet cracked the top five.
3. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 9.25 in four starts) Non-Playoff
Is this the week Kenseth finally gets another top 10? Probably not, but Martinsville is the type of track that rewards driver skill to a greater degree than horsepower. In his 12 starts this season, Kenseth has earned three top 15s. In his last four at Martinsville, he’s never failed to crack that mark.
4. Martin Truex, Jr. (three-year average: 9.40) Playoff
From 2012-17 Truex failed to produce a single top five at Martinsville in 10 starts. He only had a couple of those in earlier seasons, so he was completely under the radar last fall on this track. He finished second – in no small part because the front of the field was cleared out by Busch and Hamlin in separate incidents in the closing laps. He followed that with another top five (fourth) this spring.
5. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 10.40) Non-Playoff
Every time it seems to be safe to select Johnson, either he or the team makes a mistake. His 22nd-place finish at Kansas was certainly disappointing, but it came on the heels of three top 10s in the previous four races. Even while he has struggled elsewhere, Johnson has been strong at Martinsville with one of his most recent wins coming in 2016. It would take some wild circumstances for him to earn a 10th victory on this track, but NASCAR is filled with event wilder stories.
6. Joey Logano (three-year average: 10.80) Playoff
Before he left Kansas last week, Logano noted that consistency will no longer be good enough to advance in the playoffs. He knows he is going to have to challenge for the win in the next three weeks. Unfortunately, that is not something he has done often at Martinsville. His best finish of second was earned in 2010 and he has only one top five in the last three seasons.
7. Clint Bowyer (three-year average: 12.80) Playoff
Bowyer’s three-season average can be a little misleading. He finished in the mid- to high-20s in both 2016 races, but he has been perfect in regard to top 10s since. Bowyer snapped a 190-race winless streak this spring at Martinsville and now counts this as one of his favorite tracks. He hasn’t scored a top five again on a short track, but he has swept the top 10 in 2018.
8. AJ Allmendinger (three-year average: 13.20) Non-Playoff
Allmendinger deserves a spot on the NASCAR Fantasy Live roster even if one choses to put him in the garage at the beginning of the weekend. There is something about this track that really suits his racing style. Perhaps it is the braking characteristics one must employ to get around the tight, flat corners. Whatever the reason, he has four top 10s in his last five starts at Martinsville and came within a position of winning in spring 2016.
9. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 13.40) Playoff
Martinsville has not always been kind to Harvick. From 2012 through spring 2017 he failed to crack the top five and had only a handful of top 10s (excluding the thumb). Last year he was elevated to fifth when a chaotic finish dropped Chase Elliott and Hamlin from the lead. This year he did not need any help to finish fifth for the second consecutive time.
9. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 13.40) Non-Playoff
Martinsville is exactly the type of track that suits Newman. It’s a bullring befitting a bulldog of his pedigree, and he earns top 10s occasionally by a sheer force of will. As his season comes to a close, however, and Newman starts to look toward 2019, he has been less consistent in recent weeks. That diminishes his appeal.
Pole Winner: Rarely is there a clear-cut favorite to win the pole. Martinsville is different. One of the keys to Logano’s success on this track has been his ability to start up front. He has earned four poles in his last eight starts on this track and lined up on the outside of the front row on two other occasions.
Segment Winners: Drivers who start up front have the best opportunity to stay there on a tight, single-groove bullring like Martinsville. Expect Logano, Harvick and Kyle Busch to qualify on the first three rows this week and make your segment picks based on their performance in practice.