The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back at Martinsville Speedway this weekend for some short track action at the paperclip-shaped oval. In a playoff schedule that is littered with races at 1.5-mile ovals, Sunday’s First Data 500 presents a great opportunity for fantasy owners.
History says that you should be able to build strong lineups this weekend without relying exclusively on the Big 3 and the other big names. This is especially true in Fantasy Live where the Big have been vacuuming up a majority of the stage points all year.
A trip to Martinsville moves some other drivers to the top of the pecking order, so if you need to make a little ground up in any of your season-long leagues, this is a chance for you to use some unconventional lineups and still have a realistic opportunity to post big point totals.
Now that the starting lineup for the race is officially set, I’ve made some adjustments and finalized my picks for the First Data 500 at Martinsville.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Kyle Busch (Playoff)
Busch has been on a tear at Martinsville, finishing in the Top 5 in the last six races here and winning the fall race last season. He also finished second in both stages here last fall and finished fourth and third in the two stages in the spring race on his way to a second-place finish. Starting from the pole, he has the inside track to a bunch of stage points once again, and I have Busch going for the clean sweep of the bonus categories.
Clint Bowyer (Playoff)
He’s an excellent short track racer, and Bowyer has finished seventh or better in all three of his starts here with Stewart-Haas Racing. More importantly, he led the most laps on won the spring race this year, finishing in the Top 5 in both stages. After claiming a spot on the front row, he has a great shot at a repeat performance this weekend.
Now that he is among the non-playoff drivers, Keselowski is almost impossible to pass up this weekend. He qualified in the Top 10, and he has finished in the Top 10 in his last five starts at Martinsville, logging four Top 5s. Keselowski finished swept both stages in the fall race last year, and he finished second and fourth in the two stages here back in the spring. He has too much stage point upside not to roster this weekend.
Blaney doesn’t have the reputation of being a Martinsville master, but he is trending in that direction. He finished eighth in the fall race last year, earning points in both stages. Back in the spring, Blaney finished third, leading 145 laps and finishing first and third in the two stages. On the heels of a fourth-place qualifying effort, he is positioned to match his strong showing from the spring.
Garage Driver – Denny Hamlin
I have typically been rostering three playoff drivers, but I actually think there are more non-playoff drivers with high ceilings, and Hamlin is one of them. He is a five-time winner here, and he finished first and fifth in the two stages of the spring race while leading 111 laps. Hamlin is set to roll of third Sunday, so he could easily spend most of the afternoon running in the Top 5 and piling up points.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kyle Busch (A)
I have been saving my final start from Busch for this race, so I was thrilled to see him capture the pole and post excellent speed throughout both practice sessions. He has also finished in the Top 5 in the last six races at Martinsville, finishing either first or second four times in that span.
Clint Bowyer (B)
I’m using up my last start from Bowyer this weekend, but I expect it will be well worth it. He has finished seventh or better in all three of his starts at Martinsville with Stewart-Haas Racing, winning the spring race earlier this year. Starting from the front row with a car that appears to be one of the best this weekend, a Martinsville sweep is not out of the question.
Ryan Blaney (B)
I was planning on using Chase Elliott in this spot coming into the weekend, but Blaney had the much better run at Martinsville in the spring and has looked much stronger on the time sheets this weekend. While Elliott is starting back in 21st, Blaney will roll off from the Top 5. I think he’s the better play.
Alex Bowman (C)
I’ve got one start left from Bowman, and I knew I was either using it this weekend or at Phoenix. Bowman’s seventh-place run in the spring race at Martinsville weighed heavily in my decision, but I also took into account that the second-best Group C option, William Byron, performed much better at Phoenix than Martinsville. After he showed solid long-run speed in Happy Hour, I’ll try for a Top 10 from Bowman this weekend and have Byron available in a couple of weeks.