Martinsville Preview: Fantasy NASCAR Numbers and More from

Scott EngelCorrespondent IMarch 26, 2009

BRISTOL, TN - MARCH 22:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, races Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, side by side during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 22, 2009 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

After some eyebrow-raising early results, things appear to be returning to normal in the NASCAR world, and that means setting fantasy lineups and watching for optimum finishes should become less stressful.

Sure, a wreck can always throw your standings out of whack for a brief period, but all you can control is entering the best lineup possible. The best drivers are rising to the top of the field now, and making it clear they can anchor fantasy teams for several weeks to come.

Until further notice, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson are the best drivers you can build your team around. The season is long and these guys may cool off at some point, but for now, you have to ride with them, especially in salary cap and tiered leagues.

In leagues that used straight drafts, don’t give up, as other top drivers can make your team surge later in the year.

Johnson was tabbed as a “must avoid” pick at Bristol based on his past history there and a disappointing start to the season, until last week’s event. Johnson made a major statement that he is ready to regain his championship form by notching a third-place finish at what was historically regarded as one of his worst tracks.

He now heads to one of his best tracks, Martinsville, where he is a prime pick for a strong finish. He will likely battle Gordon for the win, and while Gordon sits atop the Cup standings, victories continue to elude him, so Johnson appears to be the better choice of the two this week.

Johnson and Gordon have combined to win nine of the past 12 Martinsville events. Johnson has won five times at Martinsville during that span, Gordon four. They also rank first and second in Driver Rating covering the past eight races since 2005.

Johnson’s DR is 124.7, Gordon’s 124.0. Johnson’s average finish of 5.6 at Martinsville is his second-best at any track. He leads all drivers in Average Running Position (6.4) and Laps in the Top 15 (3,579, or 89.3 percent) at the site since ’05. he also ranks second in Fastest Laps Run (446) and Average Green-Flag Speed (91.462 miles per hour).

He has 13 Top 10s in 14 Martinsville starts, easily making him the No. 1 must-start this week.

Gordon leads all active drivers with seven wins in seven poles at the site. He has 26 Top 10s and 23 Top Fives in 32 Martinsville starts, making him 1A to Johnson’s No. 1 status as a lock for this week.

His average finish of 6.9 at the site is his best at any track. Since ‘05, he leads all drivers at Martinsville in Fastest Laps Run (467), Average Green Flag Speed (91.520) and Quality Passes (passes of cars in the Top 15 under green-flag conditions, 220). He also ranks second in Average Running Position (6.8) and Laps in the Top 15 (3,539, or 88.3 percent).

Kyle Busch has historically been inconsistent at Martinsville but, like Johnson he can simply buck the trends in one event. Cumulative past stats mean less with this Busch brother than other drivers, as he has obviously raised his performance levels over the past two seasons.

Brake problems doomed Kyle to 38th and 29th-place finishes at the site last year. Yet he finished fourth at the site in both 2007 races. He has four Top 10s in eight Martinsville starts. His DR of 90.6 is only ninth-best since ’05.

Yet Kyle’s problems last year must simply be written off as bad luck, and in tiered leagues, you must get the most out of him earlier in the schedule, as he comes off an impressive win at Bristol and better results later in the season certainly are not guaranteed.

Outside of those “Big Three”, you must strongly consider Denny Hamlin, who finished second at Bristol. He seemed to be building up to a quality finish last week, as he finished sixth in the second race of the schedule, then placed 13th in the fourth event of the season. Hamlin has six Top 10s in seven Martinsville starts.

He has an average finish of 8.9 at the site, and his DR of 101.3 is fifth-best among active drivers. Most importantly, he won the first race at Martinsville in 2008.

Tony Stewart should certainly be considered for a Top-10 finish, even though he has been somewhat inconsistent early under his own new team banner. Stewart has 11 Top 10 finishes in 20 Martinsville starts.

Since ’05, he ranks third in DR (113.7), Average Running Position (7.4), Fastest Laps Run (312), Average Green-Flag Speed (91.356), Laps in the Top 15 (3,471, 86.1 pct), and Quality Passes (193).

Loop Data suggests Dale Earnhardt Jr. could be a strong finisher this week, but his underwhelming overall start to the season says you should steer clear of him in favor of other top drivers for now.

For those who have no choice but to use him though, it’s encouraging to know he ranks fourth in DR (102.4) at the site since ’05.  He also leads all drivers in Green-Flag Passes (396) and is second in Quality Passes (219) during that span.

Among the lower-ranked drivers, it’s important to note Jamie McMurray ranks sixth in DR at Martinsville since ’05 (88.2). He has seven Top 10 finishes in 12 Martinsville starts. Juan Pablo Montoya (80.4) ranks 11th in DR.

He has never finished lower than 16th in four Martinsville starts. Brian Vickers (72.8) ranks 19th, and David Ragan (72.5) is 20th. A.J. Allmendinger finished 15th in the second race at the site last year, and Michael Waltrip was 18th. Paul Menard has finished in the Top 25 in two of three Martinsville starts. Menard must qualify in on time.

For more analysis and my list of picks for Martinsville, click on the deluxe preview here.


Be sure to listen to ROTORACING on BlogTalkRadio with Scott Engel every Wednesday at 3:30 pm ET. You can hear the archived version o the Martinsville preview show right here.