The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Martinsville, Virginia this week for the STP 500. The race can be seen Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. Be sure to test your knowledge of NASCAR by competing in the Fox Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game.
The Monster Energy Cup Series returns to the East Coast after three weeks of racing out West. Martinsville Speedway is a flat paperclip-shaped half-mile track that produces some intense racing. Drivers who end the race without a scratch on their car probably did not do a good enough job battling for position. It takes a good car and an aggressive attitude to win the grandfather clock Sunday.
The race this week will come down to brakes and restarts. Drivers must smash the gas pedal on the 800 feet straightway and then use a lot of brake to get through the u-turns at each end of the track. Martinsville drives much like a road course so the drivers who excel at Sonoma will also be good Sunday.
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The best time to make up positions is on the restarts. Drivers who start on the inside line have a tremendous advantage over their competitors on the outside. Some drivers may try to give up a spot in the pits just to start on the inside lane.
Track position is more important at Martinsville than is may be at any track this season. Sometimes the only way to make a pass is by pushing another driver out of the way.
The scoring system for the Fox Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game rewards drivers who improve their position in the race more than the drivers who lead the most laps. Fantasy teams must select drivers who start deep in the field in order to score position differential points, but do not go crazy this week. I recommend selecting the drivers who start between positions 8-20. If you select drivers starting outside the top 20 they could quickly go a lap down and spend the race of the race trying to regain the lap they lost.
Pick to Win
Joey Logano($12,400) should make it six different winners in six races in 2017. Logano has been the best driver in the series when it comes to qualifying and leading laps at Martinsville. His average starting position in the last five races at the track is an outstanding 1.4. Since track position is so important, Logano has to be considered one of the top drivers in the race this week. He has led at least 20 laps in the last six races at Martinsville. In 2015 he absolutely dominated the race at Martinsville but Matt Kenseth decided to bring his car out of the garage and take Logano out of the race. This week Logano will finally win his first grandfather clock trophy.
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Jimmie Johnson ($12,100) has been the most dominate driver in the series at Martinsville. He has a series-high nine wins at the track. That includes a series-high 2,839 laps led and a series-best 7.3 average finishing position in his 30 career races at the track. Johnson won the last race at Martinsville and he should be considered one of the favorites to win again this week.
Kyle Busch ($11,300) has been the best car for Joe Gibbs Racing. The organization has won nine races at Martinsville and Busch should be their best shot to get to Victory Lane Sunday. The No. 18 car dominated this race last year. Busch qualified seventh and led 352 laps before taking the checkered-flag. Busch backed up his strong spring performance with a fifth-place finish in the fall race. Busch is still looking for his first win this season. Everything is great with the No. 18 team.
LAT PhotographicRussell LaBounty
Brad Keselowski($11,100) has been the most consistent driver this season and his stats at Martinsville are also consistent. Keselowski has finished the last four races in the top five (He finished 1st at Atlanta, 5th at Las Vegas, 5th at Phoenix and 2nd last week at Auto Club Speedway). Keselowski also finished three of his last four races at Martinsville in the top five. Keselowski is the safest pick for your team Sunday.
Denny Hamlin ($10,800) is the second-best driver in the field this week behind Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin has five career wins at his home track. The No. 11 car has finished three of the last four races at Martinsville in the top three. Hamlin has the aggressive driving style that it takes to finish up front in this race.
Aric Almirola ($8,100) has been one of the best value drivers this season. His 129 points since the Daytona 500 are the 10th-most in the Fox Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game. Almirola has finished the last three races inside the top 20. He will have a good chance to do it again Sunday. Almirola has finished three of the last four races at Martinsville in the top 16.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($6,500) showed signs of life last week. I knew it was going to take Earnhardt some time to regain his racing form after mixing half of the 2016 season. This could be the week when he scores his first top-10 finish of the year. Earnhardt won at Martinsville in 2014, finished fourth in 2015 and came home in 14th place last year. He is a great value pick for your team this week.
Erik Jones ($5,000) has never competed in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville but he does have five races in the Camping World Truck Series on his resume. His average finishing position in the Truck Series is 8.8. Jones is a talented young driver and if he shows any speed in practice; make sure he is on your team Sunday.