Fantasy Auto Race Preview: Duck Commander 500
Overcoming contact on pit road to piece together the fastest car in the field in the final segment, Kurt Busch claimed victory in Martinsville, entering his claim on a spot in the Chase.
Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway was chock full of all the excitement Sprint Cup racing offers at short tracks. There was contact, boiling tempers, jockeying for track position, and we saw our sixth different winner in six races this season. The flat track never fails to produce an exciting event, and Sunday was more of the same.
The afternoon saw 12 leaders with 33 lead changes with four caution periods. No one led as many laps as Jimmie Johnson (296), but Busch battled back from trouble to assemble the fastest set up in the closing miles. It was an exciting conclusion as the No. 41 and No. 48 battled in the final laps, trading the lead, racing cleanly and fighting to the finish. In the end, it was Busch’s day and Johnson will have to set his sights on Texas.
Kurt Busch – Busch was involved in the contact that ruined Brad Keselowski’s day and proclaimed on the radio that the incident effectively ended the afternoon. Instead, Busch soldiered on, working on the car and running up front all afternoon. In the final segment his was the only car with enough to challenge Jimmie Johnson, and that he did, taking the victory. Busch’s recent Texas Motor Speedway record is not the greatest, though. His average finish in the last five races at the track is 21.0 with just one top-10 result. He only finished on the lead lap once in that time, but running as well as he has to start this season might mean he is due for more this week.
Jimmie Johnson – Yet again, he had the car to beat at Martinsville, and he was close to victory until Busch snatched it away. As with most tracks, it isn’t unexpected to see Johnson’s statistics top the heap. This week’s circuit does not alter that trend. In his last five races at Texas Motor Speedway, Johnson tallied two wins, three top-5s and four top-10s. His average finish in those races was 4.8, and it is hard to look past him for fantasy rosters this week. Johnson will win at some point this season, and after coming agonizingly close the last two weeks, he will be desperate to make the conversion in Texas.
Matt Kenseth – Kenseth challenged at the head of the pack Sunday in Martinsville, leading 36 laps before finishing sixth, which could be a signal of more to come. Kenseth continues to knock on the door this season; perhaps he can unlock victory this week in Texas. Kenseth could be a confident option for fantasy rosters this week at Texas with four top-5 finishes in the last five races at the track. His average finish in that time is 5.8, and he spent more than 80 percent of the laps in the last 18 races at the track running in the top 15. All things considered, he has the highest driver rating in the same period, making him a frontrunner in the statistics.
Kasey Kahne – Kahne was virtually absent in practice and qualifying last week in Martinsville. While his teammates ran well, Kahne struggled much of the afternoon. His day was filled with contact, which made any hope of progress much more difficult. When all was said and done, Kahne finished a disappointing 22nd. Kahne needs to show some fire this season or he will continue to be overshadowed by his teammate. It hasn’t been the best start for the No. 5, either. This may be the week fantasy owners want to pay attention to Kahne, though. His last five races in Texas produced two top-5s and three top-10s en route to a 10.2 average finish.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Earnhardt showed again last week in Martinsville that he expects to be a force to tame this year. He has been on a run since winning the Daytona 500, scoring three top-5s in the first three races. He got back on the horse last week after finishing the last two races outside of the top 10 by landing third position with a solid afternoon in Martinsville. Earnhardt has decent statistics at Texas as well. Four top-10 finishes in his last five starts at the track contribute to an 11.0 average finish. In the last 18 races at the track, his driver rating is among the best at 93.8. Fantasy owners have no reason to think any less of Earnhardt this weekend.
Brad Keselowski – Contact with Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne on pit road essentially ruined Keselowski’s day early on Sunday. The damage put him in the garage and saw him return to the track more than 30 laps down to the leaders. Once he did return, however, his main focus was on exacting revenge on Kurt Busch, who he blamed for the accident. There were other incidents in store for the No. 2, and in total it was just a bad day. Keselowski has three top-10 finishes in the last five Texas races, with a 15.4 average finish. The strong start of the season has hit a bit of a soft spot for the No. 2, and this week could go either way for this team. That inconsistency isn’t a good thing for fantasy rosters.
Martin Truex Jr. – Although Truex appears on paper to have a decent opportunity to finish strongly at Texas this week, the opening races of the 2014 would suggest more trouble for him and his new team. In a continuation of his early season slump, Truex had a miserable outing in Martinsville. Contact late in the race and a spin forced the No. 78 to 21st place, extending his streak outside the top 10 in 2014 to all six races thus far. Despite an 89.1 driver rating in the last 18 Texas races, Truex’s troubles may need more than just a track with decent statistics to turn things around.
Joey Logano – One driver up front most of the afternoon in Martinsville was the No. 22 of Logano. After a strong effort he finished fourth, preventing his string of finishes outside the top 10 from extending to three races. Logano continues to impress with Penske Racing, and there is undoubtedly more to come from this combination, perhaps even a victory in 2014. Logano’s 11 Texas starts earned him an average finish of 20th. He spent just more than 33 percent of those laps running in the top 15. Although he has had a good start to the 2014 season, and a decent weekend in Martinsville, this isn’t the week to expect the same level of success.
Jamie McMurray – McMurray and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is demonstrating that they’ve made strides forward from the dismal seasons they’ve had in the recent past. McMurray’s two top-10 finishes so far this season will go a long way to inspire further confidence too. He qualified in the top 10 for Sunday’s race in Martinsville and showed decent speed in practice as well. Expectations were high. Unfortunately, contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. sent McMurray into the wall, damaging the No. 1 car beyond repair. McMurray finished 42nd. There are some big questions about McMurray this week to add to last week’s letdown. His last five Texas races include no top finishes and a 23.0 average finish. It will be difficult to expect much from the team this week.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Expectations for Stenhouse at Martinsville last week were not high. He showed there wasn’t much in the bag to surprise people with rather disappointing efforts in practice and qualifying too. The race proved to be more of the same. In fact, Stenhouse finished in 40th position after heading to the garage with trouble on lap 361 of 500. The word disappointing doesn’t even come close to describing the weekend for the No. 17, and that is saying something considering there were low expectations of Stenhouse even before the weekend began. Two Texas starts with no top or even lead-lap finishes raise questions for the No. 17 this week as well. Fantasy owners should steer clear.