March Madness is still thriving as the term “favorites” and “sleepers” are stealing the headlines. Well, NASCAR can play to that role too. This weekend at the Martinsville Speedway, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers will try to head into the off week with as much momentum as they possibly can.
But, after tons of research, it’s looking like we have some clear cut favorites and sleepers to keep an eye out on for Sunday’s STP 500 (2 p.m. ET/FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). There’s also some drivers to stay clear of too.
He hasn’t had the overall speed to contend for race wins this season. But, that could change this weekend. You don’t have to have a ton of speed at Martinsville to compete. That’s good news for Keselowski. On the year so far, Keselowski has three top six finishes over his last four starts. Plus, at Martinsville, Keselowski is the defending race winner of the spring race and has four straight top five finishes in his No. 2 Ford.
In practice on Saturday, Keselowski was second in each session. In final practice, he was fastest on the 10 lap average chart too.
Don’t overlook Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate of Joey Logano. He’s had four top seven finishes in five starts in 2018. At Martinsville, he’s started in the top six in 10 straight starts. Out of his last six races on the Virginia paperclip, he’s started on the pole in four of them and second in one of the others. He’s also led laps in eight straight Martinsville starts, so look for Logano and his No. 22 Ford to be strong again this weekend.
He was ninth and 11th respectively in practice.
Outside of Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. no one has been as good as Kyle Busch this year. He heads to Martinsville on the heels of three straight top three finishes in his No. 18 Toyota. Furthermore, he’s had a top five finish in seven of his last 10 Martinsville starts. Busch, led 352 laps and won the spring race in 2016. He led 274 more laps last spring and finished second. In the playoff race last fall, he led 184 circuits and won again.
In practice, Busch was third and fourth respectively on single lap speed and second in each session on the 10 lap average chart.
Need I say more?
Hamlin probably falls in the category of the Penske drivers in that he’s been very solid so far in 2018 but hasn’t had the speed to win. Out of the five races to start the year off, Hamlin has put his No. 11 Toyota in the top six of the finishing position in four of them. Now, he heads to a track where from a 12 race span from 2006 to 2012, he finished worse than sixth just once. Four of those finishes were a win and two more a runner-up. He won the spring race in 2015 and has three top three finishes over his last six Martinsville starts.
After what happened at Martinsville the last time he was there, he’s ready to get back to victory lane.
Truex has never won at Martinsville before. In fact, he has an average finishing position of 19.63 there. But, he heads to the race on a hot streak and I don’t see that ending on Sunday. Truex, led 125 laps and won last weekend in Fontana. That was his fourth straight top five finish. Plus, he finished second at Martinsville last fall and has four top seven finishes in his last six starts there. His No. 78 Toyota will run up front. Also, among those last six starts are five races where he started in the top three of the lineup.
He was fastest in both practice sessions on Saturday. On the 10 lap average chart he was first and third respectively.
Dillon has finished worse than 15th just one this season. He’s been quietly impressive and I think he continues that this weekend in Martinsville. Plus, since 2016, Dillon has finishes of fourth, 17th, fifth and 13th respectively on the Virginia paperclip. Both of those top fives were in the spring race too.
Don’t count out Dillon’s Richard Childress Racing teammate either. Ryan Newman has an average finishing position of 14.78 at Martinsville and four top 10’s in his last seven starts there. Plus, three of his five starts in 2018 have resulted in a top 11 finish. He was fast in practice too in being in the top five in both sessions this weekend.
While he’s not an RCR car per say, AJ Allmendinger gets his resources from them. On top of that, Allmendinger has also been very good at Martinsville lately too. He’s finished in the top 11 in six of his last eight Martinsville starts including being runner-up in the spring race of 2016. He also finished second there in the spring of 2012 too. Furthermore, he’s a very good qualifier at Martinsville with a top 10 starting spot in four of his last six races.
In practice, he was 13th and sixth respectively.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has been on a roll himself lately. He’s in the top 10 of the points standings still and heading to one of his better tracks. He has eight top 10 finishes in his last 12 starts at Martinsville including a seventh and third place run last year. He was 11th and 10th respectively in practice.
Stenhouse hasn’t had a great start to the year, but he’s close to the final playoff spot. He’d like to remain there for the foreseeable future. Unless he can win that is. Martinsville, gives him that best opportunity. Outside of the restrictor plate races, short tracks are where he’s thriving. At Martinsville in 2017, Stenhouse brought his No. 17 Ford home 10th in both races.
Martinsville is not one of his better tracks. While he did finish third at Vegas and second last weekend in Fontana, he hasn’t been real great for the season as a whole. Plus, out of eight Martinsville starts, Larson has an average finishing spot of 23.63.
I don’t think this is the weekend for Chip Ganassi Racing in general. McMurray, has struggled in 2018 as a whole and has three finishes of 20th or worse in his last four Martinsville starts. In 2018, he has yet to crack the top 15 in the finishing order.
While Kurt Busch did win the spring race at Martinsville in 2014, he’s had zero top five finishes on the paperclip since. Just two of those races he’s scored a top 15 in fact. But, if you go back to 2006, 24 total starts, that win in 2014 was Busch’s only top 10. I’d steer clear of his No. 41 Ford on Sunday.
Suarez has just one top 10 finish this season, three others though have resulted with a sub 20th place effort. Now, he heads to Martinsville where he finished 32nd and 15th last year. Just not a good combination to me.
He’s surging so far, but he hasn’t been very good at Martinsville. He finished 12th and 26th a year ago in his only two Cup Series starts on the paperclip. He could get a top 15 on Sunday, I just don’t see him as a threat to win this week.