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The NASCAR Monster Energy west coast trip is over with the conclusion of the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California. Kyle Larson not only had a great practice week nailing the Pole Position last week’s race, but he finally finished and won this first race this year, shedding his Buffalo Bills/Bridesmaid curse that he has been carrying due to his 2nd place finishes in the past 3 races(which is quite impressive by the way). Brad Keselowski worked his way into 2nd place after overcoming an early fender bender and spin out. Matt Kenseth continues his recent slump, crashing his car and finishing 36th.
The premier NASCAR series heads to Martinsville, the shortest track on the circuit. The Martinsville track is .526 miles long, with tight corners and a unique shape, often described as a “paperclip”. The race action is tight and cars are bumper to bumper, requiring the drivers to heavily use their brakes. Tempers can heat up also!
Top 4 Drivers for the STP 500
Denny Hamlin($9,700): Hamlin is my favorite pick for Martinsville. He is a Martinsville specialist, as teammate Carl Edwards shadowed him and traded ideas from Hamlin during last year’s fall race during the playoffs to try to get an edge. In this week’s first practice, Hamlin had the best speed and probably would have won the pole if not for the rain. Hamlin had five wins, twelve Top 5’s, and seventeen Top 10’s at Martinsville.
Kyle Busch($10,300): Busch was the second fastest car in practice right behind teammate Denny Hamlin. He won this race last spring and finished fifth in the fall race. Kyle Busch has performed well this year and has been pretty edgy in a productive way after his brawl with Logano in Las Vegas.
Brad Keselowski($9,500): This is a momentum pick as Keselowski has already qualified for the playoffs and has four Top 5’s in the past 5 races. He finished second last week at Auto Club speedway overcoming some damage in the first two laps in the race as well as dealing with a suspended crew chief. Keselowski finished in fifth place and second place in the spring and fall races respectively at Martinsville last year.
Kyle Larson($10,000): Picking Larson here is tough, but this is another momentum pick. Larson himself has said that he dreads racing at Martinsville, but with his stellar and steady performance in 2017, the fast cars produced by Chip Ganassi Racing, and his increasing weekly confidence, he is worth putting in your cash lineups. He did finish 3rd in the Fall 2016 race. Additionally, since Qualifying was canceled due to rain, Larson qualifies for the Pole Position and owns the #1 Pit Stall location due to having the top spot in the Championship Points Standings. This pit stall location is critical for Martinsville as pit road is tight and crowded, and being situated in the first pit stall alleviates that issue.
Other Notables: Jimmie Johnson($10,600) is a 9-time winner at Martinsville, and is the most expensive driver this week. With his slump this year, he didn’t make my Top 4 rankings. However, with his skill set on this short track, he is definitely a consideration for Cash games.
Ryan Newman($7,400): Newman had a good first practice with the fourth fastest speed. This veteran finished tenth last year in the spring race at Martinsville and his highest place is seventh from the Fall 2015 race. At $7,400, Newman is a great value to put in all of your cash lineups. He has already qualified for the playoffs so he can take some chances with little risk to his standings for the playoffs.
AJ Allmendinger($8,300): Allmendinger is not a well-known driver and only has only one Monster Energy win to his credit. However, he has recently performed well at Martinsville with an impressive second place finish in last year’s spring race, and also nabbed a tenth place finish in the fall race. He is a sneaky play for Cash games and worth the risk.
Danica Patrick($6,100): Patrick has not done very well in her NASCAR career for the amount of hype that she generates. However, at this low price of $6,100, you can slot her for both Cash and GPP picks. Martinsville requires quick stops and heavy braking, so her former driving experience from her Formula One days is one of her strengths, especially at this track.