RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live
Practice is essential on rhythm tracks like Martinsville Speedway and along with a driver's starting position, it tells fantasy owners nearly all they need to know heading into Sunday’s Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 powered by Kroger.
Jimmie Johnson won the last two races on this track from the Coors Light Pole. The most recent previous pole and race winner to that two-race streak was Denny Hamlin, who performed the feat in 2010. Hamlin and Johnson lead the field to green on Sunday, with the No. 11 driver posting a new track record, and it is a fair bet that both will finish in the top five.
$25 or greater
For all his speed on Friday, Johnson complained for much of the two practice sessions on Saturday. The No. 48 languished on the practice charts as well, posting only the ninth-quickest average speed in the morning on the 10-lap chart and the sixth-quickest in final practice. Given his recent superiority at Martinsville, however, it is almost certain that the stopwatch is not telling the whole story and Johnson has to be considered one of the favorites nonetheless.
Jeff Gordon answered the question about how badly he wants to win in the final moments of final practice. With less than a minute on the clock, he gave the No. 17 driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. two shots to the rear bumper. The first was to encourage Stenhouse to pass Kurt Busch and the second was to encourage him to get out of the way. This level of aggression in practice is uncommon, but it underscores Gordon's desire to find Victory Lane. With only four races remaining, winning is practically the only way he can make up points on the leaders.
Kyle Busch is expensive but worth his price tag this week. He posted the fastest 10-lap average in Saturday morning’s session. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took up the mantle in final practice and topped that chart with a speed of 96.791 mph from laps three through 12.
$20 to $24.99
Greg Biffle seems to be having a miserable time at Martinsville, but looks have been deceiving in the past. Biffle has a knack for driving from the back of the pack. In his last three starts on this track, he swept the top 15 after starting outside the top 20. His best place differential was earned in last fall's Tums Fast Relief 500 when he jumped up 20 positions from 30th to 10th. Biffle shows determination on this short, flat track and another top-15 would provide the same amount of points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game as he earned last fall, but even if he misses that mark he will be running at the end of the race. He has never failed to finish a Martinsville event that he started and he currently has the longest active streak of running at the end of races with 68 consecutive.
Hamlin's struggles during most of the middle of the season caused his salary cap to plummet to $20.00, which means that for $9.00 less than Johnson and nearly that same amount less than Matt Kenseth, fantasy players get a driver capable of winning the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger. The front row has produced 29 percent of Martinsville's winners and Hamlin has contributed two races to that tally. In addition to winning from the pole in 2010, he took the checkers first after starting second in 2008.
Less than $20
Short, flat tracks are drivers' courses and that should play into the hand of a veteran like Bobby Labonte. He is inexpensive and should be one of this week's best values, but after pounding the wall in Saturday morning's session while navigating traffic, players will want to look for another bargain basement driver.
That bargain can be had for $7.00 in the form of Elliott Sadler. He drives the No. 55 this week and Brian Vickers elevated that ride to a $20.50 value. Sadler lacks the experience in the Gen-6 car that Vickers has, but he is certainly capable of finishing somewhere in the front half of the field. He was hampered by a poor qualification draw on Friday and rolls off the grid 35th, but no one expects him to stay there long and the majority of his points will be earned in the place differential column.