Coop’s Martinsville Race Preview
I hope everyone is ready for some exciting racing this weekend, yes I said exciting. Minus Pheonix the last couple races on the cookie cutter tracks can be less than exciting for the average NASCAR follower. All that changes this weekend as the cars will be beating and banging against each other all day. Martinsville is a .526 mile flat racetrack that holds two races annually that consist of 500 laps each.
Martinsville is a hard race to predict and not a good race to have high ownership on 1-2 drivers and by high I mean 60% plus. You will see a wide range of pit strategy that will range from cars not pitting on sequence to two tire stops as tires are not of major importance at Martinsville. Track position is key at Martinsville and is the main reason you will see these different pit strategies. When you see the lap leaders below you will notice several cars that have led many laps starting 7th on back. Pit road is another key contributor to the unpredictability as this is a small track which means there is simply not enough room to easily manage the congestion. Don’t be surprised when you see cars run into each other on pit road and have issues getting out of your pit box because your blocked by the car in front of you as they came in after you and there parking job is less than stellar. This is why there is an advantage to having certain pit stalls this week. In addition don’t be surprised to see more pit stop issues this week as this is the first race under the new crew member limits and they will be working in tight quarters.
The pit stops are not the only thing that creates unpredictability as there is plenty of action on the race track. As you will see below there are plenty of cautions at Martinsville due to the tight racing which leads to two to three car accidents. In most instances the teams are able to repair there car quickly since speed is not very high at Martinsville and sometimes there is little to no damage in these accidents but either way you are losing important track position if you are involved. What’s more critical to the drivers are there brakes and these often create more issues for the cars than the accidents as you are using your brakes at a very high rate compared to other races. On long runs the heat of the brakes can also create issues for the tires and we often see blown tires. As a side not by the end of the race you will most likely be tired of hearing about how important brakes are as well as how good the hot dogs are at Martinsville. Finally, as you will see below it’s not uncommon for a driver to be one of the highest lap leaders and not finish well. This is due to accidents at the end of the race when drivers can simply move someone out of the way and spin them out or because there was an accident with 100-150 laps left and they decided to pit while others stayed on track which resulted in the loss of track position.
This week it’s all about dominators and more dominators because if you don’t have them you are not cashing. Over the last six races there has been at least two drivers lead 100+ laps in 5/6 races with 3/6 races seeing three drivers lead 90+ laps. In addition these drivers accounted for a decent amount of fastest laps but not always the majority. As you will see below it’s not uncommon to see two to four cars accumulate 20+ fastest laps while leading minimal to no laps. This is huge because those fastest laps points add up quickly as you can gain 10-20 additional points while not leading laps. So how do you choose these drivers that don’t lead laps but still accumulate fastest laps? Don’t pick bad or mediocre drivers and expect them to accumulate fastest laps. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get the drivers right for laps led and fastest laps as there are huge points available this week.
500 Laps equals 125 laps led points available
400 Fastest Laps equals around 200 points available
2017 Spring 14/95
Kyle Busch led 274 laps 91 fastest laps started 10th finished 2nd
Brad Keselowski led 116 laps 90 fastest laps started 4th finished 1st
Three drivers had fastest laps between 20-48 laps two of them led one lap while other led 20
2017 Fall 11/74
Kyle Busch led 164 laps 64 fastest laps started 14th finished 1st
Chase Elliot led 127 laps 67 fastest laps started 3rd finished 27th
Brad Keselowski led 108 laps 109 fastest laps started 7th finished 4th
Joey Logano led 59 laps 60 fastest laps started 1st finished 24th
Two other drivers had 22 and 28 fastest laps with no laps led
2016 Spring Race 8/51
Kyle Busch led 352 laps 81 fastest laps started 7th finished 1st
Kevin Harvick led 72 laps 71 fastest laps started 19th finished 17th
Four other drivers had fastest laps between 21 and 75
2016 Fall Race 5/54
Matt Kenseth led 176 laps 39 fastest laps started 17th finished 4th
Martin Truex led 147 laps 37 fastest laps started 1st finished 7th
Jimmie Johnson led 92 laps 21 fastest laps started 3rd finished 1st
Four other drivers had fastest laps between 31 and 54
2015 Spring 16/112
Kevin Harvick led 154 laps 58 fastest laps started 17th finished 8th
Joey Logano led 108 laps 41 fastest laps started 1st finished 3rd
Denny Hamlin led 91 laps 75 fastest laps started 15th finished 1st
Four other drivers had fastest laps between 21 and 29
2015 Fall Race 18/105
Joey Logano led 207 laps 52 fastest laps started 1st finished 37th
Brad Keselowski led 143 laps 42 fastest laps started 11th finished 32nd
Three other drivers had fastest laps of 23, 28 and 62 laps
Martin Truex will start on the pole and I am hoping that draws ownership toward him. Martinsville has not been a great track for Truex over his career. As you can see from above he has only led significant laps over one of the last six races at Martinsville although it was when he won the pole. For me Truex is a easy driver to go underweight on or possibly fade due to who is starting behind as I expect at least one of if not all three drivers to eat him alive rather quickly. Truex does have a fast car and will lead some early laps but I feel once he loses that lead he won’t see it again.
Kyle Busch will be starting on the outside of row one in the second starting position and I expect him to be a major player all race long. Busch may not lead early laps as starting on the outside he may have issues getting down to the inside lane and could possibly lose a few positions early. As seen from above Busch has been solid at Martinsville and there is no reason to think he will not this weekend as it’s just a matter of how many laps he leads and if it’s enough to be in the winning lineup. I feel Busch has the best car this weekend as he was fast in single laps, ten laps, fifteen and twenty laps speeds.
Joey Logano is starting third this weekend and he is in the best position to take the lead early from Truex as he will be starting on the inside directly behind him. As you can see from above Logano has led several laps at Martinsville over the last couple years. The issue with Logano is he has never been able to lock down a win but that could all change this weekend. I expect Logano to be the lowest owned of the drivers starting in the top four. Logano didn’t have a great practice and didn’t show T5 speed which now makes me wonder how many laps he can lead.
Brad Keselowski has been dominant at Martinsville over the last couple years and I expect it to be no different this weekend. Keselowski will start behind Busch and just like Busch he may struggle to get to the lead early but I don’t expect that to last to long. Keselowski has a fast car this weekend and will compete with Busch as he appears to be just one step behind in practice times.
Denny Hamlin has very good success at Martinsville but the last couple years minus his win has not been his best. Hamlin will have his work cut out for him getting past the three drivers mentioned above but Hamlin is not afraid to play the strategy game and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him at the front during some point this weekend. Hamlin will be a lower owned driver this weekend due to his starting position and the drivers starting in front of him. Hamlin did not have a good practice and he will need to use strategy to get his way to the front. The only reason I list Hamlin as a dominator is due to how often he plays strategy games in races.
POINT DIFFERENTIAL DRIVERS
Ty Dillon had his best practice of any race this year today heading into Martinsville. Dillon appears to have speed in his car this weekend and should be a popular choice as he is starting 32nd. Dillon needs to be cautious navigating his way through traffic and needs to stay on the lead lap so he can continue to gain positions. Dillon doesn’t have the best of records at Martinsville in his young career but I am willing to bet this is the best car he has had.
AJ Allmendinger is a very strong driver at Martinsville and showed solid speeds today in practice and he should also be a very popular driver this weekend. AJ has multiple strong finishes at Martinsville and like Dillon he will need to navigate traffic. AJ was upset about his car at the end of practice and this is something that warrants more research to find out what the issue was. AJ starts 25th.
Jamie McMurray should help take ownership off AJ and Dillon this weekend since he will be starting 26th. McMurray had a strong car during practice and barring issues he should be able to get close to if not in the T10. McMurray has had success over his career at Martinsville.
Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola start 9th and 10th this week and both have solid cars as they performed well in both practices. I prefer Bowyer over Almirola as he has had better finishes at Martinsville but not by much. If either leads it is likely due to strategy but both could contend for some fastest laps. Almirola should be the lower owned due to his price tag but Bowyer shouldn’t be far behind.
Ryan Newman showed solid speed in practice today and will start 14th. Newman has the potential to finish 5th-8th and like Bowyer and Almirola if he leads it’s is due to strategy. All of RCR appears to have solid cars this week and should not be ignored as Austin Dillon and Ty Dillon practiced strong to. Austin had one of the best twenty lap times among all drivers in second practice. I am hoping they go overlooked this weekend.
Daniel Suarez was a popular GPP play last weekend and didn’t pan out. Suarez is once again in a strong spot although not as good as last week and during practice he showed T10 speed. Suarez shouldn’t be as popular this week since he burned people last week plus he is similar in pricing to McMurray.
Chase Elliott may not be as popular as many think as he is expensive and challenging to fit in lineups since you need other high priced dominators. Elliott has a strong car and I expect him to play some strategy to get to the front. Elliot has the potential to gather fastest laps plus point differential and if he finishes T5 he will outscore a couple drivers who started in the top four as not all of those drivers will lead laps and there point differential is limited.
Paul Menard is starting 15th and he appears to have a car that will finish in that range. This is the home track for his team owners and he has some solid finishes at Martinsville over his career. If Menard can stay out of trouble and others in his price range struggle he could end up being a solid low end play. Menard will have minimal ownership due to his 15th place starting position.
Bubba Wallace starts 19th and doesn’t appear to have the greatest car this weekend. Like Menard if attrition happens and other drivers in his price range struggle he could be a sneaky play. This is a big race for Bubba as his car is being sponsored by the race sponsor, STP. Wallace is familiar with Martinsville and enjoys racing here as he has two truck wins at this track.
It’s critical that you pay attention tomorrow morning for any news as this week the cars were to be inspected after qualifying. This means the cars will be inspected tomorrow at some point and if they fail they will start in the back. As said earlier track position is key and if any big names fail inspection going to the rear will be a big impact. Hope everyone does well and good luck. Thanks