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Chasing the Cup

Chasing Martinsville (Spring)

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Five different drivers have graced Victory Lane in the first five weeks of 2016. Last week’s Auto Club 400 was perhaps the most important of the bunch for the purposes of the Fantasy Power Rankings because Kyle Larson’s win allowed him to not only take the top spot in the points’ standings, but also in the rankings.

Along with the bonus for winning a race and one stage, Larson has accumulated six playoff points, but he would not have the lead. Martin Truex Jr. is still the only driver to sweep a race and with one other segment win, he leads the field with eight.

NASCAR is getting exactly what they’ve wanted for years. Breaking the event into three parts has increased the competition and the Age of Parity has leveled the top challengers.

Regular Season Races Remaining: 21 (Maximum points per race = 60)
Unique Winners in 2017: 3

Eligible on Wins

Kyle Larson (1 win / 1 Stage Win / 243 points)
Power Ranking: 1
Points’ Standings: 1
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 18.60
Texas: 17.17
Bristol: 21.50
Larson earned his first victory just in time. With three short tracks on the schedule in the next four weeks, it is unlikely that he will get on a roll and make this an immediate habit, but he has so much momentum on his side that he will continue to contend for top-10s.

Brad Keselowski (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 179 points)
Power Ranking: 3
Points’ Standings: 4
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 18.33
Texas: 9.50
Bristol: 18.00

Last week when this article was written Keselowski had 178 points; this week, he added only one to his total despite finishing second at Auto Club Speedway. That is because NASCAR docked him for an infraction at Phoenix International Raceway. Having one win in the bank is so vitally important to all five drivers who have already put that sticker above the window because it allows them to take chances that would not normally.

Martin Truex Jr. (1 win / 3 Stage Wins / 205 points)
Power Ranking: 4
Points’ Standings: 3
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 16.00
Texas: 10.50
Bristol: 25.00

Truex gambled on old tires last week. His fantasy owners were fortunate that the closing laps were interrupted by a couple of caution flags, or else he might have fallen outside of the top 10 instead of the fourth that he walked away with. For his part, Truex himself did not care because he already has an invitation to the playoffs.

Kurt Busch (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 118 points)
Power Ranking: 12
Points’ Standings: 14
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 20.00
Texas: 16.17
Bristol: 18.33

Busch added one more disappointment to the list last week at Auto Club with his third consecutive result outside the top 20. As he slips down the points’ order, players need to watch him from afar. This driver and team have a tendency to be erratic and until they post back-to-back top-10s, leave them in the garage.

Ryan Newman (1 win / 0 Stage Wins / 123 points)
Power Ranking: 14
Points’ Standings: 11
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 13.83
Texas: 15.33
Bristol: 13.50

Newman’s hallmark over the past few years has been consistency. The importance of that is it puts a driver in a position to capitalize on others’ mistakes or gamble like he did at Phoenix. He was back to his old ways in California with a 15th-place result. Players with managed expectations will find Newman to be a good value.

Eligible on Points

Chase Elliott (0 wins / 1 Stage Win / 214 points)
Power Ranking: 2
Points’ Standings: 2
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 23.33
Texas: 4.50
Bristol: 9.50

Now that Larson has found Victory Lane, Elliott is the strongest driver without a win. It is difficult to predict when a rookie will get that first trophy. The current driver of the No. 24 does not have a great record at Martinsville, but this team does. They should contend for top-10s in the next three weeks.

Joey Logano (0 wins / 1 Stage Wins / 174 points)
Power Ranking: 5
Points’ Standings: 5
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 11.50
Texas: 10.33
Bristol: 13.67

He’s not exactly long in the tooth, but Logano is the one of the few veterans with more than four years of experience who has been able to hang with Larson and Elliott on a weekly basis. As the old guard reasserts itself, Logano is poised to be their champion.

Jamie McMurray (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 162 points)
Power Ranking: 6
Points’ Standings: 6
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 16.83
Texas: 11.67
Bristol: 15.33

Larson is stealing the headlines, but McMurray is earning a ton of points with consistent finishes. String top-10s together has been difficult for most of the competitors so far in 2017. That makes the No. 1’s four straight top-15s impressive. Without a top-five to his credit, McMurray has an average finish of 9.75 in the past four races.

Ryan Blaney (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 157 points)
Power Ranking: 7
Points’ Standings: 7
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 19.00
Texas: 31.50
Bristol: 22.67

Blaney has been alternating top-10 finishes with results outside that mark all season. And while his average result has been good enough to keep him high in the points, that is making him a less consistent fantasy pick.

Kevin Harvick (0 wins / 3 Stage Win / 137 points)
Power Ranking: 8
Points’ Standings: 9
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 15.50
Texas: 10.83
Bristol: 16.33

Considering how badly his race was going until the final laps, Harvick’s 13th-place finish in the Auto Club 400 was an impressive display of fortitude. Unfortunately, he has gotten into trouble several times this year and two of those races ended outside of the top 20. For a driver of his caliber, that is simply unacceptable and it is not earning many points.

Kyle Busch (0 wins / 1 Stage Win / 136 points)
Power Ranking: 9
Points’ Standings: 10
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 7.20
Texas: 3.40
Bristol: 30.00

Like many of the veterans, Busch got off to a slow start this year. He failed to crack the top 15 in the first starts, although he was one turn away from a top-five at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before getting spun by Logano. His top-10s in the past two races indicate that he is ready to be placed on fantasy rosters again.

Kasey Kahne (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 122 points)
Power Ranking: 11
Points’ Standings: 13
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 19.17
Texas: 15.50
Bristol: 21.00

Kahne is slowly slipping down the order. Fantasy players who jumped on his bandwagon after three top-15s to start the season have earned minimal points in the last two as he slipped to 20th. Meanwhile, teammate Jimmie Johnson is beginning to improve and is going to overhaul the No. 5 in the coming weeks.

Erik Jones (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 116 points)
Power Ranking: 13
Points’ Standings: 15
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: NA
Texas: NA
Bristol: NA

We expected Jones to make an appearance in the top 16 eventually. He got off to a slow start at Daytona International Speedway, but has been stellar since. He has challenged for top-10s each week. While he has been shuffled back on a couple of occasions, he still has a four-race streak of top-15s. That is great for a rookie.

Denny Hamlin (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 123 points)
Power Ranking: 15
Points’ Standings: 12
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 12.17
Texas: 15.50
Bristol: 16.33

Hamlin is still seeking his first top-five of the season and if his past record is an indication, that could come this week at Martinsville. He is a flat track master, but the competition has caught up with Hamlin and that creates some uncertainty among players.

Clint Bowyer (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 143 points)
Power Ranking: 17
Points’ Standings: 8
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 20.83
Texas: 22.67
Bristol: 14.67

Bowyer is easily the most pleasant surprise of the season. In the next couple of weeks, fantasy players will stop thinking about the struggles he had last year and will place-and-hold him on their rosters. Get ahead of the curve and ride his current momentum.

Trevor Bayne (0 wins / 0 Stage Wins / 100 points)
Power Ranking: 20
Points’ Standings: 16
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Martinsville: 24.75
Texas: 26.67
Bristol: 15.00

Bayne is clinging to the top 16 in points, but with Johnson only one spot back and Martinsville on the horizon that is liable to be short-lived. Roush-Fenway Racing has shown a lot of potential, but their recent struggle might have affected their confidence.

 

Three-Year Average Finish, Next Three Tacks

Power
Ranking

Top
16

Driver

Wins

Stage
Wins

Power
Avg.

|

Martinsville

Texas

Bristol

Eligible on Wins

1

1

Kyle Larson

1

1

3.46

|

18.60

17.17

21.50

3

4

Brad Keselowski

1

 

4.68

|

18.33

9.50

18.00

4

3

Martin Truex Jr.

1

3

7.23

|

16.00

10.50

25.00

12

14

Kurt Busch

1

 

14.93

|

20.00

16.17

18.33

14

11

Ryan Newman

1

 

15.50

|

13.83

15.33

13.50

Eligible on Points

2

2

Chase Elliott

 

1

4.67

|

23.33

4.50

9.50

5

5

Joey Logano

 

1

8.06

|

11.50

10.33

13.67

6

6

Jamie McMurray

 

 

9.29

|

16.83

11.67

15.33

7

7

Ryan Blaney

 

 

10.15

|

19.00

31.50

22.67

8

9

Kevin Harvick

 

3

10.42

|

15.50

10.83

16.33

9

10

Kyle Busch

 

1

11.21

|

7.20

3.40

30.00

11

13

Kasey Kahne

 

 

14.81

|

19.17

15.50

21.00

13

15

Erik Jones

 

 

15.23

|

NA

12.00

NA

15

12

Denny Hamlin

 

 

15.71

|

12.17

15.50

16.33

17

8

Clint Bowyer

 

 

16.58

|

20.83

22.67

14.67

20

16

Trevor Bayne

 

 

19.85

|

24.75

26.67

15.00

Drivers Outside Playoff Contention

10

 

Jimmie Johnson

 

 

13.33

|

15.17

7.17

9.83

16

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

 

 

16.16

|

11.60

12.00

18.00

18

 

Austin Dillon

 

 

18.36

|

17.83

21.50

15.33

19

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

 

 

18.36

|

34.33

19.50

8.50

21

 

Paul Menard

 

 

22.04

|

15.83

22.33

18.67

22

 

Matt Kenseth

 

 

22.48

|

12.17

14.60

22.00

23

 

Aric Almirola

 

 

23.22

|

18.67

19.83

20.33

24

 

Ty Dillon

 

 

23.63

|

NA

20.00

25.00

25

 

AJ Allmendinger

 

 

24.75

|

14.33

19.00

21.17

26

 

Chris Buescher

 

 

25.52

|

28.00

26.33

17.00

27

 

Danica Patrick

 

 

25.66

|

25.50

23.33

21.67

28

 

Michael McDowell

 

 

25.70

|

26.33

29.60

26.00

29

 

Daniel Suarez

 

 

26.63

|

NA

NA

NA

30

 

Landon Cassill

 

 

27.63

|

23.83

31.33

29.17

31

 

David Ragan

 

 

28.43

|

21.00

28.17

32.50

32

 

Cole Whitt

 

 

29.04

|

23.80

29.80

31.33

33

 

Matt DiBenedetto

 

 

30.26

|

30.50

34.33

19.25

34

 

Reed Sorenson

 

 

33.00

|

36.00

36.40

33.00

35

 

Gray Gaulding

 

 

33.09

|

39.00

NA

NA

36

 

Jeffrey Earnhardt

 

 

36.00

|

33.00

34.50

30.50

37

 

Timmy Hill

 

 

36.38

|

39.00

35.00

41.00

 

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three years occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the number, the stronger the driver.

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.