Loading scores...
Kyle Busch
Getty Images
NASCAR Fantasy Live Preview

Fantasy Live: First Data 500

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 22, 2019, 3:17 pm ET

The fans spoke and NASCAR listened. There are now two short track races in the playoffs with Richmond Raceway joining Martinsville Speedway this season. The second running of the Federated Auto Parts 400 was five weeks ago as the middle race of the Round of 16; the First Data 500 is the first race in the Round of 8 and this event has always been a part of the schedule.

Thirteen of the 15 previous playoff races on this track have been won by contenders. The last time someone other than that group won was in 2014 – the first year of the knockout format – and a former contender Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkers. The last time a non-playoff driver won a playoff race on any track was Matt Kenseth on another short, flat course: Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway.

With a couple of solid choices among the non-playoff drivers, this week could end the 20-race streak of perfection among the contenders.

While writing this article, the author changed his lineup multiple times, swapping playoff and non-playoff drivers in the garage position. In both categories, there are at least three drivers who deserve to be on your roster, but ultimately it seemed most prudent to go with a non-playoff driver in the reserve slot for one simple reason: numbers. There are simply more non-playoff drivers available who may run well and several of them will finish in the top 10 at the end of both stages and the race this week. That is where points will be maximized.


Playoff: Kyle Busch
Based on his finishing results alone, no one has been stronger at Martinsville recently than Busch. He missed the spring 2015 Martinsville race with injury, but returned that fall to finish fifth. He’s never been outside the top five since. Busch won in spring 2016 and again in fall 2017. He has another pair of second-place finishes and a third this spring. About the only thing that cannot be said of him is that he has not yet won a stage, but from 2017 through last fall he finished fourth or better in every segment. The reason we say no one has been better recently is because this spring Busch was not overly impressive in route to his third-place finish. He finished ninth in Stage 1 and did not earn any points in Stage 2 because of mistakes made early in the race.

Playoff: Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has momentum on his side. After winning his fifth race of the season last week at Kansas Speedway, the media is ready to crown him champion. That might be a little premature, but for a driver who has struggled to maintain confidence while his teammates Busch and Martin Truex Jr. took the lion’s share of attention in the past couple of years, he is basking in the spotlight. Hamlin is widely considered a flat track master and Martinsville ranks as one of his three best tracks in terms of career average finishes. He slipped a little in recent years, but regained his strength last fall and darn near won after Joey Logano and Truex tangled on the last lap. Hamlin backed that up with a fifth this spring.

Non-Playoff: Brad Keselowski
The top pick among non-playoff drivers got easier on the last lap of the Hollywood Casino 400 when Keselowski fell below the cutline. To say that he has found his rhythm at Martinsville would be a gross understatement. Since the beginning of 2016, he has swept the top 10 with all but one of those races ending in a top-five; the only driver better has been Kyle Busch, but in that span Kez has made up some of the difference with stage points, earning 72 to Busch’s 68. More importantly, Keselowski swept the stages this spring and in November, 2017; Busch has not yet won a stage at Martinsville. Kez also has a pair of victories in the past few years, including this spring’s STP 500.

Non-Playoff: Jimmie Johnson
We’re betting on Johnson this week. With a career-average finish of 8.5 in 35 starts and nine wins, this is his second-best track behind Auto Club. His most recent victory came in 2016 and he has not finished in the top 10 since, but then again he has not entered a race with as much momentum as he experiences this week. Since the playoffs began, Johnson has been on a mission to prove he can still race with the leaders. He finished 11th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and has been in the top 10 in every race except Talladega Superspeedway. We’ll be mildly shocked if he does not score a top-five in the First Data 500.

Garage Pick

Playoff: Martin Truex Jr.
Truex simply got tired of being told he couldn't race on short tracks and set out to prove his detractors wrong. In fall 2017, he challenged corporate teammate Busch for the Martinsville win and came up one spot short. The next year, he swept the top five and had victory in sight when Logano knocked him out of the way on the final lap. Logano won last year’s First Data 500; Truex finished third. This spring, he slipped to eighth, but made up for that a few weeks later with a win at Richmond in their spring race. Truex won again at Richmond this fall, and both short tracks feature minimal banking.

Non-Playoff: Clint Bowyer
Three drivers have swept the top 10 on short tracks this year. Two of them are still in playoffs and are featured this week: Busch and Hamlin. Bowyer is the other driver. He lacks the Martinsville streak of some of the others because he struggled to finish 21st last fall. He won that spring, however, and finished seventh this spring. Bowyer has four top-10s in his last five Martinsville races and a six-race streak from 2012 through 2014. Not enough to convince you? Bowyer has also earned the most stage points among non-playoff drivers with 36 to Johnson’s 20.

Red Flag

Kyle Larson
One reason Larson was so happy to win at Dover International Speedway three weeks ago was so the team could concentrate on the tracks in the Round of 8. He’s going to need all the help he can get at Martinsville because based on career averages, this is his worst track. Compounding matters is the fact that he has developed a tendency to qualify well in recent years, lulling players into believing he may finally turn his fortune around. Despite a current five-race streak of top-10 starts, he has not cracked the top 15 a single time. Larson’s last two fall races ended behind the wall with an accident in 2017 and a blown engine last year.

Stage Wins This Year (16 drivers)
Kyle Busch (11), Joey Logano (10), Martin Truex Jr. (6), Kevin Harvick (5), Chase Elliott (5), Kyle Larson (5), Denny Hamlin (5), Brad Keselowski (4), Kurt Busch (3), Ryan Blaney (2), Austin Dillon (2), Ty Dillon (2), William Byron (2), Aric Almirola (1), Jimmie Johnson (1), and Clint Bowyer (1).

 

Segment wins and points at Martinsville
(10 segments to date)

Driver

Segment
Points

Segments
earning
points

Segment
Wins

Brad Keselowski

72

9

4

Kyle Busch

68

9

 

Denny Hamlin

60

8

2

Ryan Blaney

55

9

1

Chase Elliott

47

7

1

Joey Logano

44

8

1

Martin Truex Jr.

43

7

1

Clint Bowyer

36

8

 

Jimmie Johnson

20

6

 

Kevin Harvick

19

5

 

Kurt Busch

19

4

 

Aric Almirola

15

3

 

Ryan Newman

10

2

 

AJ Allmendinger

9

3

 

Matt Kenseth

7

2

 

Austin Dillon

5

3

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

5

1

 

Kyle Larson

5

1

 

Kasey Kahne

4

2

 

Erik Jones

3

1

 

Daniel Suarez

2

1

 

Trevor Bayne

2

1

 

 

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.