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Statistically Speaking

First Data 500 Qualification Report

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 26, 2019, 6:32 pm ET

Five hundred laps on a .5-mile course gives drivers a long time to get to the front, but the gamesmanship of track position starts immediately. Denny Hamlin won the first round of that game by posting a lap of 97.840 mph to score his fourth Martinsville Speedway pole and he will lead the First Data 500 field to the green.

With a lap .029 seconds slower, Chase Elliott qualified second, but he won’t start there because of an engine change. He is one driver who will is relieved that he has 500 laps to get to the front. Both drivers will be happy when the race starts on Sunday.

Yes, Hamlin has three poles on this paperclip-shaped track but the last of these came in 2013. He finished seventh in that race. He won from the pole in 2010 and finished third after leading the field to the green in 2007. While he has not started at the very head of the field recently, he has been close with his last four time trial results being sixth or better. He is one of several drivers who extended top-10 streaks this week.


Elliott will be happy on Sunday morning because he has a fast car and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. He will be forced to the back and that will impact his ability to score stage points in the first segment, but at some point before the halfway mark this team should be able to employ strategy that gets him to the front. When that happens, he will be able to maintain it because he has the second-best pit stall.

Remember that Elliott’s place-differential will be based on second and not 36th even though he will lineup at the back of the pack. Elliott’s biggest concern is that no one crashes in front of him as he makes his way through the field.

Martin Truex Jr. qualified third, giving the playoff contenders a sweep of the best pit stalls. Truex has been rapidly improving at Martinsville and almost earned his first short track victory in last year’s First Data 500 after starting at the back of the pack in 33rd. Seven of his last nine qualification attempts provided top-10 starts; he finished in the top 10 all but one time.

Aric Almirola was the highest-qualified non-playoff driver in fourth. He is another driver with a streak of top-10 starts having begun the last four races on one of the first five rows. It would seem that qualification has become important for Almirola at Martinsville. He had four consecutive top-10 starts entering this weekend and improved in both time trial and race trim each time.

In October, 2017 and March, 2018 Almirola qualified 10th before finishing 18th and 14th respectively. He qualified fifth last fall and finished 11th. This spring he started on the outside pole and scored his first career top-10 with a ninth.

Michael McDowell qualified fifth to earn his best-ever Martinsville start by a wide margin. Previously his best gridding was 20th last fall. He lost three laps during the race and finished 25th in that event.

Clint Bowyer qualified seventh to earn his sixth consecutive top-10 start at Martinsville. He’s finished in the top 10 four times after doing so.

Daniel Suarez qualified ninth for his third straight top-10 start. He has a pair of top-10 finishes to go along with his starts.

Joey Logano rounds out the top 10, which is his 14th straight top-10 start on this track – giving him a perfect record since joining Team Penske. Logano started 10 last year and won the First Data 500. He started on the pole this spring for the STP 500 and finished 19th.

This pole winner for last year’s First Data 500 bobbled on his second lap and qualified 13th. Fantasy players shouldn't be overly concerned because it is precisely where Kyle Busch started this spring and he earned a third-place finish – his eighth consecutive at Martinsville. If anything, it makes him a slightly better value in the Draft Kings game.

Kevin Harvick was the worst-qualified among the playoff contenders. He will lineup 22nd on the grid, which is his worst start in 19 races and his seventh-worst overall. After starting this far back, he has finished in the top 10 only twice.

First Data 500 Practice Report

Top-10 starters, last two races at this track:

 

Fall 2018, First Data 500

Driver

Finish

Start

Kyle Busch

4

1

Clint Bowyer

21

2

Denny Hamlin

2

3

Ryan Blaney

20

4

Aric Almirola

11

5

Kurt Busch

6

6

Brad Keselowski

5

7

Daniel Suarez

9

8

Kyle Larson

37

9

Joey Logano

1

10

 

Martin Truex Jr.

3

33

Chase Elliott

7

19

Ryan Newman

8

16

Kevin Harvick

10

12

 

Spring 2019, STP 500

Driver

Finish

Start

Joey Logano

19

1

Aric Almirola

9

2

Brad Keselowski

1

3

Kevin Harvick

6

4

Denny Hamlin

5

5

Kyle Larson

18

6

Chase Elliott

2

7

Martin Truex Jr./p>

8

8

Daniel Suarez

10

9

Clint Bowyer

7

10

 

Kyle Busch

3

13

Ryan Blaney

4

17

 

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.