Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch Fantasy Insider: Denny Hamlin Is the Man at Martinsville

Jimmie Johnson proved to be a pretty good pick last weekend at Fontana; if it wasn’t for the last restart, he probably would have ended up in victory lane. The finish is even more impressive considering the circumstances; Johnson was stuck in the middle of every practice sheet and running outside the top 15 for a good chunk of last Sunday’s event (March 27).

He looked mediocre at best for most of the weekend, yet partner in crime Chad Knaus had the No. 48 looking outstanding when it counted: the final 25 laps. See, that’s the thing about Johnson; even when he doesn’t look good at the start of the race, he has the best crew chief in the business to get him to the top five by the end.

That experience also teaches us a fantasy lesson: practice times and past momentum can be deceiving if a driver has a history of good performances at a racetrack. In Johnson’s case, though, he’s got momentum on his side this weekend; after letting race wins slip from his fingers in the last two races, he’ll be hungry for his first of 2011 at one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway.

However, he’s going to have to go through one man who’s building a slightly better resume there in order to get it. Which one has the upper hand for your roster? Find out in this week’s edition of the Frontstretch Fantasy Insider.

Picks

Denny Hamlin has won three consecutive races around the tight half-mile oval. There is little doubt that Martinsville is Hamlin’s best short track overall; he has four wins there plus hasn’t finished outside the top five at the speedway since 2007. (And guess where he finished that one? Sixth.) Hamlin, regardless of his early season slump becomes an easy pick as a top-tier driver over any other. His teammate Kyle Busch is often given credit for being a short-track ace, but don’t be fooled this time; Hamlin has been just as good, if not better at the paperclip.

See also
The Yellow Stripe: Ailing Denny Hamlin in Need of Some Martinsville Medicine

It’s hard not to pick Johnson as a second top-tier driver with all of the success he has had in Virginia – six wins in 18 starts – but the guy who beat him one week ago was even better at Martinsville. Kevin Harvick finished third behind Hamlin and Mark Martin in the fall; additionally, in the race before that, he found himself leading in the spring before a fluke brake problem took the car out of contention. The No. 29 Chevy driver is also carrying momentum with him after a win last Sunday, so watch out.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had one of his worst runs of the season at Fontana, but it was still a respectable 12th at a track he has really struggled with in the past. The No. 88 team has to be feeling good about the progress they are making and this week they head to one of their driver’s best tracks. Earnhardt hasn’t won at Martinsville, but he has eight career top fives, 11 top 10s and was seventh, leading 90 laps last fall.

Ryan Newman and Jeff Burton are two strong middle-tier drivers to look at. Both have excelled at the flat tracks in their respective careers, although Newman has the slightly stronger Martinsville resume as of late: three top 10s in his last four races. Burton, by comparison has only one top 10 in his last four Martinsville events (last fall), but he runs well there virtually every race. Bad luck certainly has cost him some great runs at one of his strongest tracks, including a flat tire last April that kept him from challenging Hamlin for the race win.

Paul Menard will once again be the favorite out of the bottom-tier group. A surprising seventh in the season standings, he continues to be one of the most valuable drivers to fantasy owners because of his recent performances. However, in most leagues, Menard won’t be available all 36 weeks so a decent second choice this weekend is Bobby Labonte. After a strong 13th in the year’s first short-track race, Bristol, chances are the veteran won’t tear up the fenders and should at least contend for a top-20 result on Sunday.

Bench

Roush Fenway Racing and the new Ford engines had some speed at Fontana, but the team’s stable of drivers have not shined at Martinsville. Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle are the biggest offenders, so shy away from them. Kenseth has six top 10s in 22 races at Martinsville, while Biffle has been even worse: he has two top 10s in 16 races and an average finish of 23rd.

Kurt Busch has a win in Martinsville, but isn’t a very good pick this weekend. Take away the victory and he has just three top 10s in his other 20 starts at the Virginia short track. Coming off of a poor result last weekend at Fontana, don’t expect the former point leader to earn his place back atop the Sprint Cup perch – or give your roster the most bang for your buck.

Until next week, good luck my friends!

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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