March 27, 2009

If you enjoyed last week's race at Bristol, you're in luck. For the second straight week the Sprint Cup Series visits a short track, this time the series' shortest track: Martinsville Speedway. Just like last week, qualifying will be a key for this race given the limited number of prime spots on pit road. Another key to victory will be keeping cool. Not only the driver behind the wheel not letting his emotions get away from him and wrecking havoc for himself and the rest of the field, but keeping those all important brakes cool that are always overworked when we visit Martinsville.

So which drivers will help you maintain your cool when you check your fantasy team's results on Monday morning? Check out this week's version of favorites, sleepers and longshots.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson: Look for this set of teammates to be making plenty of headlines this week. Will we see the end to Gordon's 46-race winless streak? Or the first of likely several wins this year for Johnson as he guns for a historic fourth straight title? That question will be answered on the track Sunday afternoon, but if history is any indicator these two will be in the mix for the win. Since 2003, the Hendrick Motorsports duo has owned Martinsville Speedway. Each driver has finished in the top 10 in those 10 races and have a combined seven wins (Gordon with two and Johnson with five) between them. If you have to pick between the two, I would give an edge to Johnson who is coming off an uncharacteristically strong finish (third) at Bristol last week. But you honestly can't go wrong playing either one.

By the numbers: Johnson has completed all 5,010 laps run in the past 10 races at Martinsville. He's led for a total of 1,345 laps, including over 113 laps in each of the past six races. In his career, Gordon has made 32 starts at Martinsville amassing seven wins, 20 top fives and 26 top 10s.

Denny Hamlin: If one driver can spoil the Hendrick party at Martinsville, it just might be Virginia's own Hamlin. Coming off his second place finish at Bristol, Hamlin is looking to defend his title after beating Gordon by nearly two seconds in last year's Goody's 500. In his relatively short career, Hamlin has shown himself to be a pretty stout short track driver, earning 14 top 10s in 20 career starts at tracks less than one mile. Add to that the fact you can't discount his desire to want to run well in front of the hometown crowd, and Hamlin is a solid option to counter the Hendrick 1-2 punch this week.

By the numbers: In seven starts at Martinsville, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all but one race which came in 2006, when he was involved in a wreck just past the halfway point.

Juan Pablo Montoya: When the former open-wheel star came on the NASCAR scene, it was pretty much a given that he'd be a contender on the two road course tracks on the schedule. What has come as a surprise is how well he has taken to the short tracks that built the foundation of the sport. Other than a run-in with Jamie McMurray, Montoya had a pretty uneventful race at Bristol last week but impressed everyone with his ninth-place finish -- his first top 10 of 2009. Montoya's qualifying efforts have been improved over year's past, but at Martinsville he's gotten decent results without putting up a big number on Friday. In his four races at the Virginia short track, he has an average start of 25.5 with an average finish of 12.8, including an eighth-place finish in the fall of 2007. If you're looking for a good second-tier driver or mid-range salary driver, Montoya might be an option many of your competitors won't think to take advantage of.

By the numbers: Looking at average finish by track type, Montoya's second best average finish has come on short tracks (20.9). Of course his best style of tracks are the road courses (12.5).

Ryan Newman: Another driver looking to build upon his Bristol success is Newman. After four races full of nothing but misfortune and disappointment, Newman finally turned things around last Sunday putting in a strong performance over the entire weekend which included a start on the front row before ultimately finishing seventh. Early in his career it seemed like he had Martinsville figured out, scoring four straight top five finishes between 2003 and 2005. But even his "off years" weren't that off. In the past seven races, he has a pair of top 10s including a second place finish in 2007's fall event. When it comes to building your team, it's hard to pick a driver based off momentum alone. But in the case of a new team like Newman's, you're likely to get a bigger bang for your buck.

By the numbers: In 14 career starts at Martinsville, Newman has yet to visit victory lane but he has managed an average start of 7.5 and average finish of 15th.

Marcos Ambrose: Picking drivers in the group or salary range where you're likely to find Ambrose is always a tricky proposition. Oftentimes, these are the final drivers that you pick to fill out your roster and you're looking for them to not hurt your team as much as you're looking for them to help you out. That being said, Ambrose could be a solid play this weekend if you find yourself in a position where you need one of these fillers. So far in his first full season, only an engine failure at Atlanta has kept him out of the top 25 and he's coming off a 10th-place finish at Bristol last weekend. The downside is Bristol is his only short track experience to date. But given that he was able to keep his nose clean last weekend, he's a good bet to give you a solid top 20 this weekend.

By the numbers: In 16 career starts, Ambrose has never failed to finish a race due to a crash.

Kasey Kahne: With a fifth place finish at Bristol, Kahne continued his quiet ascent up the Sprint Cup standings, gaining three positions to enter this weekend's race at Martinsville in sixth place. Fresh off back-to-back top 10 finishes, Kahne comes to a track where he's had his share of bad luck. In 10 starts, he's only been able to muster an average finish of 18.5 and two top 10 finishes. He does have momentum on his side right now, but has this team that ended 2008 on such a down note really turned the corner enough to string together three straight top 10s? It's possible, but there are so many other tracks where Kahne would be a more confident pick that he can ride the bench this week.

By the numbers: Kahne has only led a lap in only two of his Martinsville starts, his first two in 2004 when he led a combined 18 laps.

Next up: The Sprint Cup Series heads to the fast 1.5-mile track in the Lone Star state.

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