The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, coming out of an off week. The flat, paperclip-shaped oval will host Saturday night's Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. Although Martinsville is the smallest and slowest track on the schedule, the half-mile short track typically provides plenty of excitement.
In many ways, this weekend's race will be the first short track event of the 2021 season. Yes, we have already had some races with the 750-horsepower package, and we did visit Bristol a couple of weeks ago. However, a dirt-covered Bristol track is not the best predictor of what we should expect Saturday night. Phoenix is probably the closest comp we have to look at as far as races this year. Still, for the most part, I focused on recent results at Martinsville and overall speed in 2021 when building my rankings.
From a fantasy standpoint, Martinsville tends to be a track where a small group of drivers can hit a setup and pile up some incredible numbers, but it is also a track where some midrange drivers see a jump in value. When it comes to driver allocations, you should be able to use a combination of high-end studs and mid-level alternatives to build strong fantasy lineups that help you in both the short- and long-term.
- Martin Truex Jr.: If not for a loose wheel in the closing laps last fall, Truex would probably be gunning for a Martinsville four-peat this weekend. He has won two of the previous three races here, leading more than 100 laps in three straight starts.
- Brad Keselowski: He has reeled off 10 straight top-10s at Martinsville, posting a series-best 3.8 average finish in that stretch. Keselowski also has five straight top-5s at the track, including finishes of third and fourth a year ago. He might not have the highest upside in DFS formats, but you will not find a more reliable fantasy option this weekend.
- Chase Elliott: After several close calls, Elliott finally broke through and won at Martinsville last fall, leading 236 laps and notching 17 stage points. The victory came on the heels of a top-5 finish at the track in the spring, and he should be near the front of the field again Saturday night.
- Ryan Blaney: Blaney has been surging at Martinsville since joining Team Penske. He was the runner-up in both races here last year, leading more than 30 laps in both events. Overall, he has five top-5s in six Martinsville starts in the No. 12.
- Joey Logano: Over the last three seasons, Logano has five top-10s in six starts at Martinsville, including an impressive win in the fall of 2018 when he led more than 300 laps. He finished third and fourth in the two races last year, leading 234 laps in the spring event. Starting from the pole, he has serious dominator upside in DFS contests.
- Denny Hamlin: Hamlin's overall numbers at Martinsville are among the best in the series, but he struggled a bit here a year ago, finishing outside the top 10 in both starts. He could certainly bounce back and contend this weekend. His front-row starting spot gives him some serious dominator potential in DFS contests.
- Kyle Larson: Martinsville has not been his best track historically, but he did finish in the top 10 in his most recent start here. More importantly, he has been a weekly threat to visit victory lane in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. Starting 19th, he could be one of the top scorers at the DFS sites this weekend.
- William Byron: Byron crashed out at Martinsville last fall, but he had a top-10 run going before the accident. He finished eighth in the June race at the track earlier that season, and he was the runner-up in the fall race in 2019. Off to a strong start this season, Byron could be a sleeper top-5 play Saturday night.
- Alex Bowman: After some mediocre results at Martinsville to start his career, Bowman delivered a pair of six-place finishes here last year. Hendrick Motorsports was strong here in general in 2020, and I expect Bowman to have top-10 upside again this weekend. He could be a fantasy force, especially in the Slingshot game, from a mid-pack starting spot.
- Kyle Busch: It was just a couple of years ago that Busch was a lock to contend for the win and finish in the top 5 at Martinsville, but his days of dominating the short track appear to have passed. Busch has finished 14th, 19th, and ninth in the last three races here, and he is no longer a must-start fantasy option at Martinsville.
- Kurt Busch: After being up and down at Martinsville for much of his career, Busch has been locked in at the short track the last few seasons. He has finished 12th or better in his last six starts here, finishing sixth, ninth and fifth in his last three outings. Busch will be a top-10 threat Saturday night.
- Kevin Harvick: Although Harvick hasn't been awful at Martinsville, it still ranks as one of his worst tracks on the schedule. He finished 15th and 17th here last year, and he only has two top-5s in his last 10 starts at the track. Yes, he could sneak into the top-10, but I don't see much upside, especially by his standards. I'll be avoiding Harvick in most formats this weekend.
- Matt DiBenedetto: Team Penske has been stout at Martinsville. DiBenedetto took advantage of having the same equipment, finishing seventh and 10th in the two races last year. I like him as a sleeper in all fantasy formats.
- Christopher Bell: After a 28th-place finish in his Martinsville debut, Bell rebounded with a top-15 effort in the fall race last year. The offseason move to Joe Gibbs Racing has led to a great start to 2021 for the sophomore, so I think he can at least deliver another top-15 Saturday night.
- Ryan Newman: Martinsville remains one of the tracks where Newman can usually grind out a solid finish. He has a 13.8 average finish in his last 10 starts here, and he has only finished outside the top 20 once in that stretch. Newman could be a Group B sleeper in the DGG, but a top-10 starting spot makes him tough to use in DFS contests.
- Aric Almirola: It has been a brutal start to the year for Almirola, but he has notched four top-15s and two top-10s in six starts at Martinsville with Stewart-Haas Racing. Starting way back in 31st, he has too much upside in DFS contests and in the Slingshot game to ignore. You will want some exposure.
- Chris Buescher: Buescher has cracked the top 20 in all six races since the Daytona 500, cracking the top 15 four times. It should be another solid finish out of him Saturday night at Martinsville, where he has cracked the top 15 in three of his last five starts.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Martinsville hasn't been his strongest track over the year, but Stenhouse is enjoying an incredible start to 2021. He has a 12.3 average finish overall, and he hasn't finished worse than 18th. Stenhouse has cracked the top 15 in the last five races, notching a runner-up effort at Bristol. He is a weekly Group starting candidate in the DGG.
- Erik Jones: Jones has been able to hold his own for Richard Petty Motorsports, posting a 20.4 average finish and managing a couple of top-10s. Martinsville was never his best track when he was driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Still, Bubba Wallace was a steady top-20 performer here in the No. 43, and I think Jones can deliver similar results.
- Tyler Reddick: He finished 16th and 24th in two starts at Martinsville as a rookie, but my more significant concern with Reddick is his all-or-nothing results. He was a contender at Homestead and Bristol, but he has finished outside the top 20 in the other five races, finishing outside the top 25 four times. I'm not sure the reward will be worth the risk with Reddick this weekend.
- Austin Dillon: Dillon is off to a solid start this season, posting a 15.0 average finish and finishing 17th or better in five of the seven races. However, Martinsville has been a trouble spot for him, and he has finished outside the top 20 in five of his last six starts here. Dillon will be tough to trust in fantasy formats this weekend.
- Bubba Wallace: It has been a slower-than-expected start to Wallace's year, but he did finish 16th at both Phoenix and Atlanta in recent weeks. He has also had success at Martinsville in the Truck Series, and he has finished 21st or better in his last four Cup starts here. Starting 25th, I like Wallace as a DFS option this weekend.
- Michael McDowell: McDowell has parlayed his upset win in the Daytona 500 into a solid start to 2021. He brings a 12.3 average finish into Martinsville, and he only has one finished outside the top 20. Don't forget about McDowell when looking for Group C options in the DGG.
- Daniel Suarez: Fresh off a fourth-place finish on the dirt at Bristol, Suarez and first-year team Trackhouse Racing continue to exceed all expectations. Suarez owns a 19.3 average finish for the year, and he has finished 21st or better in five of the seven races. He's a legitimate Group C sleeper in the Driver Group Game.
- Cole Custer: Custer's season has been trending in the wrong direction, and there is no guarantee that a trip to Martinsville will right the ship. He finished 29th and 13th in two starts here as a rookie, and I wouldn't expect more than a top-20 out of him Saturday based on his performance in recent weeks.
- Ross Chastain: Given his aggressive style, Chastain's boom-or-bust results this year shouldn't be a surprise. He has crashed out of two of the seven races. While a short track like Martinsville could create the atmosphere for another wreck, he also has some legitimate fantasy upside from the 27th starting spot. Chastain could be an X-factor in DFS contests.
- Ryan Preece: Although Preece's numbers have started to slip after a fast start, he could be worth a look as a GPP flier at the DFS sites this weekend. He has cracked the top 20 in three of his four starts at Martinsville.
- Chase Briscoe: Briscoe owns a 22.1 average finish for the year, but it is his lack of upside that has him this low in my rankings. He has finished between 18th and 23rd in six of the seven races, giving him little fantasy value from the 24th starting spot this weekend.
- Justin Haley: Haley has made six starts this year, finishing between 24th and 30th in all of them. He will start 30th Saturday night, giving him some potential roll-of-the-dice budget play in GPP contests.
- Anthony Alfredo: The rookie has been struggling the last few races, and he crashed out at both Phoenix and Bristol. He does have a lot of place differential upside from the 35th starting spot, but he is still no more than a risky DFS punt play.
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