This Is The Week To Leave Edwards "In The Garage"
There's not much information to go off of this weekend, so I'm going to look at past history as a major indicator for who is going to be good in Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. As you probably read in Ryan's Scouting Report, recent and overall history here is a key factor for predicting who will do good, followed by practice speeds. There was only one practice session this weekend, though, so those teams that were on the edge (I'm looking at you Carl Edwards) probably will start the race Sunday at a bit disadvantage. You can view my Practice Breakdown--which includes average speed and ten-lap averages--for this weekend by clicking here. I'm going to wait to finalize my rosters until I read the crew chief notes, which come out on Sunday morning. For my final top ten as well as my rosters, be sure to check my Twitter feed tomorrow. Finally, if you have any questions or would like my opinion, you can leave a comment on here, but there's a chance I won't see it. E-mails go directly to me phone, firstname.lastname@example.org , so feel free to shoot me a message and I'll be sure to get back with you.
Carl Edwards - The last thing Carl Edwards needed this weekend was all that rain. By now, you should all know that he has struggled at Martinsville (to say the least--this is his worst track on the circuit excluding restrictor plate tracks) and I expect more of the same this weekend. He starts on the pole and will have a nice advantage with the first pit stall, but I don't see Cousin Carl padding his points lead by any means this weekend. His #99 Ford was borderline terrible in practice, ending up with the 29th-fastest lap and 33rd on the average speed chart, essentially dead last in my mind because the people lower than him were the likes of Scott Speed and Landon Cassill. I think this team would consider a top 15 a win on Sunday, and the only way Edwards will end up in the front when the checkered flag waves is with some major luck. I'm avoiding Carl like the plague this weekend.
Matt Kenseth - Kenseth is pretty much in the same boat as Edwards in my mind (I think they may even have the same setup). As with Carl, Matt's struggled at Martinsville to say the least, with just two top 5s in twenty-three career starts. Kenseth was 24th on the practice chart, 30th on the average speed chart, and 29th (out of 34) on the ten-lap average chart on Saturday. Remember the whole plague thing I said with Edwards? Yeah, do the same with the #17. Expect a deep teens finish from both of them in the Tums Fast Relief 500. Sorry, Roush fans.
Brad Keselowski - Talk about a time to capitalize... "Bad Brad" is sitting third in the points and Martinsville is a track where he has found moderate success at in the past. However, BK didn't impress me much at all during practice on Friday, although his teammate, Kurt Busch, wasn't terrible (although he ran a limited number of laps, which is concerning). Keselowski has a worst finish of 19th in three career starts at "The Paperclip," and while I don't see him finishing worse than that on Sunday, I'm not predicting a top 10 by any means. This team does have a knack of being in the right place at the right time, though, and they're not too bad at continuously improving the Blue Deuce throughout the race.
Tony Stewart - "Smoke" has had a bunch of success (including two victories) at this race track over his twenty-five career starts, but recently it's quite the opposite for the two-time Sprint Cup champion. In the last three races here, Stewart hasn't finished better than 24th, and what's even worse is that in two of those races, he started in the top 6. He'll roll off the grid in 4th on Sunday afternoon, but I just don't see Tony ending up anywhere near that when it's all said and done. He was 19th on the average speed chart, but right down there with Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards in terms of ten-lap average (26th). Due to his recent history at this track and his struggles in practice, you won't find Mr. Stewart on any of my rosters this weekend.
Kevin Harvick - There's been a bunch of negativity in this post thus far, hasn't there? Well, it's not going to change. Any time I hear "engine difficulties" in practice it worries me, and although it was just an ignition box issue for the #29 Chevrolet, that's still going to be in the back of my mind when I make my picks for the Tums Fast Relief 500. Add in the fact that Harvick and Greg Biffle could get into it again on Sunday and I view "Happy" as just too risky of a pick for me. He was 15th on the ten-lap average chart during practice and 9th on the overall average speed chart, so his Chevrolet could be decently fast, but the fact that Harvick has just two top 5s at this track in twenty starts isn't very re-assuring. However, those both came in the last two races, and Kevin has seven top 12s in his last eight starts here. I don't see him winning on Sunday, but as long as him and The Biff don't get into it, Harvick should make it eight for nine at Martinsville for top 12s.
Kyle Busch - "Rowdy" wasn't very impressive in practice if you look at at the average speed chart (he ended up 31st out of 43), but he's one of the best short track racers in the series and I like that he had the sixth-best ten-lap average in practice. As I said in my preview, Kyle is hit-or-miss at Martinsville, with six top 5s in thirteen career starts but also five finishes outside of the top 20. I still expect Busch to challenge for the win on Sunday, though, and be on the "hit" side. In the race here in April, Busch led a race-high 151 laps and finished 3rd, his second-straight top 5 finish at "The Paperclip."
Jimmie Johnson - "Five Time" would be my outright favorite to win on Sunday, but this team has been "off" on weekends where I think that this season, so that always sticks in the back of my mind. Johnson had the best ten-lap average in practice and wound up 16th on the average speed chart, which is actually pretty good for him. He has just one finish outside of the top 10 at Martinsville since 2002 (and that was an 11th), so I'm gonna go ahead and say Johnson is a lock for a top 10. If they want any outside chance at the championship, the #48 crew is going to need a flawless race and a victory on Sunday, although I personally think their championship hopes are gone.
Kurt Busch - As I said before, the elder Busch brother ended up a solid 7th on the average speed chart, but he ran just 68 laps in practice, and that's a bit concerning. In my mind, they were either searching with the "Double Deuce" or his Dodge is just that good. I'm leaning toward the former, though. Kurt was 11th on the ten-lap average chart and he hasn't finished inside the top 10 at "The Paperclip" since 2005. I don't see that changing this weekend, although a top 15 is a possibility for Busch.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Junior Nation this could be your week. Earnhardt was one of just four drivers to run at least 100 laps in practice, and he didn't look too bad at all, coming in at 4th on the ten-lap average chart and 2nd on the average speed chart. While he has never won at Martinsville, this is (statistically) Junior's third-best track on the circuit, and since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he has notched five top 10s in seven starts at "The Paperclip." I'm not guaranteeing a victory, but I'll say this: unless he runs into trouble during the race, expect Junior to be near the front when it's all said and done on Sunday.
Jeff Gordon - I usually don't put someone as a lock for a top 5 on a weekend, but it's really hard for me not to do that with Jeff Gordon in Martinsville. In the last thirteen races here, Gordon has twelve top 5s, and the only reason he didn't finish there in that lone race (which was this race last season) was because he was wrecked. This is about as safe of pick as they come. The #24 Chevrolet was third-best in ten-lap runs during Happy Hour, and I could easily see it coming down to the three Hendrick teammates at the end on Sunday: Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jeff Gordon.
Denny Hamlin - There's no doubt that Denny will lead laps on Sunday, but will this team be able to put together a full race? He's been good on the tracks that he should be in 2011, but sometimes Hamlin doesn't get the finish to show for it (case in point: the last race at Martinsville, where Denny ended up an uncharacteristic 12th despite leading 89 laps). Ending up 18th on the average speed chart didn't put any more confidence (in my mind) behind Hamlin, and he was 23rd on the overall average speed chart after running 97 laps. It's hard to overlook his history at this track (6.6 average finish in twelve starts, four wins) but I just think that there are better options than the #11 Toyota this weekend. A top 10 wouldn't surprise me, but I'm thinking more of a top 15 run for last year's runner-up in the Tums Fast Relief 500.
Ryan Newman - Like his owner, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman has been very impressive recently at Martinsville Speedway. In the last two races here, "The Rocketman" has started 4th and 2nd, but has finished those races 30th and 20th, respectively. However, before those races, Newman rattled off three-straight top 10s here, and he has finished outside of the top 20 just four times in nineteen career starts. Ryan was 11th on the overall average speed chart and 17th on the ten-lap average for Friday's practice. I see nothing to persuade me that Newman won't finish around his career average at this track on Sunday (14.6).
Clint Bowyer - I was expecting so much more out of Clint this weekend... He has never been a very "great" driver at Martinsville, though, so I guess I was just caught up in the momentum he might have coming off of his win at Talladega. In practice, the #33 Chevrolet ended up 23rd on the ten-lap average chart, but Clint was 4th on the overall average speed chart. However, he ran just 62 laps, which is a bit concerning to me. Maybe his car is just that good, though? He did lay down the second-fastest lap. Bowyer has one top 5 finish here (in 2009), but when he has a pretty good car he usually finishes around 9th or 10th. I'd pencil him in for around there, but if the race ends on a long, green flag run, a teens finish is more likely to happen for Bowyer.
A.J. Allmendinger - After finished 38th and 35th in his first two attempts at this track, it started to look like The Dinger finally figured "The Paperclip" out, with finishes of 15th and 9th following. He came back to earth after, though, and finished 34th and 38th in the next races, but then ended up 12th in this race last season and finished 14th here in April. Moral of that long story? A.J. is hit or miss when it comes to Martinsville. He ended up 5th on the average speed chart, though, and 9th on the ten-lap average for practice on Saturday.
Marcos Ambrose - If you're looking for some sleepers, load up on the Richard Petty Fords. Like his teammate, Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose is hit-or-miss when it comes to Martinsville (two top 15s compared to three finishes of 27th or worse in five starts), but the #9 Ford looked pretty sporty in practice, ending up 12th on the average speed chart and 5th in ten-lap average. Marcos only ran 60 laps, though, so that concerns me a bit. In case you didn't see Dustin Long's tweet about what Jamie McMurray said about Ambrose in practice, you can view that by clicking here.
Juan Montoya - Remember what I said in my Preview? "Don't be afraid to give Juan a shot if the #42 Chevrolet looks good in practice on Friday." Well, there wasn't any practice on Friday, but Montoya didn't look too bad during the session on Saturday: in terms of overall average speed, JPM was 8th on the board, and he ended up 10th on the ten-lap average chart. In nine starts at "The Paperclip," Montoya has just one finish outside of the top 20 and a total of three top 10s (including two top 5s in the last four races). As far as him starting 20th, Montoya is used to it: he has just two starts inside the top 20 in his nine career races here.
Jamie McMurray - Just like the Petty Fords, don't be afraid to take a shot with the Ganassi Chevrolets this weekend in Martinsville. I had McMurray ranked 11th in my Preview, which I'm sure many people disagreed with, but I'm standing firmly behind it now as well. Jamie was 2nd on the ten-lap average chart and was the best on the overall average speed chart after running 85 laps in practice. He will roll off the grid in 27th on Sunday, but in the two races here in 2009, McMurray started 28th and 23rd and finished 10th and 6th, respectively. He has four finishes of 11th or better in the last five Martinsville races and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Jamie McMurray finish around there on Sunday.