STP Gas Booster 500 Practice Recap: Drivers to Watch
STP Gas Booster 500 Practice Recap: Drivers to Watch
Martinsville Speedway is the smallest and slowest track on the Cup Series schedule, but despite the low speeds, the lack of banking at the paperclip-shaped oval puts a huge onus on brakes during the race. Basically, just about any driver can make their car handle well for a few laps by mashing the brake pedal to make it turn. However, abusing the brakes will come back to haunt a driver in the later stages of the race. Meanwhile, drivers that have cars that are handling well and can roll through the center of the corners are able to save their brakes and pick their speeds up another notch in crunch time. As a result, knowing which drivers can put down fast laps both on short and long runs is crucial to identifying drivers that could be up front when it matters most Sunday. With that in mind, here is a closer look at a few drivers that stood out on the time charts and should be able to help fantasy teams this weekend.
1. Clint Bowyer: It was literally a perfect afternoon for Bowyer at Martinsville Saturday. Not only did he post the fastest lap in both practices, but he posted the best 10-lap average speed in both sessions, as well. He deserves heavy consideration based on his speeds alone, but when you also factor in that he finished 10-th and fifth at the track last year and posted average funning positions inside the top four in both events, Bowyer has all the makings of a top-five fantasy option this weekend.
2. Jimmie Johnson: After getting loosened up in the first practice with the 11th-fastest lap and fifth-best 10-lap average speed, he really cranked it up in Happy Hour, ranking second on the charts in both categories. Johnson had already won the pole for Sunday’s race on Friday, and the strong practice times are the icing on the cake for a driver that should be owned in every fantasy format possible. Keep in mind that Johnson leads all drivers with a 122.3 driver rating, 5.5 average finish and seven wins at Martinsville.
3. Kyle Busch: He rolls into Martinsville having finished fourth or better in the last three races of the year, and he stayed hot at the flat, half-mile oval Saturday. Busch posted the second-fastest lap of the opening practice to go along with the third-best 10-lap average speed. He also ranked logged the third-best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. Busch has been a bit hot and cold at Martinsville, but with a very fast car and four finishes of fourth or better in his last seven starts at the track, fantasy owners should feel comfortable that he will deliver strong results Sunday.
4. Jeff Gordon: Gordon put down the second-fastest lap of the opening practice Saturday, and he continued to flex his muscle on long runs. He managed the third-best 10-lap average speed in the first session and the sixth-best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. Throw in the fact that he has 32 top-10s in 40 career starts at Martinsville to go along with seven wins, and Gordon is one of the safest options available to fantasy owners this weekend.
5. Brian Vickers: He is once again making the most of his time in the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55. Vickers posted the fourth-fastest lap in the first practice to go along with the sixth-best 10-lap average speed, and in Happy Hour, he ranked eighth and 11th in the two categories. He is also starting third in Sunday’s race, and last fall at Martinsville, he started second and went on to finish eighth. Vickers has a fast car once again this weekend, and there is no reason he can’t deliver another top-10 effort for fantasy owners.
6. Greg Biffle: His career numbers at Martinsville are forgettable, and in 20 starts at the track, he has a 21.4 average finish and just three top-10s. However, Biffle has cracked the top 15 in his last three starts at the track, and more importantly, he showed plenty of consistency over the two practice sessions Saturday. After posting the seventh-fastest lap of the first practice, he jumped to fourth on the charts in Happy Hour. Biffle also posted the seventh-best 10-lap average speed in the final session, and despite the lackluster results, his practice times are intriguing. Owners willing to take a chance on Biffle could be rewarded with a top-10 finish this weekend.
7. Jeff Burton: There was a lot to love about Burton’s performance in the practices Saturday. After logging the eighth-fastest lap and 15th-best 10-lap average speed in the first session, he improved in both categories in Happy Hour, ranking fifth and 10th, respectively. Granted, Burton’s recent results at Martinsville have been inconsistent, but he does have a 15.0 average finish at the track for his career. He also finished sixth at the track as recently as 2011. Throw in the fact that Burton also logged a top-10 finish at the first short track race of the year in Phoenix, and the veteran could sneak into the top 15 Sunday and make a solid addition to fantasy rosters.
8. Ryan Newman: He was rock solid throughout both practice sessions Saturday, putting down the fifth-fastest lap in the first practice and the eighth-best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. Newman also happens to be the defending winner of this weekend’s race, and while his victory was aided by a late-race wreck between the top three cars, he has still finished 11th or better in six of his last eight races at Martinsville. He probably won’t make it back-to-back wins in the spring race at the track this weekend, but don’t be surprised if he shows up in the top 10.
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