STP Gas Booster 400 Practice Recap: Drivers to Watch
There is no exact science to picking the top sleeper drivers each week. After all, the drivers that fall into this category are there because they aren't typically reliable from week to week or from year to year. However, being able to look at practice times for each driver while they are in race trim definitely helps with the guessing game. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided not to provide us that opportunity this weekend at Martinsville Speedway as heavy rain washed out both of Saturday's scheduled practice sessions.
Without any practice times to rely on, a little improvisation is required, and I will use qualifying results as well as past results when discussing sleepers for Sunday's STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. After all, track position is never a bad thing to have when nobody is going to know exactly what type of car they have to work with until the green flag drops. Meanwhile, drivers that have had a few good runs at Martinsville in the past should at least have the basis of a successful setup, which should give them a leg up on the competition. With that in mind, here is a closer look at some sleeper picks that could help out fantasy teams this weekend.
Jamie McMurray, #1 McDonald's/Cessna, Chip Ganassi Racing [Yahoo Class B]
While he only has one top-five finish in 22 starts at Martinsville, McMurray has had his share of solid run at the short track. In fact, he has finished 11th or better in six of his last 10 starts at the track, and last year, he finished in the top 10 in both races. McMurray's weekend got off to a strong start when he qualified in the top 10, and recent history suggests that he is more than capable of challenging for a top-10 finish, as well.
A.J. Allmendinger, #47 Kingsford/Clorox, JTG Daugherty Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Fresh off his first top-10 at an oval since returning from his drug-related suspension, Allmendinger has a little momentum on his side heading to Martinsville. More importantly, he has six top-15s in his last nine starts at the paperclip-shaped track, including four in his last five starts. Allmendinger qualified in the top 15 for Sunday's STP 500, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he also finished somewhere in the top 15.
Brian Vickers, #55 Aaron's Dream Machine, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class B]
His career numbers at Martinsville leave a lot to be desired, but Vickers has quietly put together a couple of solid runs at the track. He finished eighth in the fall race of 2012 while driving for Michael Waltrip Racing, and he managed an 11th-place finish while subbing for Denny Hamlin last spring. Vickers is back with MWR for Sunday's race, and he secured a top-15 starting spot in qualifying Friday. At the very least, he should be able to challenge for a top-15 on race day and possibly a top-10
Danica Patrick, #10 GoDaddy.com, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class C]
Patrick has been a liability for fantasy owners for most of her brief Cup career, but she has been surprisingly decent at Martinsville. She finished 12th at the track last spring and followed it up with a 17th-place run in the fall event. I'll admit that I'm still a little skeptical about whether or not she can deliver another top-20 this weekend, but after a strong 10th-place run in qualifying, she is definitely worth taking a chance on, especially in deeper leagues.
Marcos Ambrose, #9 Stanley/Dewalt Power Tools, Richard Petty Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
Although he has been a little inconsistent overall at Martinsville, there is something about the spring race that brings out the best in Ambrose. In five starts in the spring event, he has four top-15 finishes, and he notched his first-ever top-10 at the short track last April. Ambrose will start in the top 20 Sunday after a 17th-place effort in qualifying Friday, putting him well within striking distance of yet another top-15 in the spring race.
Aric Almirola, #43 Smithfield Foods, Richard Petty Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
Since becoming a full-time driver two years ago, Almirola has been pretty dependable at Martinsville. He has a 13.3 average finish in four starts at the short track, finishing in the top 20 in all four starts and logging a pair of top-10s. After a qualifying 20th Friday, Almirola probably isn't on track for a top-10 run this weekend. However, a top-20 run is very reasonable, making him a viable sleeper option in deeper formats.
Alex Bowman, #23 Burger King/Dr. Pepper, BK Racing [Yahoo Class C]
The rookie has never made a Cup start at Martinsville and only has five total cup starts under his belt so experience is not on his side. That being said, he looked pretty comfortable in qualifying Friday when he secured a top-20 starting spot. With Saturday's practices getting rained out, starting in the top half of the field becomes an even bigger advantage, especially for a young driver like Bowman. The decent track position gives him a great shot at staying on the lead lap early in the race, which instantly bumps him ahead of the rest of the drivers for smaller teams that he is typically racing around. Bowman could be a worth a flier this weekend in the right format.
FFToolbox Fantasy NASCAR Writer since 2011
I grew up in a racing family, and I spent my childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky. NASCAR became a passion of mine at an early age as well, and I have been following the sport ever since I can remember. While I earned my degree in journalism at Ohio State University, I began writing about NASCAR for several Web sites in 2005. I became head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com and FantasyCup.com in 2008 and was a finalist for the Fantasy Sports Writer's Association NASCAR Writer of the Year in 2009. My knowledge of NASCAR stems from my lifelong love of the sport, and I believe that passion shows through in every article I write.