Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway
Joey Logano added to this season’s long list of winners two Mondays ago, winning the first Cup Series race on dirt in over 50 years. He also became the first driver to win on dirt since Richard Petty, ever heard of him?
So, seven races in and we have seven different winners as playoffs spots are closing quickly. With only 16 total playoff spots and seven different winners, there are now just nine more playoff spots on the line with 19 regular season races remaining. Now more than ever it seems more important to win at least one race. Getting in on points may not be an option.
There are still plenty of big-name drivers that are yet to win this season that you almost guarantee is going to win sooner rather than later. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott combined to win 22-of-36 races last season and are all still winless in 2021. This week offers up a great chance for all three of these drivers and more to punch their ticket to victory lane as we still await the first repeat winner of the season.
We’ve got back-to-back short tracks this week as teams head from Bristol to Martinsville to take on Martinsville Speedway. Martinsville is currently run twice per season as it is scheduled early in the spring as well as the penultimate race of the season.
The Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 is a 500-lap race around a half-mile Martinsville Speedway. This track has plenty of recent history with six races run there over the past three seasons. Winners at Martinsville in this time include Martin Truex Jr. (twice), Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and now-retired Clint Bowyer. Can any of these guys get to victory lane again? Two of them (Truex and Logano) would be repeat winners this season, while the other two (Elliott and Keselowski) still search for that elusive 2020 win.
I’ve decided to mix things up a little in the below section. Rather than naming the same drivers every week, I’m going to pick one driver from each DraftKings price range that I like and one that I’m choosing to avoid. Read on to see my thoughts on this weekend.
Drivers I Like
Denny Hamlin ($10,400)
It’s hard to go wrong in the $10K plus range, as many of these drivers have the potential to return on investment, but the one guy that stands out to me here is Denny Hamlin. Hamlin starts on the front row, has been the most consistent driver this season and has a great track history at Martinsville. In his career, Hamlin has won at Martinsville five time which leads all active drivers. His most recent trip to victory lane came all the way back in 2015, but he also won three straight races at the track from 2009-2010. Starting up front gives Hamlin a solid opportunity to lead laps early on which will be a big advantage at Martinsville, as this is a 500-lap race. As well as leading all active drivers with wins at Martinsville, Hamlin also leads all active drivers in top-10s (21) and laps led (1,608.) Look for Hamlin to earn his first victory of the season this Saturday night.
Alex Bowman ($9,200)
Bowman the Showman hasn’t been incredibly strong this season, but his 20th-place starting position makes me like him as a DraftKings' play this week. In his last six starts at Martinsville, Bowman only has one finish outside the top-20, making him a prime target for a driver that is all but guaranteed to improve on his starting position. Bowman has only led one career lap at Martinsville, but last season he finished sixth in both races at the track which was a career high. Despite Bowman seeming to be the most lackluster of al the Hendrick cars so far this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get his season kickstarted this weekend in Martinsville.
Christopher Bell ($8,400)
Bell has taken a nice step forward in his sophomore season, already compiling three top-10 finishes in seven races after recording just seven top-10 finishes all last season. Bell and his Gibbs team have been strong when they’ve been able to avoid trouble. Bell spun out in the opening stage of the Bristol dirt race while running well inside the top-10 and ended his day as well as a few other drivers. Would he have saved his car and kept rolling, there’s no doubt in my mind he would have been contending for the win. Bell’s bread and butter are short tracks. Of his 16 career Xfinity series wins, 11 of them have come on tracks one mile or shorter. He also notched two such wins in his Truck Series career as well. Bell has great equipment and a solid crew chief in Adam Stevens who previously served as Kyle Busch’s crew chief for quite some time. Bell should find his way up front Saturday night and make some noise. He starts from the 23rd position.
Bubba Wallace ($7,300)
If you remember all the way back to last year’s spring race at Martinsville, you’ll remember Bubba Wallace having a very strong run in his #BlackLivesMatter sponsored Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet. Wallace ran in the top-10 for most of the race but faded late and finished 11th. That was an impressive run for Wallace, and this year he returns in even better equipment. Its an incredibly long shot – 80-1 to be exact – but I could see Wallace coming away with his first ever Cup Series victory this weekend. He’s always run well at the track, posting three career top-20 finishes which all came in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. With strong backing from Toyota, he could have a surprisingly strong run. I certainly expect him to move forward from his 25th-place starting position.
Corey Lajoie ($5,200)
Lajoie is an interesting guy, and this will be the third straight week I’m contemplating using him as a DraftKings play. Driving for Spire Motorsports, there is relatively no chance for him to win barring a lucky passing rainstorm, but the strategy his team uses can sometimes pay off for DraftKings' play. On more than one occasion Lajoie has been the last car to pit during green flag stops which has led to his leading 12 laps this season. It also seems to be a bit of bad luck that has been holding him back from his true potential this season. He crashed out in the opening stage last week, blew an engine in Homestead and had more mechanical issues at Las Vegas. He also blew a tire late at Atlanta which resulted in a bad finish. If Lajoie and his bunch can finish a race with luck on their side, he could give you just the bargain buy you need this week. Lajoie has a pair of top-20 finishes at Martinsville during his time with Go Fas Racing and has shown he knows his way around the paperclip.
Drivers I’m Avoiding
Kyle Larson ($11,700)
He’s hotter than an all-steel playground at recess, starts all the way back in 19th and isn’t even listed as the most expensive DraftKings' driver this weekend. So, what’s not to like? Of all the tracks on the circuit, this could be Larson’s worst. Larson sports an average finish of 20th over the past three seasons at Martinsville with no finish higher than ninth. As a matter of fact, Larson’s ninth-place finish in 2019 was just his second top-10 at Martinsville in 12 career races. Larson has led just 35 career laps at the track and has never really been a factor to win a grandfather clock. Certainly, his first shot with Hendrick-backed equipment could result in newfound success, but I’m not willing to spend as much as it is going to cost to get him on by DraftKings' team this weekend. Any bets I cast on Larson with weekend will likely be against him.
Kevin Harvick ($9,600)
Harvick is starting far too close to the front for me to have any interest this weekend. Starting in ninth place is somewhat no-man’s land. I don’t see Harvick driving up past guys like Hamlin, Logano or Blaney to lead any laps. I also don’t anticipate Harvick running many fast laps with how poorly the Stewart-Hass cars have looks as a whole this season. In the last six Martinsville races, Harvick has not finished better than fifth. Harvick has just one career win at Martinsville in 39 career races at the track. I’m not expecting Harvick to get his groove back at this particular track.
Aric Almirola ($8,100)
Sticking with Stewart-Hass drivers, I’m not very keen on Aric Almirola this week. Almirola’s struggles continued on the Bristol dirt when he got spun out and struck by several cars to end his day in the opening stage. This week Almirola heads to Martinsville where he has finished outside the top-30 in two of the last three races. Almirola starts 31st, so there is some hope that he can improve on this position, but passing can be difficult at Martinsville, especially if your car lacks drive off the corners. Almirola is risky business in lineups this weekend, posting a career average finish of 21.46 at the track. Almirola’s best career finish at the track is fourth, coming all the way back in 2012. Since joining Stewart-Hass, his best career finish at the track is seventh.
Tyler Reddick ($7,500)
As a rookie last season, Tyler Reddick struggled at Martinsville. In his first career race at the track, Reddick finished in 16th position one lap down. When teams returned in the fall, Reddick fared even worse. He finished in 24th position two laps off the pace then. His struggles at the track worry me too much to trust him in my DraftKings' lineups this week. Reddick will be starting from the 13th position Saturday night, but has never finished higher than 16th which does not bode well for place differential. I want to see Reddick prove he can get around the paperclip before I can trust betting on him.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($5,800)
Ricky starts way too close to the front of the field for me to have any interest this weekend, even at this low price point. In the last six races at Martinsville, Stenhouse has finished no higher than 15th, and his runner-up finish last week gives him a starting position of sixth this week. I expect Stenhouse to fall backward quickly at a track where he has finished no higher than 10th in his career. Stenhouse sports an average finish of 26.19 in 16 career attempts at Martinsville. I would not waste the money on him this week.
($50,000 budget, 6 driver lineup)
Last week’s DK lineup was looking good for a bit, but a late race blown tire from Bubba Wallace dropped me out of the money and resulted in a losing lineup. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came away with a runner up finish and ran 11 fastest laps in the race to lead the team with just under 58 points. Ryan Newman was a bargain as he finished with a top-five finish. He also turned seven fastest laps in the race. Stewart Friesen improved a bit on his starting position to come away with 28 points, but the rest of the lineup struggled. Austin Dillon never found a rhythm despite having a ton of dirt racing experience. He finished 21st and ran one fastest lap in the race. Wallace’s blown tire resulted in a 27th-place finish to go along with two fastest laps, while an early race incident involving Corey Lajoie caused him to finish with negative points in the race. Despite his bad luck, I’m going to continue using Lajoie especially in short-track and superspeedway races.
Last week: 149.45 pts.
1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: 57.95
2. Austin Dillon: 9.45
3. Stewart Friesen: 28.00
4. Bubba Wallace: 7.90
5. Ryan Newman: 51.15
6. Corey Lajoie: -5.00
Remaining Budget: $200
We’re cold right now as far as the betting market goes. For the second straight week none of our wagers hit and we lost a bunch of money. I blame Christopher Bell for spinning out and taking out the two best dirt racers in the same accident in the opening stage at Bristol, but we have to keep looking forward. We’re now down 5.4 units on the season (the first time we’ve been in the red all year) and need to hit on a few things this week to win back some money.
Brad Keselowski Top-5 (-106, 1 unit)
Kyle Busch over Kyle Larson (-115, 1 unit)
Ryan Newman over Austin Dillon (-115, 1 unit)
Martin Truex Jr. top Toyota (+125, 0.5 unit)
Kurt Busch top Chevrolet (+900, 0.5 unit)
Bubba Wallace to win Group D (+260, 0.5 unit)
Ryan Newman to win Group E (+225, 0.5 unit)
Ryan Blaney to win (+800, 2 unit)
William Byron to win (+2500, 0.75 unit)
Bubba Wallace to win (+8000, 0.25 unit)
One and Done
*Rules for One and Done: Each driver can only be picked one time over the course of the season, unless you pick the race winner, then that driver can be picked again. Driver’s finishing position is the number of “points” you score each week. Goal: Finish with as few points as possible. Feel free to play along!
I’m not sure the Bristol Dirt race supplied the type of parity the track may have been looking for, as many racers with dirt experience struggled mightily, while drivers that have never been on dirt thrived thanks to good track position and a single-lane track that was created when the track dried out quickly during the heat of the day. Nonetheless, Stewart Friesen is a dirt guy that struggled a bit due to this and came away with a 23rd-place finish for us in the one-and-done. I was hoping for a top-20, but 23 isn’t bad. It’s better than the finishes supplied by both Busch brothers over the past two weeks.
This week: Ryan Blaney
Blaney is hot right now and enters a track where he has seen some recent success. Following a slow start to the season, Blaney has rattled off four straight top-10 finishes including a victory at Atlanta just two races ago. Blaney has finished in the top-five in five of the last six races at Martinsville including a second-place finish last season under the lights. The team is hot and it’s a great track for the young gun. Hopefully Blaney becomes the first repeat winner of the 2021 season, but so long as he leaves Virginia with a top-10 finish, I’ll be happy.
Race Driver Finish
Daytona 500 Jamie McMurray 8th
Daytona RC A.J. Allmendinger 7th
Homestead Tyler Reddick 2nd
Las Vegas Kevin Harvick 20th
Phoenix Kyle Busch 25th
Atlanta Kurt Busch 39th
Bristol Stewart Friesen 23rd