The Setup – First Data 500 Race Preview
By Tyler Miller

This week the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs come to Martinsville, Virginia. Martinsville Speedway is hosting the first race in the round of 8, which means this is the first opportunity for a driver to win a race and punch his ticket to the Championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The final 8 drivers in the playoffs are Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, and Ryan Blaney. NASCAR will race at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix, before cutting the field down to the Championship Four. Penske Racing has dominated the past two races at Martinsville, leading 801 of 1,000 laps. Joey Logano won this race a year ago and Brad Keselowski won at Martinsville in the spring. There is a lot to watch for this weekend, so let’s get started!

Race Distance: 500 laps. Stage 1 ends on lap 130, Stage 2 ends on lap 260.
Lineup Lock 3:00 pm eastern Sunday
Spring winner – Brad Keselowski (started 3rd)
Spring pole sitter – Joey Logano (finished 19th).
Last year’s winners – Clint Bowyer (Spring, started 9th) – Joey Logano (Fall, started 10th)
Last year’s pole sitters: Martin Truex Jr. (Spring, finished 4th) – Kyle Busch (Fall, finished 4th)
Prior race winners: Spring, Fall
2017: Brad Keselowski. (started 4th), Kyle Busch (started 14th)
2016: Kyle Busch (7th), Jimmie Johnson (3rd)
2015: Denny Hamlin (15th), Jeff Gordon(5th)
2014: Kurt Busch (22nd), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (23rd)

Kansas Recap:
What went right?

Kansas did not go 100% right, but it was awful close. Kevin Harvick was my top pick for cash games and he did not disappoint. He was the highest salaried driver on Fan Duel, but he returned that salary by finishing 2nd in scoring with 75.2 points. William Byron a great play, finishing the race 5th on track and 5th in Fan Duel Scoring at 73.8. Kyle Busch was right behind Byron scoring 73.2. Matt DiBenedetto and Chris Buescher were also solid plays improving their positions by 12 and 13 spots to finish with 59.7 and 62.2 points respectively.

My core cash lineup of Harvick, Kyle Busch, Byron, and Buescher worked out well. That core left me with $5,500 for my final driver. My decision for the final driver came down to Bubba Wallace and Ty Dillon. I wanted to use DiBenedetto but I was $500 short on salary and didn’t want to compromise on any of my core drivers. Bubba Wallace qualified 10th which seemed too risky for me in cash games. Ty Dillon qualified 24th and has a solid history at Kansas of finishing better than he qualified and staying out of trouble. I was not completely sold on Ty Dillon and therefore did not write him up in Victory Lane. Ty Dillon finished 1 lap down in 22nd position, scoring 47.6 points on Fan Duel. That lineup, Harvick, Busch, Byron, Buescher, and Dillon scored 332 points and cashed in every 50/50, Double up, and single entry tournament I entered. I had an outstanding week at Kansas and am looking forward to Martinsville this weekend.

What went wrong?

The Penske racing drivers did not work out. Logano finished 17th, Keselowski, 19th, and Blaney, 21st. Keselowski and Blaney qualified well but ran into issues late in the race. Logano had a solid day, but not a good enough day to justify his $13,000 salary. Since Joey Logano qualified 29th he was unlikely to kill a lineup if he was paired with Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick. A lineup of Harvick, Logano, Byron, Buescher, and DiBenedetto ($49,500 in salary) would have scored 329 points and cashed in every contest I entered.

Daniel Hemric was risky and obviously didn’t work out. Daniel Suarez ran well for most of the race but got collected in a late race crash and finished 32nd.

What to watch for in practice/qualifying:

Laps Led over Differential Martinsville is a 500 lap race which means there are 50 points available on Fan Duel for laps led (up from 267 laps or 26.7 points at Kansas). Looking through results at Martinsville most of the drivers who finish in the top 10 qualified in the top 10. There have been a few recent instances of a driver having an issue in qualifying and rallying to a solid finish (Martin Truex Jr. in this race one year ago, Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon in the spring), but for the most part we will need to target drivers who will lead laps and finish well. We will need to focus more on predicting lap leaders than differential positions, particularly for our high end drivers. Brad Keselowski led 446 laps in the spring and Joey Logano led 309 laps last fall. Those are valuable DFS points if we can select the right drivers who will lead laps on Sunday.

Top Tier Playoff Drivers We will need to increase our focus on playoff drivers who run well at Martinsville. Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, and Kyle Busch will be at the top of our list for drivers to consider at the top end. We will need to make a lineup build decision based on using two or three of these top tier drivers. Look for two or three drivers to separate themselves from the pack during practice on Saturday.

Non-Playoff drivers In this race a year ago Brad Keselowski finished 5th as an outsider looking into the round of 8. Hamlin had also missed the round of 8 and finished 2nd at Martinsville last fall. Keselowski will likely be the highest finishing non-playoff driver, but considering others like Jimmie Johnson or Clint Bowyer may pay off.

Identifying Value We will need to identify the right value plays to make our lineups fit together. This is no different from any other week. Martinsville is a short track with 500 laps so there are plenty of opportunities for drivers to run into trouble, go multiple laps down, and ruin our DFS lineups. We will need to find the safest value available to make our lineups fit together on Sunday.

What Vegas thinks (via Westgate):

Hamlin jumped from opening 14-1 at Kansas to 4-1 at Martinsville. Kyle Busch is favored at 13-4.
Kyle Busch 13-4
Denny Hamlin 4-1
Martin Truex Jr. 5-1
Joey Logano 7-1
Chase Elliott 8-1
Brad Keselowski 8-1
Kevin Harvick 10-1
Ryan Blaney 14-1

Driver Ratings at Martinsville:
1. Jimmie Johnson 111.5
2. Denny Hamlin 106.9
3. Kyle Busch 104.4
4. Brad Keselowski 99.6
5. Kevin Harvick 94.3
6. Joey Logano 94.2
7. Clint Bowyer 91.7
8. Ryan Blaney 91.0
9. Chase Elliott 89.7
10. Ryan Newman 84.4
11. Jamie McMurray 83.3
12. Kurt Busch 80.5
13. Martin Truex Jr. 79.7
14. Kyle Larson 72.8
15. Austin Dillon 72.6

Average Running Position at Martinsville:
1. Jimmie Johnson 8.998
2. Denny Hamlin 9.315
3. Kyle Busch 10.502
4. Brad Keselowski 11.423
5. Ryan Blaney 11.472
6. Joey Logano 11.956
7. Kevin Harvick 12.740
8. Clint Bowyer 13.424
9. Chase Elliott 13.482
10. Ryan Newman 15.289
11. Kurt Busch 16.369
12. Jamie McMurray 16.402
13. Martin Truex Jr. 17.405
14. Kyle Larson 18.206
15. Daniel Suarez 18.965

Laps Led
1. Jimmie Johnson 2691 (18.5 percent of laps run)
2. Denny Hamlin 1536 (11.3)
3. Kyle Busch 1424 (10.1)
4. Brad Keselowski 883 (9.3)
5. Joey Logano 830 (7.9)
6. Clint Bowyer 572 (4.2)
7. Kevin Harvick 481 (3.3)
8. Martin Truex Jr. 262 (1.9)
9. Chase Elliott 192 (4.8)

2019 Spring Top 10
1. Brad Keselowski
2. Chase Elliott
3. Kyle Busch
4. Ryan Blaney
5. Denny Hamlin
6. Kevin Harvick
7. Clint Bowyer
8. Martin Truex Jr.
9. Aric Almirola
10. Daniel Suarez

2018 Spring top 10:
1. Clint Bowyer
2. Kyle Busch
3. Ryan Blaney
4. Martin Truex Jr.
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Joey Logano
7. Alex Bowman
8. A.J. Allmendinger
9. Chase Elliott
10. Brad Keselowski

2018 Fall top 10
1. Joey Logano
2. Denny Hamlin
3. Martin Truex. Jr.
4. Kyle Busch
5. Brad Keselowski
6. Kurt Busch
7. Chase Elliott
8. Ryan Newman
9. Daniel Suarez
10. Kevin Harvick

Stay tuned for updated content following qualifying on Saturday.

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