And then there were eight… That is how many drivers have a chance to win the 2018 MENCS Championship. The series will travel to Martinsville Speedway for the First Data 500 Sunday. If one of the eight drivers left in the playoffs wins this week, he will become the first driver to secure a spot in the championship race at Homestead. The race can be seen Sunday at 2:30pm ET on NBC Sports Net.
The First Data 500 will have a condensed schedule this weekend. There will be two practices Saturday morning (9am ET on CNBC and 11:30am ET on CNBC). Qualifying will be at 4pm ET on NBCSN. Our Driver Group Game lineups must be submitted by 8am ET Saturday.
The MENCS last competed at Martinsville in March. The race was dominated by three drivers and it was not three drivers at the top of the point standings at the time. Martin Truex Jr. won the pole but was only able to lead 4 laps. Denny Hamlin dominated Stage 1. The No. 11 car led 111 laps, won Stage 1, finished 5th in Stage 2 and finished 12th in the race. Ryan Blaney took the lead early in Stage 2 and led 145 laps. Blaney finished 3rd. Clint Bowyer took the lead on lap 285 and it was game over after that. Bowyer led a race-high 215 laps and took home the Grandfather Clock.
Race Rewind at Martinsville: STP 500 (2018)
Martinsville is the shortest track on the circuit (.526 miles) and the flat, paper-clip shaped track provides some of the most aggressive racing of the season. It is a rhythm track and drivers either know when to get into the throttle and ease into the brakes of they don’t. The drivers with a history of performing well at Martinsville are likely to dominate the race Sunday. Seldom do we see a driver who has struggled at this track find a way to the front. Stick to the drivers who have a collection of Grandfather Clocks for your fantasy picks.
Here are my picks for Martinsville…
Driver Group Game A Picks
Kyle Busch (1): I have one allocation left with Busch and I have been saving it for this race. Busch has been incredibly consistent at Martinsville and he is the favorite to be the first driver to clinch a spot in the championship race at Homestead. Busch has finished 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 5th, 1st and 5th in his last six races at Martinsville. He has also led 837 laps in these races. Busch finished 2nd in the March race at Martinsville. He should be taking home his 3rd Grandfather Clock Sunday.
Joey Logano (7): I am 99.9% sure I will use Kyle Busch in the race so I need a driver who can score me 10 bonus points for winning the pole. Hello Mr. Logano! The No. 22 car has been a beast in qualifying at Martinsville. Logano has started 3rd, 1st, 5th, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd and 3rd in his last 10 races at Martinsville. That is awesome! I will be in good shape if I have to use Logano in the race. He has the 4th-best driver ranking at Martinsville since 2014. I thought about using Brad Keselowski but Logano is still alive in the playoffs and I think Team Penske will focus on getting the No. 22 car to Victory Lane Sunday.
Group A Driver Rankings: 1) Kyle Busch 2) Joey Logano 3) Brad Keselowski 4) Martin Truex Jr. 5) Kevin Harvick 6) Denny Hamlin 7) Jimmie Johnson 8) Kyle Larson
Driver Group Game B Picks
Clint Bowyer (1): Bowyer won the spring race at Martinsville and he will have a good chance to win again Sunday. Bowyer has a 3.6 average finishing position at Martinsville in his three races with Stewart-Haas Racing. He is still alive in the playoffs and his best chance of getting to Homestead is by winning Sunday. I have one allocation left with Bowyer and I have been saving it for this track. Martinsville ranks as the 2nd-best track for Bowyer so this is a great week to use him.
Chase Elliott (2): Elliott has been the best driver in the MENCS Playoffs and he needs to be considered a serious threat to win the 2018 MENCS Championship. Elliott won two of the three races in the Round 2 of the playoffs and he should have a good chance of winning Sunday. Elliott was on his way to Victory Lane in this race last year when Denny Hamlin took him out. Elliott learned a lot from that race so I doubt he will let it happen again.
Ryan Blaney (1): Blaney is not the first driver you think of when it comes to racing at Martinsville. He has competed in five MENCS races at the track and he has a 14.8 average finishing position. This is a rhythm track and Blaney figured it out last year. He finished 8th in this race last October and had one of the most dominant cars in March. I expect all of the Team Penske cars to run well Sunday so I will have the No. 12 car on my team.
Aric Almirola (3): If you look at the stats for Almirola at Martinsville you will think… Why is the No. 10 car in the lineup? I selected Almirola because the cream usually rises to the top in the playoffs. When you look at the standings in the race Sunday you will see a lot of playoff drivers, high-lighted in yellow at the top. Stewart-Haas Racing has been on fire and Almirola has the 2nd-best average finishing position (9th) since the MENCS Playoffs began. You can take a chance with a driver like Ryan Newman or Jamie McMurray but I rather have a driver who is still competing for the championship.
Group B Driver Rankings: 1) Clint Bowyer 2) Chase Elliott 3) Ryan Blaney 4) Kurt Busch 5) Aric Almirola 6) Erik Jones 7) A.J. Allmendinger 8) Ryan Newman 9) Austin Dillon 10) Jamie McMurray
Driver Group Game C Picks
Alex Bowman (1): I am down to one allocation with Bowman and I would like to save it for Phoenix. Bowman ran really well at Martinsville in March so I want him on the team just in case he looks really good in practice. He qualified 16th and finished 7th in the March race. This is one of the best tracks for Hendrick Motorsports so I will be selecting both of their drivers in Group C. I am not sure Bowman can finish in the top 10 again Sunday but he should be able to finish inside the top 15.
William Byron (1): I thought about using Chris Buescher or Michael McDowell but I feel more confident about Byron this week. When I looked at my notes from the March race I remembered that Byron spent a lot of time with Jimmie Johnson in the simulator to figure out the rhythm to make fast laps at Martinsville. That is a great teacher to have and Byron is a fast learner. He finished 20th in his first MENCS race at Martinsville. I expect a top-15 finish from the No. 24 car Sunday.
Group C Driver Rankings: 1) Alex Bowman) William Byron 3) Chris Buescher 4) Michael McDowell 5) Regan Smith
Driver Group Game Team
Group A: Kyle Busch (1), Joey Logano (7)
Group B: Clint Bowyer (1), Chase Elliott (2), Ryan Blaney (1), Aric Almirola (3)
Group C: Alex Bowman (1), William Byron (1)
I will post my final picks for Driver Group Game Saturday evening.
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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