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NASCAR: STP 500 Preview

NASCAR: STP 500 Preview 6 months 3 weeks ago #477478

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Betting news, trends, odds and predictions for Thursday, March 22, 2018 from various handicappers and websites
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NASCAR: STP 500 Preview 6 months 3 weeks ago #477479

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"Hurry-up Martinsville" is what I've been saying the past few weeks and it's finally arrived. Being a west coast guy, I love when NASCAR roars into my region, but as for the racing itself, I've been a little disappointed.

It's obvious we have an imbalance in the series on the down-force tracks and it's produced some runaway races. But it's hard to runaway at Martinsville's flat, half-mile paperclip layout. It's a level playing field with the car and driver being an equal component to success.

Besides close races, what also stands out at Martinsville is the slow speeds (pole 96 mph last fall) that make it easier for drivers to administer NASCAR justice. Drivers don't want to wreck others mostly for fear of injury and at 200 mph, injuries can happen easily bigger tracks. But a punt here or there at Martinsville to send a message is a regular occurrence.

“This type of racing is what put this sport on the map, and it’s been a while since we’ve been that, and it’s a breath of fresh air to get back to a short track where it can breed some of that and put on a show for the fans,” said Clint Bowyer who finished seventh and third last season at Martinsville.

Part of the show we all love is the fireworks after the race when the drivers get out of their car to hunt down whoever did them wrong. Is it wrong to root for fights? I don't care. I love it. I want more of it and I haven't had any of it this season. I need some action, man. Entertain me, please.

“I know I was entertained by the racing last year and I expect we’ll see the same thing again this weekend,” Bowyer said.

Bowyer is going to be one of those drivers that goes from being a driver with odds to win usually in the 25/1 range down to 12/1, which is the same odds his Stewart Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick has posted at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

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Harvick has been dominating the down force tracks winning three straight races following Daytona and probably would have won Sunday if he didn't wreck himself so early at Fontana. In 35 Martinsville starts, he has just one win (2011) and a 15.8 average finish.

The driver chasing Harvick the most the past four weeks has been Kyle Busch. Twice runner-up to Harvick and third last week. He wants a win bad and he's at the right place to get it winning two of the past four races there which is why he's the 7/2 favorite.

“We’ve run well the last two years especially at Martinsville and we’re definitely pumped about getting back there," said Kyle Busch. "I’m hoping we can have a really good car there again this time around, like we did the last two years, especially. We led a lot of laps and we were really fast. Hoping that some of those things we were able to push through there last fall at Martinsville we’ll be able to do this time around with our M&M’s Caramel Camry.”

Busch is on a run of five straight top-five finishes at Martinsville. A lot of his success there can be attributed to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, a native Virginian, who has five Cup wins and two Truck wins at Martinsville. Hamlin knows how his car should be set-up and how to enter and exit the turns best and he's shared the knowledge.

Hamlin is off to one of the best starts of his career finishing sixth or better in four of his five starts.

“We’ve had a strong start to the season, we’re just still searching for that little bit of speed we need to really contend for a win," said Hamlin who last won at Martinsville in 2015. "Obviously, Martinsville is a place where I know I can be successful, so I’m looking forward to getting back there.”

He's always in the mix at Martinsville leading a lap in 17 of his past 19 starts there. He loves the home cooking and has 12 top-fives in 24 career starts and has led 1,394 laps. He's 6/1 to win this week, and I'm on it already. Expect him and Busch to practice extremely well on Saturday so odds will drop. Also note: there's no Cup activity on Friday. There will be two practices Saturday and then qualifying.

Nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson finished ninth last week for his first top-10 of the season. Despite his team looking sluggish this season, Martinsville is a place he can steal a win.

“We are chipping away and still working hard," said Johnson. "The small victories we had last weekend are good signs we are moving in the right direction – we know there is still a lot of work to do. Last week’s solid performance moved us up in points a bit as well. I always look forward to racing at Martinsville, it suits our team’s style and it’s one of our favorite tracks – you feel like you have stepped back in time when you walk in there.”

Johnson's 10/1 odds this week are his highest at Martinsville since 2004 when he won his first race there. Nine wins in 32 starts for a 7,6 average finish. He basically wins at Martinsville every 3.5 starts and his last win there was three races ago in 2016.

Brad Keselowski has had a recent run at Martinsville almost as amazing as Busch's. He won this race last season and then was fourth in the fall. The year before he was runner-up and fifth. He was also runner-up in the spring 2015 race. He's built for this track and Team Penske has his Ford dialed in well, as is teammate Joey Logano's car which has been the pole sitter in four of the past six Martinsville races.

Some of the other guys that are now contenders because of the track include Bowyer, Austin Dillon (100/1), Ryan Newman (60/1), Aric Almirola (60/1) and Kurt Busch (60/1). Dillon has top-five finises in his past two Martinsville spring races while the elder Busch has two wins there. Almirola is just racing good everywhere with finishes of 13th or better in all five races.

A.J. Allmendinger also becomes a player this week and he's 100/1 to win. He was sixth in this race last season and is also a two-time runner-up there. He's got enough skills suited here to make up for a slow car.

The same can be said for rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. in the No. 43. If you're feeling real dangerous and want a lottery ticket to root in, Wallace is offered at 500-to-1. His first NASCAR win came at Martinsville in the Truck Series and two of his six NASCAR wins all-time have come at Martinsville. He likes the track very much.

Now drop that green flag and let the excitement begin.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (6/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (7/2)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (5/1)
4) #22 Joey Logano (6/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (10/1)

By Micah Roberts
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NASCAR: STP 500 Preview 6 months 3 weeks ago #477779

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Best Bets - Martinsville

Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.

The MENCS heads back east to venerable Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, and the first official short track race of the 2018 season. The STP 500 race is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. ET.

It's going to be chilly in Martinsville on Sunday, as the forecast calls for temperatures in the low- to mid-40's, and practice on Saturday might actually be interrupted by rain and even some wintry mix. The good news is that the weather should pull out to give us a very sunny, yet very chilly, race day. The track is a fan favorite, not only for its amazing hot dogs (Jesse Jones dogs are back, by the way!), but due to the fact it is the only track to appear on the schedule every year since NASCAR had its beginning in 1948. And the winner receives a grandfather clock, presented on a platform pulled by a tractor, since the place is too tiny to have a dedicated Victory Lane area.

Someone finally slowed down Kevin Harvick (9/1) last week at Auto Club Speedway, as Martin Truex Jr. (8/1) picked up his first checkered flag of the season while sweeping all of the stages, too. It was the first victory of the season for Toyota, too. Three of the past six races at the 'Half Mile of Mayhem' have been won by a Toyota, with Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch (15/4) winning two of the previous four stops at the track. It's no wonder that he is listed as the Vegas favorite.

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According to NASCAR's Loop Data, Rowdy tops the charts with a 128.3 Driver Rating over the past five races in Martinsville, leading 813 laps, including 273 fastest laps. In addition, he has run a whopping 98.3 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, so it's no surprise he is the chalk this weekend. Over his career he has turned in 13 Top 5 finishes, and 18 Top 20 finishes in 25 career starts with just one DNF while leading 1,300 laps. He used to struggle at the track in his early days, but that's clearlly not the case lately.

As far as Truex is concerned, he will be hard-pressed to record back-to-back victories. He has just three Top 5s and eight Top 10s in 24 career starts at Martinsville with a terrible 19.6 AFP. He has managed a runner-up finish at the track, however, but he also has two DNFs and just 240 career laps led. JGR's Denny Hamlin (11/2), the Chesterfield, Va. native, hasn't won at Martinsville since the STP 500 in March 2015. He has shown well at the track over the years, posting five victories in 24 career starts with a 10.00 AFP, second-best among all active drivers. He has finished outside the Top 10 on just six occasions, leading 1,394 laps, second only to J.J. among active drivers.

For years Jimmie Johnson (10/1) dominated this track. His homes, race shop or storage unit is teeming with grandfather clocks, as he has headed home with the prize on nine different occasions. Something has been a touch off with the seven-time series champion and the entire Hendrick Motorsports team. However, never count him out in Martinsville, as he has led 2,863 career laps with nine victories and 19 Top 5 finishes in 32 starts. He has finished outside of the Top 10 on just eight occasions, so he is about as automatic as it gets from a betting and fantasy perspective. His last victory at the track came in Oct. 2016, but it is the only victory in the past nine runs at the short track for Johnson. He is ranked fifth in Driver Rating according to Loop Data.

Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski (9/2) won the spring race at Martinsville in 2017, and he is listed second in Driver Rating (117.5) over the past five starts. He has run 92.6 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, third-best on the circuit behind Busch and MTJ. In 16 career starts he has an Average-Finish Position (AFP) of 12.4, third-best among active drivers despite the fact last March marked his first-ever win at the track. He has finished inside the Top 10 on 10 different occasions, so he has certainly been in the hunt more often than not. Teammate Joey Logano (7/1) will have to continue telling time on a store-bought clock or his cell phone, as he has yet to win one of the clocks from Martinsville. He has made 18 career starts at the track, but he has managed just five Top 5s and seven Top 10s while leading 516 laps. His 14.22 AFP is pretty solid, however, ranking sixth-best among all active drivers. As such, Logano could be a bit of a sleeper.

Stewart-Haas Racing's Clint Bowyer (13/1) has dominated at Martinsville in the past, turning in an impressive 14.0 AFP in 24 career starts. He has managed 14 Top 10 finishes at the short track, although he has yet to bring home a clock, either. He is finally back in top-notch equipment after kicking around with some lesser teams, and he could be a threat. As for his teammate Harvick, Loop Data shows him seventh in Driver Rating (94.2) across the past five starts. He has managed to run just 69.1 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 during the five-race stretch since Nov. 15, so he is a riskier pick at Martinsville.

Ryan Newman (55/1) is a sleeper to watch at Martinsville. Due to some very fortunate circumstances at the end of the April 2012 race, he picked up the victory in the Goodys Fast Relief 500. While that's his only win in 32 career starts at track, he still has a strong 14.8 AFP with eight Top 5s and 15 Top 10 showings. Loop Data also shows him in the 10th spot with an 84.1 AFP, although he is the only driver in the Top 10 during the five-race span failing to lead at least one lap. Another moderate sleeper might be Penske's Ryan Blaney (35/1). While it generally takes younger drivers a while to acclimate at the track, he has shown to be a quick study. He has four career starts under his belt, posting one Top 10 showing while ending up 20th or better on three different occasions. He has never finished lower than 25th at the track.

Austin Dillon (75/1) is another younger driver who has been a quick study. The Daytona 500 winner has a respectable 15.6 AFP in eight career starts, including two Top 5s and seven Top 20s. He has led just six laps, but always seems to keep himself out of trouble and is right there at the end with a fairly clean No. 3 machine. Jamie McMurray (50/1) has never won at Martinsville, either, although half of his 30 career starts have resulted in Top 10 finishes. He sports a solid 17.5 AFP, so he is a fantasy-friendly driver at a mid-tier price.

Kyle Larson (25/1) has been one of NASCAR's brightest young stars, and at this price he looks awfully tempting. However, Martinsville hasn't been terribly kind to him in his brief experience, as he has a dismal 23.6 AFP in eight career starts with just one Top 10 finish. Other bigger names to avoid from a betting and fantasy perspective are Alex Bowman (75/1), who has failed to finish higher than 22nd in any of his four career starts at the short track. Daniel Suarez (Field - 20/1) is also in the learning process, posting finishes of 15th and 32nd last season in his first two-career starts at the track.

By Daniel Dobish
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