Data Mining is a regular post each week of the NASCAR season. It will focus on data behind the picks that combine hundreds of data points to give you the most accurate picture possible of what to expect from each driver this week. Digging deeper than loop data to give you an edge on the competition.
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Adjusted Place Differential: Austin Dillon – 15.6
When looking at adjusted place differential, one driver immediately jumps off the page and that’s Austin Dillon. In six career races here he’s only finished below 18th one time, back in the spring 2015 race due to electrical issues. In his other five starts he has place differentials of +19, +7, +12, +25 and +15. He’s completed all but one lap in Martinsville, electrial issues aside.
Only issue so far this year is that he’s qualified in that nebulous range of 10-19 in four of five races so far. Perhaps Priced at just $7,000 this week he will be too good to pass up with a qualifying effort any worse than 17th. I’ll have my eye on where he qualifies on Friday night.
Average Laps Led: Kyle Busch – 55.5
In the last seven years only Jimmie Johnson has led more laps at Martinsville than Kyle Busch. The numbers may be a bit misleading though because the bulk of those laps came from last year’s spring race where he led 352 laps, but outside of that race he’s led 10+ laps in three of the last three spring races.
Expect Kyle to lurk near the front of the field on Sunday. He has a pack best average running position of 9.0 and has run 84.3% of his laps inside the Top-15. Expect another Top-10 finish from him. If he qualifies inside the Top-5 on Sunday, he’s in that wheelhouse of drivers with the ability to get to the lead and dominate early. If you are looking for another guy who can turn out led laps, JGR teammate Matt Kenseth is another guy who may be under the radar a bit coming into the week.
Adjusted Average Finishing Position: Jimmie Johnson – 8.1
Jimmie Johnson comes to Martinsville with the highest salary of all drivers at $10,600. He’s been very good here, hence the salary. Even in recent memory, he has the second best average finishing position in the field at 8.1. It’s going to be an interesting week for Johnson. He’s yet to make the final round of qualifying at any of the five races this year, he’s led just 28 laps in five races and has only one Top-10 finish. What is the correct play if Johnson qualifies below the Top-12 again?
Can you justify rostering the highest priced driver in the hopes of some place differential? He started deep in the field last week in Fontana, got himself a lap down early and was never able to recover on his way to a 21st place finish. Johnson was not worth his price last week.
Martinsville however is arguably Johnson’s best track. He has 24 Top-10s in 30 career starts and has never finished below 12th in a race where he hasn’t been involved in a wreck or had mechanical issues. That’s going to be tough to pass up. Will the field pass on Johnson with his slow start to the year, or will be finally kick his season into gear at his best track?
If you haven’t seen our NASCAR Dashboard over at DFS Dash what are you waiting for? Take a look at this video from our lead developer Rob Gardner! Here is how the top priced drivers looked last week on the Dashboard. Sort drivers by salary, expert rank, qualifying position, hammer rating, mover rating, practice rating or projected finish. Then create as many lineups as you need, anywhere from 1 to 250!
Top-Ten Rate: Denny Hamlin – 69.2%
This is Denny Hamlin’s home track and he’s taken advantage of that by posting the best Top-10 rate in the field at 69.2% over the last seven years. He has five career wins, has finished in the Top-5 in 12 of 22 races and has been in the Top-10 in nine of his last 13 starts. If he doesn’t end up in a wreck or have car trouble he’s been a virtual lock to finish deep inside the Top-10 here throughout his career; in fact he’s only finished worse than 8th twice in races he hasn’t been involved in a wreck. There is nobody more consistent here than Hamlin. Priced at $9,700 I don’t see a reason to fade Denny regardless of where he starts on Sunday.
Green Flag Pass Differential: Clint Bowyer – 6.6
Clint Bowyer was a contender for a race win last week for the first time in several years. He hopes to take that momentum with him to Martinsville. At 6.6, he’s 6th in the field in in adjusted place differential (behind other guys we’re mentioning here). If we throw last year’s races aside driving in subpar equipment, from 2012 through the spring race of 2016 Bowyer finished between 2nd and 13th each time, His only race with a negative place differential saw him start 4th and finish 10th.
The move to Stewart-Haas racing has been a great one for Bowyer. He’s finished 13th or better in the last four races and hung around in the Top-5 all day last Sunday bringing it home 3rd. Martinsville is a track that Bowyer has been strong at in the past. Priced at just $8,000 he’s on my radar as we close in on qualifying on Friday night!
DNF Rate: Joey Logano – 6.3%
Expect some fast laps turned on Friday night by Joey Logano, presuming qualifying doesn’t get rained out. Logano has started on the front row in each of the last five races here. He’s led 20+ laps in each of the last five, and 60+ in three of the last five, but that may not be the biggest advantage of rostering Joey Logano this week
Joey Logano is a virtual lock to finish the race on the lead lap. Outside of a late wreck that saw him drop to 37th in 2015, he’s finished on the lead lap in six straight races. He led 207 laps in that race mitigating the loss of points from place differential, but getting guys who can stay up front and out of trouble this week will be at a premium. His DNF rate of just 6.3% will give you an extremely safe play for cash, and you avoid the lucky dog game. In his career he’s completed 99.4% of his laps run at Martinsville. He’s priced at $10,100 this week and he can be a dominating driver here.
Another Week of Domination?
Well the new downforce package may not be working out quite like we’ve expected. Outside of Daytona we’ve had some snoozers for races with one or two cars dominating most of the day. The only excitement is what happens in the last 20 laps of the race. Many are worried that this could turn into the NBA, where only the very end of the race matters. Going to a short track like Martinsville may seem like a remedy but this track might not be the elixir we need.
Historically there have been a plethora of cautions here, but in both events last year we only saw 8 cautions in the spring race and 5 in the fall race. Neither of the cautions involved more than two drivers. If one car can dominate the field, it may not matter how many late race restarts there are. We saw it at the end of the race last week in California. That race belonged to Kyle Larson unless he wrecked, plain and simple, that was about the only way he was going to lose. Neither race last year had a caution with under 10 laps left, and only a single car Jamie Mac spin brought the yellow with under 40 laps in either of the last two races.
Looking at track history, Martinsville is another track that has a strong coorelation between winning the pole and dominating the race. Over the last seven years the pole winner has led a field leading 92.7 laps, is second in average fast laps at 30.6 and has come home with three wins. The Martinsville winner has started inside the Top-5 in seven of the last 14 races here, so if you are a single lineup player it’s a 50/50 pick em bet that the winner will be starting 5th or better. If the first few races of the season are any indication expect someone to jump our early and lead a bulk of the laps.
Martinsville Photo: HHP/Andrew Copple