Salary Report: STP 500

DraftKings has released salaries for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway, and the Salary Report is here to help you identify some smart investments and potential busts for the STP 500.

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Sunday’s race is the first short track event of the season, and with 500 laps on tap, the points available in the laps led and fastest laps run categories have skyrocketed. Last weekend at Auto Club, Kyle Larson’s 110 laps were the most of any driver. Don’t be surprised if at least two drivers top that mark Sunday. Plus, there is always the chance that one driver leads 300-plus laps like Kyle Busch did here last spring.

With so many points available in the hammer stats, I think this is the type of race where you can afford a punt play or two to load up on studs to chase the points in the hammer categories. You can cover a few lineup blemishes if you roster a driver who scores well over 100 points at DraftKings. If you whiff on the driver who dominates Sunday’s race, the rest of your lineup better deliver, and even then you aren’t going to be contending for the top prizes.

Tier-1 Over $9,800

Green Flag – Kyle Busch: Busch has flirted with wins the last two weeks, and I think a breakout performance could be on tap last Sunday. He was dominant in a win at Martinsville last spring, leading a race-high 352 laps and recording a race-high 81 fastest laps. For his career, he ranks in the top four in both hammer categories among active drivers at the track, and he has finished in the top five in three straight races.

Red Flag – Kyle Larson: To be fair, this should probably be considered more of a yellow light than a red light. You don’t won’t to completely dismiss the hottest driver in the series right now, but there are a few things to think about. One, his price tag has climbed all the way to $10,000. To justify that salary hit, Larson either needs to pile up points in the hammer stats or have a lot of upside through place differential. In six starts at Martinsville, he has one top-10 and has led a combined six laps, so he is not a lock to dominate Sunday. Even last spring when he finished third here, Larson recorded just 12 fastest laps. Depending on how qualifying and practice play out, I will have no problem leaving him off my roster.

Tier-2 $9,800-$8,300

Green Flag – Matt Kenseth: His overall resume at Martinsville doesn’t jump off the page, but Kenseth has become one of the best at the track since his move to Joe Gibbs Racing. In eight starts here with JGR, he has finished sixth or better five times. More importantly, he has become a force in the hammer categories. Kenseth’s 568 laps led over the last eight Martinsville races are the second most of any driver, and he has led 90-plus laps three times in that span, leading 176 last fall. Yes, it’s been a slow start to 2017 for Kenseth, but he has a high ceiling for a driver priced at just $8,800.

Red Flag – Kevin Harvick: It never hurts to have some exposure to Harvick in a few lineups, but he hasn’t had the best luck to start 2017, and he has never had much luck at Martinsville. In 31 starts here, he has managed just three top-five finishes. In fact, his last top-five at Martinsville came back in 2011. Harvick has managed to do some damage in the hammer stats, but the production is usually offset by a lackluster finish. If he sits on the pole and looks fast in practice, I’ll reconsider, but this is one track where you probably don’t have to clear cap space for Harvick.

Tier-3 $8,300-$6,800

Green Flag – Clint Bowyer: It’s amazing what having decent equipment can do for a driver’s production, and Bowyer is back to running in the top 10 every week with Stewart-Haas Racing. Now, he heads to one of his best tracks. If you throw out his results from last season’s HScott Motorsports debacle, Bowyer has six top-10s in his last eight starts at Martinsville, and he has led 265 laps in that span. Overall, Bowyer ranks in the top eight in both hammer categories at the track. He brings plenty of momentum into Sunday’s race, and I think he provides solid production with sneaky upside for a midrange price.

Red Flag – Kurt Busch: Don’t led his two wins at Martinsville fool you. The paperclip-shaped track has not been Busch’s best, and in 31 starts, he has managed just five top-10s to go along with an ugly 21.2 average finish. His two victories are outliers on what is an otherwise underwhelming resume. He will have to start deep in the field before I would consider him for any lineups this weekend.

Tier-4 Under $6,800

Green Flag – Michael McDowell: McDowell had a decent year at the short tracks in 2016, logging four top-25 finishes in six events and gaining an average of 6.6 positions per race. He cracked the top 25 in both race at Martinsville, gaining 12 spots and finishing in the top 20 in the fall event. If McDowell qualifies 30th or worse, I’ll be all over him as a source of cap relief.

Red Flag – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Martinsville probably ranks as Stenhouse’s worst track. He has finished 25th or worse in seven of his last starts here, and he has finished outside the top 30 in his last four. Stenhouse has a 32.8 average finish at Martinsville overall, and he has lost an average of 8.8 spots per race. Even if he starts deep in the field, it is hard to justify taking a chance on him.

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