Stock Car preview: Goody's Cool Orange 500
We're about to witness the second Car of Tomorrow race of the season this week at Martinsville, and if last week's run at Bristol taught us anything, experience counts. Or at least it does when you're dealing with a new type of car on a short track. While young and inexperienced drivers seemed to run into bad luck at Bristol, the bigger-name drivers provided us with quite an exciting finish.
Not every driver who hit the wall or was involved in a crash were inexperienced, but guys like Reed Sorenson, David Gilliland and Juan Pablo Montoya seemed to be among the most unfortunate. David Ragan (spin) and A.J. Allmendinger were also involved in mishaps. So when choosing your bargain drivers in Stock Car Challenge this week, whether you consider it pure coincidence or not, tabbing veteran guys will be a smarter move in the end.
By this point of the season, it has become clear who some of the most dependable drivers are, and who should get locked into your lineup if they are not already there. Building your regular lineup around top drivers like Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton seems like a nearly foolproof strategy right now. But you can only stay near the top of your group if you balance the rest of your squad correctly, and that isn't going to be easy, especially with the CoT still being so new to all drivers on the circuit.
VICTORY LANE SPECIAL
Jeff Gordon (Value: 24.1): He is one of the highest-priced drivers in the game right now, but he is well worth it and is off to a great start this season even though he hasn't earned a victory yet. That might not be far off, especially after Gordon overcame an ill-handling CoT to finish third at Bristol. Gordon seems like a lock to contend at Martinsville, where he has seven wins, including a sweep of both races at the site in 2005. Gordon finished in the top five in both Martinsville races last season and has eight consecutive top-10 finishes at the site.
Tony Stewart (23.3): More bad luck kept him out of a top spot last week when he clearly had the best car on the track. Stewart took to the CoT quickly and his bad luck so far this year has kept him from becoming the highest-priced driver in the game so far. Stewart has seen victory fade away at least three times this year and will be primed for a strong push at Martinsville. Stewart has three consecutive top-five finishes at the site, including a win in the first Martinsville race of 2006. He has led well over 200 laps in three of the past four Martinsville races.
Jeff Burton (22.7): Other than Gordon, there probably isn't a more reliable driver right now. No matter the track or car, Burton seems destined to deliver fine finishes every week. Had he been more aggressive late in the race at Bristol, he could have conceivably earned a victory. Burton finished second, his fourth top-five finish in five races this season. Burton has a dozen top-10 finishes to his credit at Martinsville and is likely gunning to erase the memory of an engine problem in his second race at the site in 2006.
Clint Bowyer (20.8): He is enjoying a solid sophomore season and is certainly one of the best values available above the 20.0 mark. Bowyer can fit nicely into your lineup as a third driver, below your two top guys and above two bargains. Bowyer has come through with a pair of top-10 finishes and placed eighth in Bristol. He has three top-10 finishes in the past four races. Bowyer wasn't able to finish in the top 20 in either Martinsville race last year but he is enjoying better fortunes so far this season.
Jamie McMurray (18.9): He has shaken off some early troubles and is starting to put together a pretty solid rebound campaign. McMurray has looked good overall so far this year, and he just needs to keep avoiding mishaps to be a quality value selection on a regular basis. McMurray finished ninth in the first Martinsville race of 2006, and placed seventh in the second race at the site in 2005. McMurray now has three consecutive top-15 finishes this season.
Bobby Labonte (18.2): Labonte hasn't been great overall this season, but he has had some decent runs so far and you have to like his most recent results at Martinsville. He finished third at the site last season after leading for 43 laps in the second race of the season. He also finished fourth in the second Martinsville race of 2005. He also delivered second-place finishes in the first Martinsville races of 2003 and 2004, and he won the first race of 2002 at the site.
Ricky Rudd (15.4): Experienced drivers can be an asset as previously suggested, and Rudd has both a lot of time logged at Martinsville and a positive run of fairly recent success at the site. Rudd has 20 top-10 starts at Martinsville with three past wins at the site. He has finished in the top 15 in each of his past three races there in 2004 and 2005, and he finished in the top 20 in 10 of 11 races from 2000 to 2005, with nine finishes in the top 15 during that span.
Jimmie Johnson (24.2) is just as good a pick as Gordon when you consider he has nine top-10 finishes at Martinsville, including two wins and four top-three showings in the past five races at the site. But Johnson seems a bit less attractive than Gordon from the fantasy perspective after he finished in 16th in his first CoT race. ... Casey Mears (18.9) finished sixth in the second Martinsville race last season. .. Scott Riggs (16.7) finished 10th in the first Martinsville race last season. ... Denny Hamlin (22.0) has two top-10 finishes in three Martinsville races. ... At 11.8, Regan Smith, who drives the No. 1 U.S. Army Chevrolet in place of Mark Martin again this week, can help you frontload your lineup with some top drivers.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports. You can contact Scott here.