Mike Forbes examines the Blue-Emu 500 at Martinsville Speedway!!
After a week off, the NASCAR teams head to the half-mile paperclip located in Martinsville, Virginia. The last time the teams were on track they were racing on dirt for the first time in almost 50 years, but this week, we get back to good old-fashioned short-track racing on Saturday night for the Blue-Emu 500.
In years past, when NASCAR would schedule Bristol and Martinsville back to back like they are this year, the anger and frustration would boil over as often happens on short tracks where passing is done more aggressively. This time around, we had a week to calm down and kind of enjoy a rare off weekend, which saw none of the top NASCAR series racing.
With seven different winners in the seven races so far in the Cup series, this year has been full of surprises. I do not know many people who had Joey Logano winning on the dirt two weeks ago. As a matter of fact a few weeks ago before Ryan Blaney won in Atlanta and then Joey’s win in Bristol many people were wondering if there was something wrong with the Penske teams. They answered that question with the two victories and they have a driver who has not won this year but is the top-rated driver in Martinsville in the past six years. That driver is Brad Keselowski.
When we look at how Brad has fared at Bristol his last six races have been fantastic. His lowest finish was 10th in 2018. As a matter of fact, the last time Brad hasn’t had a top ten finish was all the way back in November of 2015. Since 2015, his only finish outside the top five was that tenth in 2018. The way Penske has come on lately and the way Brad performs here we have to put him at the top of our target list this weekend.
When it comes to Penske racing, there is another driver who is right behind Brad in terms of performance at Martinsville. That driver is Ryan Blaney. Since moving to Penske racing in 2018, Ryan has been a force to be reckoned with. Although he does not have a victory in Martinsville, in six races with Penske, he has only had one finish outside the top five, and that was in 2018. Last year, Blaney picked up two runner-up finishes. Remember, this race is at night, which was new to Martinsville last year. I don’t think it will affect the racing that much, being that the best drivers here have said once they find a rhythm everything clicks. If Ryan has found that already, look out for him this weekend.
Those two Penske drivers do not have to look far behind to find another driver in their stable who is good at Martinsville. Joey Logano is looking to be the first repeat winner this weekend right along with Ryan Blaney. Like the rest of his Penske teammates, Joey is a top-five and top-ten machine here. He did have a 19th place finish in 2019, but even in that race, he picked up stage points and led a few laps. I think all three drivers at Penske are on our target list this week.
There is another powerhouse team sandwiched in between those Penske Fords, and that is the 19 of Martin Truex Jr. Martin had won back-to-back races at Martinsville before his 22nd place finish in November of last year. Even though he finished 22nd, he led 129 laps. Martin showed how strong he is on short track racing this year when he won at Phoenix and led a bunch of the laps in Bristol. I expect Martin to be up front all night and battle for the win and the checkered flag.
Martin’s teammate Denny Hamlin has not won this year, but this is certainly a race where you might expect that to change. He leads all active drivers in best career average finish in Martinsville. In his 30 races here, he has five victories. However, his last checkered flag was in 2015. Denny has again been putting together a solid season but just does not have the victory to go with it. Last year was not Denny’s best season at Martinsville, which is strange because of how strong he was overall. His 24th and 11th last year were the worst he has had since 2017. In the Fall race, he did win stage one and lead 42 laps. You can never count out Denny at Martinsville.
Another driver we have to highlight this week is Chase Elliott. Chase finished fifth and first here last year. We all know Chase has really turned it on the past couple years and is one of the best drivers in the series. Chase’s stats are skewed because, like many drivers, he struggled the first couple years on the track, and he hasn’t had enough races to turn those around. Three of his last four races include top 5’s. Chase may not be on many people’s minds this week, but we should have him on our radar as I think he has a great chance to win his first race in 2021.
Alex Bowman is one of those drivers who may be starting to figure this track out. After really struggling for a few years here, he did have two sixth-place finishes last year. While he may not be ready to win this week, you can see how he is starting to put together that arc that you see when drivers start to figure this place out. A top-five from Alex is very possible, and he may be an underrated driver in the field.
Both of the Busch brothers have had good runs in Martinsville in the past. I would call both of their seasons disappointing this far. Kurt ran well last year in Martinsville with two top-ten finishes. Both of these drivers need to put together a good race here to turn their seasons around. I think the week off may have helped both of their teams. I expect Kurt, who is having a worse season, to be very aggressive as he has to get his season turned around quickly.
A driver who you may not expect to be in the mix this weekend and may turn some heads is Ryan Newman. The Roush team had some highlights at the start of the season but has lagged far behind the powerhouse teams this year. Ryan has always been great here and is one of the hardest cars to pass in the series. If he can find a way to get some track position, he may be a driver who won’t cost much that we can take a chance on.
Let’s jump right into the rankings for Saturday night’s Blue-Emu 500!
- Brad Keselowski ($11,000)
- Martin Truex Jr. ($12,000)
- Chase Elliott ($11,400)
- Ryan Blaney ($10,100)
- Denny Hamlin ($10,400)
- Joey Logano ($10,700)
- Kevin Harvick ($9,600)
- Kyle Busch ($9,800)
- Alex Bowman ($9,200)
- Kurt Busch ($8,900)
- William Byron ($8,700)
- Kyle Larson ($11,700)
- Austin Dillon ($7,100)
- Matt DiBenedetto ($7,800)
- Christopher Bell ($8,400)
- Ryan Newman ($6,800)
- Aric Almirola ($8,100)
- Tyler Reddick ($7,500)
- Bubba Wallace ($7,300)
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($5,800)
- Chris Buescher ($6,400)
- Michael McDowell ($5,500)
- Cole Custer ($7,000)
- Chase Briscoe ($6,100)
- Erik Jones ($6,600)
- Daniel Suarez ($5,900)
- Ryan Preece ($5,600)
- Corey LaJoie ($5,200)
- Ross Chastain ($6,300)
- Anthony Alfredo ($5,300)
- Justin Haley ($5,400)
- Quin Houff ($4,500)
- James Davison ($5,000)
- JJ Yeley ($4,800)
- Josh Bilicki ($4,600)
- BJ McLeod ($4,900)
- Cody Ware ($4,700)
When it comes to lineup construction this week, let’s start at the top. In the $10,000 and above range, my favorite drivers are Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski. Not only are they the drivers I highlighted earlier, but they are the only ones starting lower than fifth in this group. If you expand that a little farther, Alex Bowman at $9,200 I think is a steal, starting 20th. I am really expecting big things from him this weekend.
The middle tier has a ton of drivers who you can choose from. Kurt Busch at $8,900 is a solid play, and with him coming from the 21st starting position, there is plenty of value to be had there.
Aric Almirola, who has had a disastrous start to the season, has been solid in Martinsville. He starts 31st and will cost you $8,100 this weekend.
Bubba Wallace has some value at $7,300, and he is another driver who needs a good finish this weekend. I like him starting in the 25th spot as I think this is a spot where that 23Xi team could battle for a top ten.
Matt DiBenedetto is a great pick in the middle, as well. At $7,800, he won’t hurt your lineup, and coming in with similar cars as the Penske teams, he will have the equipment to get up front. I love his 22nd starting spot, and he does have a top ten here.
Daniel Suarez and the Trackhouse Racing team has been a huge surprise this year. I loved Daniel at Stewart-Haas, but the results just didn’t follow. Seeing him back up front in a new team last week was incredible. He starts 11th this week, which isn’t great for where he might finish, but the team is giving us a reason to believe he can sustain the early-season success.
Some drivers below $7,000 who I will be looking at this weekend include Ryan Newman. Gone are the days when Ryan would be battling up front, but we know he is really good at getting around this racetrack. His eighth starting spot isn’t ideal, but that will give him plenty of track position, and if he can hold onto it, he has got a chance to be a highlight in any lineup.
Ross Chastain has a chance to be a value pick this weekend, coming from the 27th starting spot. Although not a driver you think of when it comes to success on the half-mile paperclip, he does have a little experience, and if he can get himself around the 15th finishing position, he would be a great value at $6,300.
I also like Corey LaJoie this weekend. I believe in Corey’s talent, and Martinsville is a track where talent matters. He is starting 34th and at $5,200, if he can get up above the 25th finishing spot, he allows us to be creative with the top of our lineup and pay up while getting some value on the bottom.
Anthony Alfredo is another driver who can fit that description, although his lack of experience scares me a little on a track like this. I don’t think he finishes in the 30’s this weekend, but starting 35th, we would need him to gain about ten spots to be worth a start.
Here is my ideal lineup this week.
- Brad Keselowski
- Alex Bowman
- Kurt Busch
- Matt DiBenedetto
- Ryan Newman
- Daniel Suarez
Finally for my picks to win the race at Martinsville.
For my favorite, it should be no surprise that I am going with Brad Keselowski. I think this is the race where he joins his teammates at Penske and wins a race. I’ll take the 6.5/1 odds.
My mid-pack selection is going to be Alex Bowman at 20/1. This one is taking a bit of a leap of faith, but last year was a big step up for Bowman, and I am hoping he has found something to continue his growth here.
My longshot this week is Matt DiBenedetto at 66/1. I mentioned how I love the equipment he is in, and as he gains more and more experience, he is a driver to look out for not only this weekend but beyond.