This weekend all three NASCAR National Series head to Martinsville. Unique means one of a kind, so something can’t be “very unique” but if a track could be “very unique” it would be Martinsville. Martinsville is just a hair over half a mile long. It is a combination of concrete in the turns and asphalt on the straightaways. The turns are banked 12 degrees, while the straightaways are dead flat. Simply put, there is nothing else like it, when handicapping Martinsville what matters more than anything else is how a driver has performed here in the past. Martinsville takes time to learn, and historically drivers don’t suddenly become good here.
So, when developing my model for Martinsville my primary focus is on Martinsville. I do have a small flavor of Phoenix and Richmond pulled into account for recent for. The weight given to those tracks is minimal though. Its effectively a tie breaker when two drivers are very close based on their Martinsville history.
We do have a slight wrinkle in this weekend. The weather forecast for Sunday isn’t ideal. While we won’t see the cold that plagued the 2022 Spring race here, we do have a 60% chance of rain in the forecast. This means we could see the “wet weather” package used for the first time on an oval. The race won’t be run in the rain, however we could get back to racing faster as the track doesn’t need to be completely dried out to resume racing. That said, I’m not particularly concerned about this. It is a bit of an unknown how wet racing might change things here, but its just a 60% chance of rain. Furthermore, with the history that good drivers are good here no matter what changes are made (e.g., the 2019-high downforce package), I’m not letting it change how I bet.
Expected Performance Metric
Given everything I just said about drivers who are good at Martinsville being the drivers who have been good here before, it should shock no one to see that my expected performance metric is high on Christopher Bell, who won here in the fall. The model also favors Kyle Larson, who after years of being below average here started to show up in 2022. The Top 9 is filled in with William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr, and Alex Bowman.
The one surprise to me was the 10th ranked driver, Aric Almirola. Aric hasn’t ever won here, and only has one Top 5 finish, all the way back in 2012. Dating back to 2020 however he does have three Top 10 finishes and led some laps in the Spring 2020 race before a battery issue ended his day. I don’t think Aric is a threat to win this race by any stretch of the imagination, but as we get more matchups later this week though he could be a dark horse play if he is priced at plus money to lower tier drivers. He is also someone I’ll be keeping a close eye on in practice and qualifying to potentially add Top 10 action on or for use in daily fantasy contests.
In what seems like it’s becoming a constant refrain from me, I don’t see much value in the outright betting market this week. Books have been quite stingy with their outright bet pricing. I briefly considered betting on Bell at +800, but I wasn’t able to convince myself that it was a strong bet before that price got bet down to the +600-700 range. At +600 or +700 I have no interest in Bell or anyone else before seeing cars on the track for practice. That said, there is value out there.
Brad Keselowski Top 10 | +105 (Hard Rock Sportsbook) or +100 (Caesars Sportsbook)
Keselowski has always been very good at Martinsville. He has crossed the finish line inside the Top 10 in 18 of his 26 races here. I say he has crossed the finish line inside the Top 10, because if you recall last year’s fall race he was disqualified during post race inspection. The disqualification means he officially had a 36th place finish, despite crossing the finish line in fourth.
If we take out his first four races, when he was learning the track and adjusting to the Cup Series, his Top 10 rate goes up to 17 of 22, if we further remove incident races it goes to 17 of 18. The non-incident result outside of the Top 10 was last year in the Spring. That race was a cold mess and RFK in the spring was nothing like RFK in the fall. Towards the end of last year RFK found something and its has carried over into 2023.
Yes, Brad had a terrible day last weekend at Bristol, but that’s not a relevant comp. At Phoenix and Richmond he had Top 10 speed and Top 10 average running position. Brad has been racing well, RFK, while not “back” is certainly not “down” right now. I think Brad has better than a coinflip chance of finishing Top 10 at one of his best tracks. So I gladly took the plus money available for a Top 10 at Hard Rock and would bet it down at even money at Caesars.
Daniel Suarez Top 10 | +230 (FanDuel Sportsbook)
Trackhouse found something at the second Martinsville race last year. Even before the last lap move by Chastain both drivers had been hovering around the Top 10 all day, which was a marked improvement over their Spring race results. Suarez didn’t have a Top 10 finish, but did record 387 of his laps inside the Top 10. He had an average running position of 9.45 and was 10th in my incident adjusted speed metric. Suarez only has two Top 10 finishes here at Martinsville, and those came in 2018, with Joe Gibbs Racing, and 2019, with Stewart-Hass Racing. But I think given what Trackhouse showed us at the end of 2022, the potential upside on Suarez justifies this bet.