Those that shined at M'ville should again at Phoenix
Hamlin, Johnson, Gordon the favorites in Arizona desert
April 7, 2010
10:54 AM EDT
If your lineup for Martinsville was productive, this is a good time to stand pat; if it was not, this is a great chance to use fresh data from the Martinsville race to help select drivers for Phoenix.
Phoenix is twice the length as the Virginia short track, but the two courses are among the four flattest circuits on which NASCAR competes and that means there are a lot of similarities between them. The dominant drivers from two weeks ago are almost guaranteed to run strong again and that will suggest a couple of solid dark horses.
To everyone's surprise, Johnson struggled for much of the weekend as the team experimented with setups intended to give them an edge during the fall Martinsville race when Chase points were on the line. This is not the first time that the No. 48 team has done that -- and a similar strategy kept them from being a good value in last year's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire -- but that was little consolation to fantasy owners who counted on Johnson to anchor their team. The No. 48 team rarely has two bad weeks in a row, so you can immediately put last week's race out of your mind.
On the other hand, Hamlin and Gordon completely lived up to the pre-race hype and the battle for the win ultimately came down to those two drivers. In front of the hometown crowd, Hamlin would not be denied and he made his way forcefully to the front during a green-white-checkered finish that harkened back to the old days of racing. That was Hamlin's third victory in the past five short, flat track races and he has not finished worse than third during that span, but fantasy owners will want to make a race day decision about him. After his Martinsville win, Hamlin underwent surgery on his knee and you will want to wait and see how fast he heals before committing resources.
After coming up two laps short of a victory, Gordon will be hungrier than ever to earn a second Phoenix trophy, which means he should remain active on your roster. This hasn't always been his best track in terms of finishing results, but it's hard to ignore momentum. Restarts were his undoing two weeks ago -- and he still needs to become a little more aggressive in those first several laps -- but he showed a willingness to use his bumper at the end of the Martinsville race. In Martinsville, he had trouble restarting in the outside lane, and he won't have that same problem at Phoenix. This one-mile flat track may not have two distinct grooves, but cars get strung out a lot faster than at Martinsville and that will allow Gordon to find a comfortable spot to run. (Continued)