The NASCAR Xfinity Series heads to Martinsville Speedway for the penultimate race of the 2023 season! Sam Mayer registered the win last weekend at Homestead to secure his spot in the Championship Four in Phoenix. It’s crazy how the kid got his first career win at Road America three months ago and the floodgates have opened as he now has four wins on the season. With Sam Mayer winning last weekend that means somebody out of Cole Custer, Austin Hill, and Justin Allgaier won’t make the championship race next weekend. And if either Sammy Smith, Chandler Smith, or Sheldon Creed pull off a surprising win then two of the aforementioned drivers will likely get the boot ahead of next week. This race conjured up plenty of drama last year after Ty Gibbs ran his teammate, Brandon Jones, up the track and cost him a shot at racing for a championship in Phoenix. Short track racing always tends to provide some intensity so let’s dig into Saturday’s race and start building our driver pool!
For anyone that’s new to NASCAR DFS here’s a brief description of Martinsville. It is a half-mile in length so it’s definitely on the shorter end of the spectrum in terms of track size on NASCAR’s schedule. It’s incredibly flat as well with zero degrees of banking on the straights and 12 degrees in the turns which feature a fairly tight radius. There are going to be obvious “short track” specialists we consider, but the beautiful thing about this Playbook is that practice and qualifying happened Friday late-afternoon/early-evening. So we have an idea of who is fast heading into Saturday’s crucial race and you can see those practice notes below.
Building lineups for these half-mile tracks like Martinsville and Bristol can be very frustrating. I’ll even mention tracks like Richmond, New Hampshire, and Phoenix in that grouping. The large number of laps and minimal room to maneuver make staying on the lead lap a vital aspect of this race. In this race last Spring, we had a bit of an outlier race. But it was 250 laps, similar to Saturday’s action, with 10 cautions for 82 laps. I think the excess of caution laps certainly helped drivers stay on the lead lap. 27 drivers finished on the lead lap. A year ago, this race saw 23 drivers finish on the lead lap. The Spring of 2022 saw just 21 drivers finish on the lead lap. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see plenty of drivers finish off the lead lap. It just happens here. Passing can be a challenge but not impossible. The real kicker for this race will be those precious dominator points. With 250 laps on tap we’ll have easily over 150 dominator points available and you’ll want to collect as many of them as you can to optimize your lineup. Most of my builds will center around two-or-three dominators in mind. But we could have a race like we had in the Spring where John Hunter Nemechek led almost 200 laps in his winning effort. Saturday’s race will see the stages broken into 60-60-130 lap segments. Fuel likely won’t be too much of an issue. But track position and strategizing to get up front will be key for these teams.
NASCAR DFS Driver Pool
John Hunter Nemechek ($11,500; Starting P5)
JHN dominated this race in the Spring, which should come as no surprise, because Joe Gibbs Racing typically races very well on comparable tracks. Ty Gibbs won this race last year but even Brandon Jones, while still with JGR, had a phenomenal run before being punted by Gibbs. Nemechek is the class of the field, we all know this by now. He won this race in the Spring. He won New Hampshire over the Summer and he finished second at Richmond in the Spring. He’s been damn good on these shorter, flat tracks. He’s one of the few drivers in the field where we don’t need to see him in practice and qualifying. We know there’s win equity and dominator potential. If there’s an argument against him, it’s that he’s not as desperate for a win in this race. He can easily point his way into the championship race. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of still going out and reminding the field who the favorite is.
Cole Custer ($11,200; Starting P3)
Custer likely races a little more aggressive than JHN because Custer is only three points to the good for the Championship race, while JHN is 44 points. Custer only has two wins on the year, both coming at road/street courses, but he’s had speed in the playoffs. In two of the last five playoffs races he’s started on the pole and led over 100 laps. But the finishes have been solid as well even if he isn’t winning. JHN likely carries much more exposure but given that Custer does need points we should expect him to run up front so long as the team is right with the setup. Custer finished top five at Richmond and Martinsville earlier this year and while he did finish 12th at Phoenix in the Spring, he did lead 38 laps.
Sam Mayer ($10,500; Starting P17)
I didn’t have a ton of interest in Mayer initially because he just has nothing to race for aside from seeing what his short track package has ahead of next week’s race. But he does offer PD with top 10 upside. Truthfully, if we’re spending up, we should be looking for dominator points. He hasn’t been great on the comparable tracks this year so this is much needed practice for this team, especially after he wrecked in this race in the Spring. But he did have some success at Martinsville last year. But again, if we’re spending up in this range, we’re probably chasing the ceiling of a race winner with dominator points. Josh Berry ($10,800; Starting P12) is another decent play with arguably a better floor, but he’s had such an off year that he’s more of a leverage play in Tournaments.
Austin Hill ($9,800; Starting P9)
Hill isn’t someone I’ll force into too many lineups, but strangely he never seems to carry significant exposure. He was seventh in single-lap and 10-lap averages in practice and overall it looks like both RCR cars have speed. Hill isn’t as desperate as teammate, Sheldon Creed ($8,900; Starting P8), but he also shouldn’t feel great about Sammy Smith winning the pole. Hill wasn’t great in the Spring race, but he does have a pair of top five finishes here. He was top 10 this year at Phoenix, Richmond, and New Hampshire but he doesn’t have the dominator upside of some other drivers in our pool.
Sammy Smith ($9,500; Starting P1)
It boils down to this… He needs to win. He’s 49 points outside the championship picture so he can’t point his way in. The Xfinity Series hasn’t run a ton of short, flat tracks. However, he’s been pretty solid on all of them this year. He won Phoenix in the Spring. He was the runner-up to JHN at Martinsville back in April. At New Hampshire he led 18 laps and finished fifth. Even at Richmond, despite finishing 19th, he did lead 40 laps. We say this all the time with JGR, whether it’s the Xfinity or Cup Series, they nail the setups for short, flat tracks. The polesitter tends to have great success on this track and Sammy Smith will do everything he can to win this race with the potential to lead 50+ laps.
Brandon Jones ($9,300; Starting P6)
We make fun of Jones a lot but it’s bizarre how consistent he is at Martinsville. Sure, the 23rd place finish from a year ago sticks out poorly on his resume, but that was because he was dumped by his teammate in overtime and lost a ton of track position. That moment almost endeared fans to Jones a little more, but he just hasn’t capitalized on the fanfare in his first season with JRM. Either way, the Martinsville success carried over to the new team as he grabbed a top five finish here in the Spring and he’s been hitting his stride a little more the last handful of weeks. He’s not eligible for the championship race, but he’s won here before and does perform well here as long as Ty Gibbs isn’t wrecking him.
Daniel Hemric ($8,700; Starting P14)
He’s a bit of a laughingstock, but he’s surprisingly consistent here. Over his last five races here he has an average finish of 6.8 and he has four top 10 finishes in the last five playoff races coming into Martinsville. He finished seventh here in the Spring, which is likely his ceiling for this race. Just accounting for the JGR cars and the playoff drivers that need to win, I don’t imagine Hemric has a ton of win equity. But he rarely does. With that in mind, he’s still a mid-tier play with top 10 upside, potentially even a top five ceiling. He seems determined to go out with a bang as he’ll be promoted back to the Cup Series next year, which is still a surprise to many.
Layne Riggs ($8,400; Starting P17)
I don’t have as much confidence in the Kaulig cars as I do for JGR or JRM. However, I like Hemric in this spot for his experience and resume at this track. And while Riggs doesn’t have as much experience, he’s in similar equipment to Hemric and he comes from a flat track background. Don’t forget, his two races at IRP in the Truck Series have yielded results of third and seventh. IRP is somewhat comparable to Martinsville but has a much wider turn radius. But still, Riggs grabbed a top 10 finish a few weeks ago at Vegas so he’s shown he can race at this level.
Myatt Snider ($7,900; Starting P11)
Snider will grab some ownership just based on the car he’s driving. He’s back in the 19-car this week for Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s driven this car four times this year and he’s grabbed 40+ fantasy points on DraftKings in all four races. Martinsville isn’t his best track. In five races here he has an average finish of 17.8 with a few top 15 finishes but none inside the top 10. However, this car will certainly be good enough to finish that high. He hasn’t raced this car on any comparable tracks this year. But he’s gained PD and moved up in the limited sample size we’ve seen. It’s a great price tag for the equipment, it just depends if the driver can wheel it to a good finish when his results on short, flat tracks have been rather pedestrian.
Jeb Burton ($7,200; Starting P38)
So Burton’s team found a leak in the radiator of the 27-car and he did not post a qualifying lap. And here we find the proverbial chalk for Cash games in this range. Do we run the risk he could lose the lead lap? Yes, but he’s a better driver than most of the back markers and the car should be better than rides as well. Assuming the leak is fixed, I’m not concerned about Burton. In six races at Martinsville, he has four top 15 finishes including a 14th place finish in the Spring where he started P31. He returns 40+ fantasy points on DraftKings if he finishes 20th and that’s a pretty solid floor for this race if he can remain on the lead lap.
Parker Retzlaff ($7,100; Starting P10)
The price tag has certainly ticked up on Retzlaff, but this is still manageable. And if he has a great performance this weekend, I’m very curious how he’ll be priced for Phoenix. In his debut in 2022 in the Xfinity Series, he ran as high as sixth at Phoenix before a fuel pump issue ended his day. But he bounced back in the Spring with a top 10 at Richmond and then a top 12 at Martinsville. This year, in a full-time ride with Jordan Anderson Racing, he finished 18th at Phoenix, 11th at Martinsville, and 16th at Richmond. In five of the playoff races the last couple months he’s finished in the top 15 and those are arguably on tracks that aren’t in his wheelhouse. Martinsville is more to his style because he came up racing on similar tracks especially in the ARCA Series. I’ll always have concerns about the equipment, but this team does have a pair of solid drivers in their cars so I’m fine investing in his kid because he’s shown he can run well in this type of race. He qualified pretty well so limit exposure to just GPP’s.
Kaz Grala ($6,900; Starting P23)
I actually don’t anticipate Grala being accompanied with significant rostership. However, he did showcase top 15 speed in practice, yet he qualified outside the top 20. There are by far more popular options but he has some speed in this car and starts closer to the front than some other value options so he already has a better chance of staying on the lead lap. He’s raced here only once but did finish 15th in the Spring. He also finished fourth at Richmond in the Spring and was 13th at New Hampshire over the Summer. This is one spot where I’d prefer to be overweight in Tournaments.
Ryan Ellis ($5,900; Starting P32)
Going into practice and qualifying, Ellis was probably most DFS touts favorite value play not named Blaine Perkins. Is the equipment for Alpha Prime great? We have enough of a sample size to know that it isn’t. However, Ellis does get the most out of his ride and is capable of a top 20 finish. Here are his results on the short, flat tracks in 2023:
- Phoenix: Started P19, Finished 19th
- Richmond: Started P23, Finished 15th
- Martinsville: Started P35, Finished 28th
- New Hampshire: Started P29, Finished 19th
Even last week at Homestead, I thought he’d be far more chalky starting P37 as a nice value play. But ownership wasn’t as high as I anticipated, and he finished 24th with 13 points of position differential. He’s only run two races at Martinsville in this series, but he’s gained at least seven spots of PD in each. I won’t rule out another top 25 day at this track so long as he avoids short track carnage.
Blaine Perkins ($5,000; Starting P31)
Perkins might end up being the value “chalk” simply because of his last two results at Martinsville. I’ll touch on those shortly, but I don’t like how he’s trending coming into the weekend. For starters, he’s finished outside the top 30 in 13 of 28 races this year. He has just one top 25 finish in his last 10 races and that came at Daytona where he finished exactly 25th. Now, to his credit, he finished 13th here in the Spring and he was top 10 in this race last Fall. You have to take risks in this range because these plays are priced down for a reason. But if his ownership is going to spike then I’ll find leverage elsewhere and hope he has an issue that ends his day early. Now Perkins laid down some great speed in practice and qualified P31. People will flock to this play in GPP’s because he opens up so much salary and he smashes value if he grabs a top 20. He’s fine for Cash games, but this is the Xfinity Series and I’d look for pivots in this range for Tournaments.
NASCAR DFS Core Drivers
|Cash Games||Top Tier||Mid-Tier||Value Plays|
|John Hunter Nemechek ($11,500; Starting P5)||Sammy Smith ($9,500; Starting P1)||Jeb Burton ($7,200; Starting P38)|
|Sam Mayer ($10,500; Starting P17)||Daniel Hemric ($8,700; Starting P14)||Blaine Perkins ($5,000; Starting P310|
|GPP Plays/Pivots||Top Tier||Mid-Tier||Value Plays|
|Cole Custer ($11,200; Starting P3)||Layne Riggs ($8,400; Starting P19)||Kaz Grala ($6,900; Starting P23)|
|Brandon Jones ($9,300; Starting P6)||Myatt Snider ($7,900; Starting P11)||Ryan Ellis ($5,900; Starting P32)|