Ryan Blaney – Ryan Blaney will be a solid dark horse option at Martinsville. He ran well in both races last year, but his overall 17.8 average finish should allow him to fly under the radar. Last fall Blaney had a strong performance. When the race reached its conclusion he finished 8th, earned the 7th best driver rating and had a 7th place average running position. Additionally he finished 7th in Stage #1 and 6th in Stage #2. In his other three Martinsville races he finished 19th or worse. Last spring he had his worst result and finished 25th. That’s a misleading result. He showed a lot of speed at times in the race. In the event he finished 7th in Stage #1, 5th in Stage #2 and earned the 9th best driver rating. I’ll note his race wasn’t incident free. With 196 laps to go he had to make an unexpected pit stop for a tire rub. There was no recovering from that. In 2016 he wasn’t good in either race and had a pair of 19th place finishes. On Sunday I would look for Blaney to compete for a top ten.
Aric Almirola – Martinsville is a good track for Aric Almirola. He has a patient driving style that will work well for him. On Sunday I think he’ll be a low double digits driver who’ll compete for a top ten. Since 2015 minus a spring 2016 engine failure he’s finished between 12th to 18th every race and has a 15.8 average finish. This year in the Stewart Haas Racing #10 he’s run well on a weekly basis. In 2018 he has a 10.6 average result and is the only driver who’s finished in the top 13 every race. Last fall Almirola was about a 20th place driver. He earned the 20th best driver rating, had a 20th place average running position and finished 18th. Last spring he started 18th and finished 18th. I think it’s clear he was a high-teens driver because his average running position was 19th. In fall 2016 he typically ran between the high-teens and the low-twenties, but at the end he rallied to finish 15th. In spring 2016 he looked about 20th place good but finished 40th after he had engine problems. In the two Martinsville races prior to that he had results of 12th and 16th.
Erik Jones – Erik Jones will no longer have rookie stripes and I think he’ll be a driver to watch at Martinsville. I think he’ll realistically be low-double driver who’ll compete for a top ten. Heading into Martinsville he has four straight top 11 finishes for the season. In 2017 he didn’t have a bad rookie season at Martinsville. Last fall Jones had a decent showing but finished a misleading 26th. In the race he was spun on lap 316 while he was running in the high-teens. That spin did some damage to his car and he never bounced back after that. In the race he spent some time early running in the top ten until pit strategy shuffled him back. Realistically I would say he was likely about mid-teens good. In spring 2017 he had a strong debut. He finished 12th and had a 15th place average running position. Additionally he finished 8th in Stage #2.