Saturday, March 29, 2014

Final 2014 Martinsville STP 500 Driver Ratings: Hamlin guarantees win

Martinsville heavyweights Hamlin and Johnson tough to beat
LAS VEGAS – Saturday’s final two practice sessions at Martinsville Speedway were rained out, but because we got to see a few drivers run in race trim during Friday’s 90-minute practice, we’re not entirely without data coming into Sunday’s STP 500 like we might be at another track.

Still, the track could make a complete 180-degree turn from what we saw Friday, so it’s best to focus on past results. When three drivers -- Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin -- have combined to win 15 of the past 19 Martinsville races, that's where you start. It doesn't hurt Johnson's or Gordon's chances that both will be using their winning Martinsville chassis from last season.

We came into the week liking Jeff Gordon the most, and we still do, but Hamlin has been elevated to the top of our ratings not only because of his outstanding Friday practice where he topped the charts -- and not just because he’s a native Virginian that has four career wins on his home track -- but also because he guaranteed the win Sunday.

It’s rare to hear a driver guarantee a win, but the last time it happened -- coincidentally enough by Hamlin -- he came through with a win at another flat track at New Hampshire in 2012. When he got out of his car to grab the checkered flag, he did his imitation of Babe Ruth’s called shot -- pointing at the fences -- for the fans. Who doesn’t want to bet a driver that has placed that weight on his shoulders, who is going to scratch and claw for everything in front of him to save face with the media who will surely remind him about his prediction if he doesn’t win?

This is better than a jockey betting on himself to win a horse race. Every driver wants to win more than anything, but the extra pressure to win for something else is very cool. It’s like the driver is all-in on your bet with you.

Because Hamlin looked so good Friday, his odds have been dropped at the LVH Super Book from 8-to-1 down to 9-to-2, making him the co-second choice to win with Gordon. Johnson’s odds were raised from 2-to-1 to 5-to-2 just because of a healthy Hamlin making it a three-way party again at the top. Remember, 15 of the past 19 Martinsville races have been won by these three -- an absolutely insane figure.

The best odds currently available -- from a value standpoint -- might be three-time Martinsville winner Tony Stewart at 20-to-1. It’s tough betting on a driver that is still gimpy from a leg injury -- and Martinsville’s flat half-mile layout is tough on drivers -- but Stewart looked great during Friday’s practice. Stewart also comes into this race having two consecutive top-five finishes (Bristol and Fontana), which seems to indicate that he feels good.

Read More Here.....Final Driver Ratings

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