Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Martinsville Preview: Goody's Relief Will Be If Anyone Can Stop Johnson; Good-Luck!

By Micah Roberts

Last week Jimmie Johnson went into the short track racing season on the high banks of Bristol, a place he had never won at, and won. This week, Johnson visits another short track at the much flatter Martinsville Speedway, a track that he has thoroughly dominated like no other.

Quick trivia time: When was the last time Johnson didn’t finish in the top-5 of a Martinsville race? How about the last time he finished out of the top-10?

In this race back in 2005, Johnson finished eighth and in his rookie year of 2002, his very first race on the track, Johnson finished 35th.

It seems hard to comprehend that someone could be so consistently good for such a long period of time at one particular track, especially when he ran so mediocre -- by his lofty standards -- at Bristol over the same span.

Johnson has six career wins at Martinsville including a stretch from the fall of 2006 to this race last year where he won five of the six races run. That is a pretty remarkable feat for any type of racing in all classes, but to do it in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series which has some of the largest starting fields and bank rolls to make great competitive cars really shows just how good Johnson is.

He may not give us the banter we all want to hear. He doesn’t have a lot of choice words for any other drivers. He hasn’t got caught up in any rivalry or payback threats. No, all Johnson does is win Championships and there is no better evidence of his machine-like performance that display all his perceived vanilla traits than at Martinsville.

We could also look at the beginning of 2010 if further evidence is needed to just how great Johnson is. He’s generally a slow starter, but he’s already got three wins in five races giving him 50 for his career. Only three drivers in NASCAR history -- Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, and David Pearson -- have gotten to 50 wins faster than Johnson.

From every aspect of NASCAR racing, Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus have it all covered. The driver usually gets most of the credit, but it starts with the team who always has his chassis set up ideally for each race right when it comes off the truck.

The question this week is who may be the top contender to give Johnson a run for the money on his most successful track? The two races that Johnson hasn’t won over the last races there have been won by Virginia native Denny Hamlin. Over those last seven races, Hamlin has finished out of the top-5 only once, and that was a sixth-place run.

Martinsville could be the perfect place to get Hamlin out of his current funk that has seen him go the first five races without a top-10 finish, numbers that are well below expectations for a driver many picked to be the one to topple Johnson’s quest for a fifth straight Championship.

Jeff Gordon is the current active leader in wins at Martinsville with seven. He hasn’t there since 2005 when he swept the season, but has been competitive at the highest level while Hamlin and Johnson have pigged all the wins. Since sweeping in 2005, Gordon has eight straight top-5 finishes that include three second-place runs. Overall Gordon has 22 top-5 finishes in his 34 career starts on the track.

Tony Stewart showed some signs of life last week at Bristol and its about the same time last year that he showed the NASCAR world that he would be able to contend at a high level with his new team. The same turnaround occurred for his teammate Ryan Newman.

Last week Stewart got his first top-5 of the season by finishing second. Both his cars should be primed for good runs this week. Newman finished sixth and seventh in last years Martinsville races while Stewart was third and ninth.

Two other candidates who could run well are Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya. Both cars looked terrific in their first run on the short last week as teammates. Both had great practice sessions that translated well in the race with Montoya leading laps on four separate occasions and McMurray finishing eighth. Montoya had a career best third-place finish in the fall Martinsville race last season.

Kurt Busch had a great run last week leading the most laps and finishing third, but Martinsville always seems to get the best of him. He does have one career win on the track -- back in 2002 -- but only has one top-5 finish on the track since. His brother Kyle has been just a little better, but the short track excellence they show at Bristol hasn’t translated over to Martinsville as pronounced, almost an opposite to what Johnson has shown between the two short tracks.

Kyle Busch has three fourth-place finishes mixed in with four finishes of 24th or worse.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #14 Tony Stewart (12/1)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
5) #42 Juan Pablo Montoya (18/1)

Visit VegasInsider.com for more stats and info on this weeks Race.

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