Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chevy Bow-ties and Virginians Set To Battle at Martinsville; Jeff Burton Looks Strong

by Micah Roberts
Las Vegas Review-Journal

The top story coming into this week's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway centered on Jimmie Johnson capturing the last four season championships, winning three of the first five races this season, and dominating nearly every season at Martinsville since he’s been on the circuit.

Following Saturday’s practice sessions, the story has shifted to how good some of the other drivers have been in practice, in particular Jeff Burton. The native Virginian, who grew up 64 miles away in nearby South Boston, tied for the fastest lap during the first practice session and was second fastest during happy hour in final preparation for Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500.

Burton not only had the best showing during Saturday’s practices, he also ran the most laps in each with 60 in the first and 99 in the final session. He looks to have his best chance at winning since finishing third in this race in 2008. His only Martinsville win came in the fall of 1997.

Burton’s success during Saturday’s practice comes a week after NASCAR tested the new spoiler at Charlotte, where he and his Childress teammates were stars of the two-day session. The spoiler debuts on the short track of Martinsville this week. It won’t have near the same impact this week that it will have on larger downforce tracks, but it is a sign — along with Martinsville’s practice — that the Childress organization is going to be a thorn in Johnson’s quest to win five straight titles.

Johnson has won six career races at Martinsville, including five of the last seven. He’s finished outside of the top 10 only once in his 16 career starts, and that was his first Cup start on the track. No one comes close to Johnson at Martinsville, but things may be a little different this week.

Johnson’s cars usually come right off the hauler ready to dominate with little tinkering throughout the practices. But this week they looked like a normal team scrambling to get the optimum setup during practices rather than the team that always has it figured out. Their average speeds and times were not Johnson-like at Martinsville.

However, they still have the best crew in NASCAR and chances are they will have that car set up good enough to compete while making the necessary changes as the race goes on. Nine straight top-five finishes coming into this race is pretty strong and chances are it will happen again, but winning is definitely a question mark.

One of the top candidates Johnson will have to go through to get his seventh win on the track will be his teammate and boss, Jeff Gordon, who has seven career wins at Martinsville. Gordon could have probably tacked on four more wins, but Johnson has pigged them all over that span. Over the past 10 races, Gordon has finished in the top five each time, with two wins and three second-place finishes.

Gordon was strong in every practice, whether in qualifying trim on Friday, where he was fourth quickest, or in race trim Saturday, where he was fifth and fourth. respectively. Look for a strong run out of Gordon this week who is searching for his first win since Texas almost a year ago.

Two other Hendrick cars joined Johnson and Gordon as top contenders to win this week after stellar practice sessions. Mark Martin practices well every week and has the look of being able to win on any track, but the surprise came with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was fastest in average speeds during happy hour.

Read More Here.....
Includes Updated Las Vegas Hilton Super Book odds, Martinsville facts, and Final Driver Ratings

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