The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup hit the halfway point last Saturday night and now heads to Martinsville Speedway for Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500. Martinsville, which was on the very first Strictly Stock (what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) schedule in 1949, has had its share of dramatic events. This weekend should be no different. Call this event, “Wild Card Race No. 1.” The tight confines of Martinsville often lead to unpredictable – and heated – outcomes.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to action, also at Martinsville, with the Kroger 200. After four consecutive open weeks, the truck season hits its stretch-run with five consecutive races.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads Gateway International Raceway for its final standalone of the season, the Five-Hour Energy 250. Nabbing his fifth win of the season last weekend, Brad Keselowski closes in on his first national series title.
Storylines for the weekend follow.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
Chase At The Halfway Point – Martinsville Implications
A big-time shootout has developed at the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings between four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson and two drivers trying to win the title for first time – second-place Denny Hamlin and third-place Kevin Harvick. The site of this week’s event, .526-mile Martinsville Speedway, seriously favors Johnson and Hamlin. Between them they’ve won the last eight races there and Hamlin is going for his third consecutive victory there. Harvick? He has never won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville, but does have two wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Gordon May Be A Long Shot, But Don’t Count Him Out
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon has fallen 156 points behind Johnson, in fourth place. That may not be encouraging, but there’s precedent for a comeback. In 2006, Johnson was 146 points out of first with five races to go – and came back to win the title for the first time.
Gordon has a long history of success at Martinsville, winning seven career races there, which trails only Richard Petty (15) and Darrell Waltrip (11) for most all-time.
Martinsville = Unpredictability
When you get right down to it, there’s really no telling how the Chase standings will look coming out of Martinsville. With its short distance and tight, paperclip-shaped layout, mishaps are a given. On every lap, drivers are a miscue away from a multi-car pileup – and extended pit stop.
First McMurray, Then…Who?
McMurray played the part of spoiler brilliantly last Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, sealing his reputation as a big-stage performer. A non-Chase driver has won a Chase race 13 times, the last two instances by McMurray (Talladega last year, and Charlotte).
Will the rare phenomenon occur again this weekend? Maybe. The two most likely candidates: Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.
Logano finished second at Martinsville last March, and is coming of a strong seventh-place run at Charlotte. Newman owns one of the top Driver Ratings at Martinsville among non-Chasers, at 87.8.
Thursday, April 23 12:00 PM NSCS HAULERS ENTER 2:00 PM - 6:30 PM NSCS GARAGE OPEN
Friday, April 24 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM NSCS GARAGE OPEN 10:00 AM NSCS ROOKIE & SPOTTER MEETINGS & RANDOM DRAWING 11:00 AM - 12:25 PM NSCS PRACTICE 1:00 PM - 2:25 PM NSCS FINAL PRACTICE 2:30 PM NSCS QUALIFYING INSPECTION BEGINS 5:45 PM NSCS QUALIFYING
Clint Bowyer (No. 15 AAA Insurance Toyota) · Two wins, four top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 11.5 · Average Running Position of 10.5, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 99.6, fourth-best · 210 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 116.176 mph, sixth-fastest · 5,632 Laps in the Top 15 (78.0%), fifth-most · 499 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), fourth-most
Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · One win, five top fives, 10 top 10s · Average finish of 17.1 · Average Running Position of 14.4, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 91.5, ninth-best · 379 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 116.156 mph, seventh-fastest · 4,779 Laps in the Top 15 (59.6%), eighth-most · 477 Quality Passes, sixth-most
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet) · Three wins, nine top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.5 · Average Running Position of 14.5, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 86.9, 12th-best · 347 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most · 1,026 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most · 4,515 Laps in the Top 15 (56.3%), 12th-most · 454 Quality Passes, 11th-most
Carl Edwards (No. 19 ARRIS Toyota) · One win, four top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.9 · Average Running Position of 15.1, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 89.1, 10th-best · 299 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most · 1,031 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 116.026 mph, 11th-fastest · 4,634 Laps in the Top 15 (57.8%), 10th-most · 472 Quality Passes, seventh-most
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet) · Two wins, 18 top fives, 28 top 10s; six poles · Average finish of 13.6 · Average Running Position of 12.8, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 99.3, fifth-best · 461 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 116.237 mph, fourth-fastest · 5,283 Laps in the Top 15 (65.9%), sixth-most · 470 Quality Passes, eighth-most
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) · Two wins, seven top fives, nine top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 10.4 · Average Running Position of 7.5, second-best · Series-best Driver Rating of 110.7 · Series-high 598 Fastest Laps Run · Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 116.498 mph · 5,821 Laps in the Top 15 (85.5%), fourth-most · 448 Quality Passes, 12th-most
Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Jimmy John's/Budweiser Chevrolet) · Three wins, eight top fives, 17 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 11.0 · Series-best Average Running Position of 7.5 · Driver Rating of 110.3, second-best · 511 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 903 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 116.466 mph, third-fastest · Series-high 7,415 Laps in the Top 15 (92.5%) · Series-high 657 Quality Passes
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Pro Services Chevrolet) · Three wins, five top fives, nine top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 17.5 · Average Running Position of 15.7, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 88.8, 11th-best · 291 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 116.030 mph, 10th-fastest · 4,662 Laps in the Top 15 (58.2%), ninth-most
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford) · One win, two top fives, four top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 16.9 · Average Running Position of 13.6, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 91.6, eighth-best · 252 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 116.016 mph, 12th-fastest
Ryan Newman (No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet) · One win, six top fives, 16 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 11.2 · Average Running Position of 11.4, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 92.5, seventh-best · 1,017 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 116.118 mph, eighth-fastest · 6,137 Laps in the Top 15 (76.6%), third-most · 625 Quality Passes, second-most
Tony Stewart (No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) · Three wins, 11 top fives, 19 top 10s · Average finish of 11.2 · Average Running Position of 12.8, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 94.0, sixth-best · 281 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most · 945 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 116.224 mph, fifth-fastest · 5,067 Laps in the Top 15 (66.5%), seventh-most · 492 Quality Passes, fifth-most