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.
Greg Biffle (No. 16 NESN 30th Anniversary Ford) · Three top fives, six top 10s · Average finish of 13.2 · Average Running Position of 11.8, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 94.6, eighth-best · 58 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most · 472 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 169.929 mph, seventh-fastest · 1,027 Laps in the Top 15 (71.3%), seventh-most · 205 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), 10th-most
Clint Bowyer (No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota) · Two top fives, two top 10s · Average finish of 13.3 · Average Running Position of 14.8, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 84.6, 11th-best · 487 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most · 727 Laps in the Top 15 (56.8%), 11th-most · 172 Quality Passes, 12th-most
Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) · Two top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 11.6 · Average Running Position of 12.8, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 96.5, fifth-best · 48 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most · 502 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 170.047 mph, fifth-fastest · 1,044 Laps in the Top 15 (72.5%), fifth-most · 265 Quality Passes, fourth-most
Carl Edwards (No. 99 Fastenal Ford) · One top five, three top 10s · Average finish of 13.2 · Driver Rating of 84.4, 12th-best · 44 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most · 519 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most · 721 Laps in the Top 15 (50.1%), 12th-most · 234 Quality Passes, sixth-most
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet) · Four wins, 11 top fives, 16 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 8.8 · Average Running Position of 11.5, third-best · Driver Rating of 102.0, third-best · 105 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 497 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 170.505 mph, second-fastest · Series-high 1,105 Laps in the Top 15 (76.7%) · 284 Quality Passes, second-most
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota) · One top five, three top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 16.9 · Driver Rating of 88.3, 10th-best · 41 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 170.004 mph, sixth-fastest · 738 Laps in the Top 15 (57.7%), 10th-most · 190 Quality Passes, 11th-most
Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet) · One win, four top fives, seven top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 10.9 · Average Running Position of 14.4, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 90.2, ninth-best · 904 Laps in the Top 15 (62.8%), eighth-most
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Four wins, five top fives, six top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.6 · Series-best Average Running Position of 10.8 · Series-best Driver Rating of 109.8 · Series-high 173 Fastest Laps Run · 1,057 Laps in the Top 15 (73.4%), fourth-most
Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Great Clips/Shark Week Chevrolet) · Three top fives, five top 10s · Average finish of 14.2 · Average Running Position of 12.8, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 96.4, sixth-best · 78 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · 1,085 Laps in the Top 15 (75.3%), third-most · 271 Quality Passes, third-most
Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) · Six top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 15.1 · Average Running Position of 12.4, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 95.8, seventh-best · 1,100 Laps in the Top 15 (76.4%), second-most · 247 Quality Passes, fifth-most
Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 12 SKF Ford) · One top five, two top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 20.3 · Average Running Position of 12.5, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 96.7, fourth-best · 106 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
Tony Stewart (No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet) · Two wins, seven top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 7.9 · Average Running Position of 11.1, second-best · Driver Rating of 104.1, second-best · Series-high 571 Green Flag Passes · 1,037 Laps in the Top 15 (72.0%), sixth-most · Series-high 292 Quality Passes