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.
Friday, August 1 6:00 AM NSCS GARAGE OPENS & INSPECTION BEGINS 10:00 AM NSCS ROOKIE & SPOTTER MEETINGS & RANDOM DRAWING 11:00 AM - 12:20 PM NSCS PRACTICE 3:40 PM NSCS QUALIFYING 6:00 PM NSCS GARAGE CLOSES
Saturday, August 2 7:00 AM NSCS GARAGE OPENS 9:00 - 9:50 AM NSCS PRACTICE 11:30 AM - 12:20 PM NSCS FINAL PRACTICE 3:00 PM NSCS GARAGE CLOSES
Sunday, August 3 7:00 AM NSCS GARAGE OPENS 11:00 AM NSCS DRIVER / CREW CHIEF MEETING 12:30 PM NSCS DRIVERS INTRODUCTION 1:00 PM NSCS RACE
All times above are listed in LOCAL Time
Pocono Driver Tale of the Tape
Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · Two wins, 11 top fives, 15 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 14.8 · Average Running Position of 10.4, third-best · Driver Rating of 105.5, third-best · 312 Fastest Laps Run, second-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.147 mph, third-fastest · 2,521 Laps in the Top 15 (76.6%), fifth-most · 722 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), eighth-most
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Michael Baker International Chevrolet) · One win, eight top fives, 12 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.8 · Average Running Position of 14.4, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 90.8, 11th-best · 79 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 161.624 mph, ninth-fastest · 2,147 Laps in the Top 15 (62.2%), 11th-most · 664 Quality Passes, 12th-most
Carl Edwards (No. 99 Fastenal Ford) · Two wins, five top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 14.8 · Average Running Position of 14.4, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 96.0, sixth-best · 176 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 161.774 mph, eighth-fastest · 2,238 Laps in the Top 15 (64.8%), eighth-most · 701 Quality Passes, 10th-most
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet) · Six wins, 19 top fives, 30 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 10.0 · Average Running Position of 10.2, second-best · Driver Rating of 101.8, fourth-best · 143 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most · 1,477 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.014 mph, fifth-fastest · 2,626 Laps in the Top 15 (76.1%), second-most · 827 Quality Passes, third-most
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota) · Four wins, nine top fives, 11 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 12.1 · Average Running Position of 10.8, fourth-best · Series-best Driver Rating of 109.0 · Series-high 434 Fastest Laps Run · Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 162.311 mph · 2,404 Laps in the Top 15 (78.9%), sixth-most
Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Mobil 1 Chevrolet) · Five top fives, nine top 10s · Average finish of 14.0 · Average Running Position of 14.0, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 90.7, 12th-best · 1,668 Green Flag Passes, third-most · 744 Quality Passes, fifth-most
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Three wins, 10 top fives, 17 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 8.7 · Series-best Average Running Position of 9.8 · Driver Rating of 108.7, second-best · 272 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.201 mph, second-fastest · Series-high 2,723 Laps in the Top 15 (78.9%) · 819 Quality Passes, fourth-most
Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet) · Two wins, five top fives, seven top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 18.2 · Driver Rating of 91.5, 10th-best · 297 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 1,529 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 161.869 mph, sixth-fastest · 2,057 Laps in the Top 15 (59.6%), 12th-most · 732 Quality Passes, seventh-most
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford) · One win, three top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 12.3 · Driver Rating of 92.8, ninth-best · 96 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
Kyle Larson (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) · One top five, one top 10 · Average finish of 5.0 · Average Running Position of 13.3, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 96.0, seventh-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 162.080 mph, fourth-fastest
Ryan Newman (No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet) · One win, nine top fives, 13 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 11.5 · Average Running Position of 11.2, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 95.8, eighth-best · 1,522 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 161.617 mph, 10th-fastest · 2,598 Laps in the Top 15 (75.3%), third-most · Series-high 851 Quality Passes
Tony Stewart (No. 14 Code 3 / Mobil 1 Chevrolet) · Two wins, 12 top fives, 22 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 11.0 · Average Running Position of 11.8, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 98.9, fifth-best · 99 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most · 1,620 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 161.830 mph, seventh-fastest · 2,549 Laps in the Top 15 (73.8%), fourth-most · 840 Quality Passes, second-most