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, September 4 11:00 AM NSCS HAULERS ENTER 2:00 PM NSCS GARAGE OPENS & INSPECTION BEGINS 7:00 PM NSCS GARAGES CLOSE
Friday, September 5 7:30 AM NSCS GARAGE OPENS 8:00 AM NSCS ROOKIE & SPOTTER MEETINGS & RANDOM DRAWING 9:00 AM 12:00 PM NSCS PRACTICE 1:00 PM 2:20 PM NSCS FINAL PRACTICE 5:45 PM NSCS QUALIFYING 8:30 PM NSCS GARAGE CLOSES
Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 STANLEY Ford) · One top 10 · Average finish of 20.3 · Average Running Position of 20.5, 23rd-best · Driver Rating of 68.1, 23rd-best · 8 Fastest Laps Run, 34th-most · 739 Green Flag Passes, 19th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 170.119 mph, 23rd-fastest · 876 Laps in the Top 15 (33.4%), 22nd-most · 208 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), 21st-most
Greg Biffle (No. Ortho Fire Ant Killer Ford) · Three top fives, nine top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.9 · Average Running Position of 13.7, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 91.3, 11th-best · 237 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most · 993 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 170.998 mph, 13th-fastest · 3,301 Laps in the Top 15 (67.3%), sixth-most · 518 Quality Passes, sixth-most
Clint Bowyer (No. 15 SpeedDigital.com Toyota) · Five top 10s · Average finish of 19.8 · Average Running Position of 15.7, 16th-best · Driver Rating of 84.8, 15th-best · 76 Fastest Laps Run, 15th-most · 865 Green Flag Passes, 13th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.054 mph, 11th-fastest · 2,444 Laps in the Top 15 (57.5%), 15th-most · 358 Quality Passes, 17th-most
Austin Dillon (No. 3 Dow Chevrolet) · Average finish of 19.0 · Average Running Position of 20.6, 24th-best · Driver Rating of 67.3, 24th-best · 1 Fastest Laps Run, 44th-most · 86 Green Flag Passes, 45th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 169.903 mph, 26th-fastest · 1 Laps in the Top 15 (.3%), 47th-most · 1 Quality Passes, 43rd-most
Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota) · Eight top fives, 14 top 10s · Average finish of 12.7 · Average Running Position of 12.8, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 96.5, fifth-best · 190 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most · 1,018 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.262 mph, sixth-fastest · 3,415 Laps in the Top 15 (69.7%), fifth-most · 528 Quality Passes, fourth-most
Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet) · Four top 10s · Average finish of 20.0 · Average Running Position of 19.2, 22nd-best · Driver Rating of 73.7, 22nd-best · Series-high 1,145 Green Flag Passes · 1,965 Laps in the Top 15 (40.1%), 18th-most · 407 Quality Passes, 15th-most
Paul Menard (No. 27 Duracell/Menards Chevrolet) · One top five, three top 10s · Average finish of 20.7 · Average Running Position of 23.3, 27th-best · Driver Rating of 63.6, 26th-best · 899 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most · 827 Laps in the Top 15 (21.1%), 24th-most · 208 Quality Passes, 21st-most
Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) · Two top fives, seven top 10s; seven poles · Average finish of 17.7 · Average Running Position of 18.6, 20th-best · Driver Rating of 74.1, 21st-best · 1,077 Green Flag Passes, third-most · 1,742 Laps in the Top 15 (35.5%), 19th-most · 346 Quality Passes, 19th-most
Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pros Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet) · Three wins, 10 top fives, 15 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 11.7 · Average Running Position of 11.4, third-best · Driver Rating of 100.2, third-best · 800 Green Flag Passes, 16th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.240 mph, seventh-fastest · 3,231 Laps in the Top 15 (70.6%), seventh-most · 490 Quality Passes, 10th-most
Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet) · Two top fives, four top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 20.3 · Average Running Position of 11.7, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 91.4, 10th-best · 890 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.359 mph, fourth-fastest · 3,517 Laps in the Top 15 (76.8%), fourth-most · 559 Quality Passes, second-most