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, March 6 10:30 AM NSCS GARAGE OPENS 12:00 PM 4:00 PM NSCS TESTING 7:00 PM NSCS GARAGE CLOSES
Friday, March 7 6:00 AM NSCS GARAGE & INSPECTION BEGINS 10:00 AM NSCS ROOKIE & SPOTTER MEETINGS & RANDOM DRAWING 11:00 AM 12:30 PM NSCS PRACTICE 3:40 PM NSCS QUALIFYING 5:30 PM NSCS GARAGE CLOSES
Saturday, March 8 7:00 AM NSCS GARAGE OPENS 8:30 - 9:20 AM NSCS PRACTICE 11:30 AM 12:30 PM NSCS FINAL PRACTICE 1:15 PM NNS RACE 4:00 PM NSCS GARAGE CLOSES
Sunday, March 9 6:00 AM NSCS GARAGE OPENS 8:30 - 9:30 AM Speedway Children's Charity Track Walk 10:00 AM NSCS DRIVER / CREW CHIEF MEETING 11:30 AM NSCS DRIVER INTRODUCTIONS 12:00 PM NSCS RACE
All times above are listed in LOCAL Time
Las Vegas Driver Tale of the Tape
Greg Biffle (No. 16 Red Cross Ford) · Two top fives, six top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.8 · Average Running Position of 10.7, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 103.0, fourth-best · 150 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most · 483 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 170.361 mph, fourth-fastest · 1,754 Laps in the Top 15 (72.4%), fifth-most · 270 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), seventh-most
Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota) · One win, four top fives, five top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 14.7 · Average Running Position of 10.3, third-best · Driver Rating of 102.8, fifth-best · 110 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most · 500 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 170.333 mph, sixth-fastest · Series-high 1,904 Laps in the Top 15 (78.5%) · Series-high 358 Quality Passes
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Mountain Dew Kickstart Chevrolet) · Two top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 15.6 · Average Running Position of 14.9, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 88.2, ninth-best · 90 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most · 532 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 169.982 mph, eighth-fastest · 1,590 Laps in the Top 15 (65.6%), eighth-most · 284 Quality Passes, sixth-most
Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) · Two wins, four top fives, five top 10s · Average finish of 9.7 · Average Running Position of 11.6, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 98.8, sixth-best · 155 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · 571 Green Flag Passes, second-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 170.031 mph, seventh-fastest · 1,768 Laps in the Top 15 (72.9%), fourth-most · 344 Quality Passes, second-most
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet) · One win, six top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 15.4 · Average Running Position of 10.0, second-best · Driver Rating of 103.8, second-best · 177 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · 491 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 170.356 mph, fifth-fastest · 1,870 Laps in the Top 15 (77.1%), second-most · 334 Quality Passes, third-most
Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Jimmy John's Chevrolet) · Three top fives, five top 10s · Average finish of 12.7 · Average Running Position of 11.7, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 94.8, eighth-best · 60 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most · 521 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 169.944 mph, ninth-fastest · 1,680 Laps in the Top 15 (69.3%), seventh-most · 267 Quality Passes, eighth-most
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet) · Four wins, five top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 9.5 · Series-best Average Running Position of 9.6 · Series-best Driver Rating of 112.3 · Series-high 316 Fastest Laps Run · 499 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most · Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 170.622 mph · 1,825 Laps in the Top 15 (75.3%), third-most · 311 Quality Passes, fourth-most
Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet) · Three top fives, five top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 14.0 · Average Running Position of 14.3, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 87.7, 10th-best · 88 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most · 539 Green Flag Passes, third-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 169.550 mph, 11th-fastest · 1,498 Laps in the Top 15 (61.8%), 10th-most · 245 Quality Passes, 11th-most
Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) · Three wins, six top fives, seven top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 11.6 · Average Running Position of 14.4, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 98.7, seventh-best · 193 Fastest Laps Run, second-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 170.475 mph, second-fastest · 1,551 Laps in the Top 15 (64.0%), ninth-most · 253 Quality Passes, ninth-most
Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) · One top 10 · Average finish of 14.0 · Average Running Position of 14.7, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 83.1, 12th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 169.343 mph, 12th-fastest
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Zest Ford) · Average finish of 18.0 · Average Running Position of 12.9, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 83.5, 11th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 169.856 mph, 10th-fastest
Tony Stewart (No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) · One win, six top fives, nine top 10s · Average finish of 12.7 · Average Running Position of 11.8, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 103.4, third-best · 187 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 501 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 170.371 mph, third-fastest · 1,733 Laps in the Top 15 (71.5%), sixth-most · 298 Quality Passes, fifth-most