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, June 30 9:00 AM NSCS HAULERS ENTER 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM NSCS GARAGE OPEN 12:30 PM NSCS, NXS SPOTTERS MEETING 2:00 PM NSCS ROOKIE MEETING & RANDOM DRAWING 3:00 - 3:55 PM NSCS 1ST PRACTICE 5:00 - 5:55 PM NSCS FINAL PRACTICE
Friday, July 1 10:30 AM - 7:30 PM NSCS GARAGE OPEN 4:10 PM NSCS QUALIFYING IMPOUND
Clint Bowyer (No. 15 RK Motors Charlotte Toyota) · Three top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 16.4 · Average Running Position of 17.3, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 83.5, ninth-best · 77 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.524 mph, fourth-fastest
Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · 10 top fives, 13 top 10s · Average finish of 18.0 · Average Running Position of 16.1, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 88.9, sixth-best · 70 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most · 3,692 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most · 2,072 Laps in the Top 15 (60.3%), fifth-most · 2,585 Quality Passes, third-most
Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) · One win, five top fives, six top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 18.6 · Series-best Average Running Position of 12.6 · Series-best Driver Rating of 97.1 · 84 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 3,851 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.532 mph, second-fastest · Series-high 2,413 Laps in the Top 15 (70.2%) · Series-high 2,743 Quality Passes
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet) · Three wins, 11 top fives, 17 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.4 · Average Running Position of 14.0, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 92.0, third-best · 85 Fastest Laps Run, second-most · 4,036 Green Flag Passes, second-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.528 mph, third-fastest · 2,245 Laps in the Top 15 (65.3%), second-most · 2,710 Quality Passes, second-most
Carl Edwards (No. 99 Subway Ford) · Four top fives, eight top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 18.1 · Average Running Position of 17.6, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 82.1, 12th-best · 72 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most · 4,026 Green Flag Passes, third-most · 1,815 Laps in the Top 15 (52.8%), eighth-most · 2,549 Quality Passes, fifth-most
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Pepsi Real Sugar Chevrolet) · Six wins, 13 top fives, 20 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 16.3 · Average Running Position of 14.5, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 88.0, seventh-best · 3,664 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most · 2,030 Laps in the Top 15 (59.1%), sixth-most · 2,333 Quality Passes, eighth-most
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) · Three top fives, three top 10s · Average finish of 20.4 · Average Running Position of 16.1, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 85.5, eighth-best · 79 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.471 mph, eighth-fastest
Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Folds Of Honor Chevrolet) · Two wins, six top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.8 · Driver Rating of 82.4, 11th-best · Series-high 87 Fastest Laps Run · 3,578 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.509 mph, sixth-fastest · 1,990 Quality Passes, 12th-most
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Patriotic Chevrolet) · Three wins, nine top fives, 12 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 17.0 · Average Running Position of 13.9, third-best · Driver Rating of 89.0, fifth-best · 2,194 Laps in the Top 15 (63.8%), fourth-most · 2,372 Quality Passes, seventh-most
Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota) · Two wins, six top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 17.1 · Average Running Position of 13.8, second-best · Driver Rating of 92.9, second-best · 77 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · 3,566 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most · 2,228 Laps in the Top 15 (64.8%), third-most · 2,453 Quality Passes, sixth-most
Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops / Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet) · Four wins, nine top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 17.1 · Average Running Position of 16.5, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 90.0, fourth-best · 76 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most · 1,898 Laps in the Top 15 (55.2%), seventh-most
All this junk posted is simply stuff I use weekly to accumulate a pre-practice driver rating. It's an easy weekly process. How those ratings work won't be shared, but all the data needed for handicapping should be posted somewhere here. Good luck week-to-week in any betting endeavor. Hope the info helps. - MR