Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Martinsville Storylines

Harvick passes Dale Jr late for win in first Martinsville race
Then there were five?

Mathematically, all 12 drivers are still eligible to win the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. But realistically, only the top five look like real contenders with four races remaining in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

That leaves five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson out. Or does it? That’s the major question – and storyline – heading into this weekend’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

With three races remaining, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship picture has dwindled to four drivers, with Austin Dillon holding a scant three-point advantage over fellow young gun James Buescher heading into Saturday’s Kroger 200 at Martinsville.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series has its second consecutive open week. The series saw one of its own – Mike Wallace – capture victory at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.


This Might Be It For Johnson
Jimmie Johnson, who has won an unprecedented five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championships, took another hit in the points with his 26th finish at Talladega. He is now 50 points behind leader Carl Edwards with just four races remaining.

To put that in an historical perspective: A 50-point deficit roughly translates to 208 points under the points system of years past. Since the inception of the current position-based points format, the largest deficit ever overcome with four race remaining is 144 by Alan Kulwicki in 1992. One bright side: Johnson dominates at Martinsville. At the Virginia short track, Johnson has six wins and a series-high Driver Rating of 121.9.

If Johnson doesn't win Sunday, it will be the first year since 2005 that he hasn't won a short track race in a season.

Dale Jr. Looks To End Slide At Paper Clip
Talladega was unusually unkind to Dale Earnhardt Jr., as NASCAR’s eight-time Most Popular Driver finished an uncharacteristic 25th to extend his wins drought to 125.

But another Earnhardt favorite awaits: Martinsville Speedway. He finished second there in the spring, and his Driver Rating of 98.9 makes the short track his best in terms of the loop data statistic.

Carl Edwards: Actor, Cover Boy…Champion?
This doesn’t make sense, but: Carl Edwards worst finish of this year’s Chase may have been his best.

At least he thought so. Edwards finished 11th at Talladega, and was ecstatic about escaping the treacherous track unscathed – and with a bigger points lead than he had entering the big track

He holds a 14-point lead over second-place Matt Kenseth, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate and 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.

Points Tight At The Top
Edwards and Kenseth at disadvantage at Martinsville (Getty)
Sunday’s race could be the defining moment of the championship hunt for the top-five drivers, all of whom are within 26 points of the lead.

Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth: For the first time in Chase history, Roush Fenway Racing occupies spots 1-2 in the championship standings. BUT…those positions are tenuous at best. Edwards and Kenseth have been up-and-down at Martinsville. Edwards has an average finish of 16.9 with just three laps led in 14 starts at Martinsville. Kenseth has just two top fives in 23 starts there.

Brad Keselowski: Keselowski, third in points, is the dark horse at Martinsville. In three starts, he has one top 10 – a 10th in this race last year.

Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick: It’s go-time for these two marquee drivers. Stewart has two victories at Martinsville. Harvick won the spring race there, and finished third in this race last season.

RCR Reaches Milestone; Hendrick On Deck
With its Talladega victory, Richard Childress Racing captured win No. 100 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Their first came in 1983.

Up next: Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th win. They’re one away from the major milestone. When they hit it, HMS will be only the second team ever to reach 200 victories, joining Petty Enterprises. If they do reach No. 200 this weekend, they’ll also tie Petty Enterprises with most wins all-time at Martinsville (19).

- NASCAR Media Services

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