Friday, March 30, 2012

Martinsville Practice Notes: Gordon Dominates the Day, Fastest in Both Sessions

By Micah Roberts

Gordon gave us a blast from the past on Friday (Getty)
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Jeff Gordon thoroughly dominate a weekend practice schedule the way he did Friday in preparation for Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. In the only two practices of the weekend, Gordon came out on top with the fastest individual lap of each.

Gordon not only had the fastest lap of 97.028 mph in the final session, but it was almost 2 mph faster than the second fastest, Kurt Busch (95.937). Brad Keselowski was third fastest (95.728) followed by Ryan Newman (95.550) and a surprising name in the mix, David Stremme (95.463).

For Keselowski, who just won two weeks ago on the half-mile track of Bristol, he ran the second most laps (113) of the session just behind Kyle Busch (116). Busch came in 29th fastest, well off his second fastest run from the early practice. Newman also showed in practice once again that his car is capable of capturing his first Martinsville win.

Jimmie Johnson, who struggled in the earlier session, improved dramatically to 13th fastest but still doesn’t have the look of past No. 48 practices at Martinsville.

What Jeff Gordon did today is close, or better, to the standard Johnson has set at over the last few seasons at Martinsville. The fact that we rarely see this type of practice out of Gordon should say something about the seven-time Martinsville winner's chances on Sunday. Gordon’s domination in speeds were reminiscent of his practice times from his early years at Sonoma.

Gordon was also fastest in average speeds among all drivers that ran at least 30 laps. Having another good show in this category was Kevin Harvick along with Keselowski, Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer.

For whatever it’s worth, Harvick also had the best 10-consecutive lap average followed by Gordon, Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr, Earnhardt Jr and Johnson.

In short track racing with lots of laps being run on a single tank of fuel, I usually throw out the 10-lap averages because it’s not enough data to go off of in the grand scheme of things. 10 laps is hardly enough data to form an opinion like at the bigger tracks. But in this instance, almost all the speeds correlate with the overall averages.

I’m not a fan of any particular driver, but I must say I was excited for Jeff Gordon giving us a blast from the past on Friday. He has easily surpassed Denny Hamlin, who struggled in the final session, as the favorite to win Sunday. It's also encouraging that Junior looks like he has a car that can win and end his 134-race winless streak. Should be a good show!

Top-5 Practice 2 Speeds
1) Jeff Gordon 97.028
2) Kurt Busch 95.937
3) Brad Keselowski 95.728
4) Ryan Newman 95.550
5) David Stremme 95.463

Practice 2 (Final) Speeds

Gordon Fastest in First Session, Hamlin Best Average Speeds

Jeff Gordon looking for Martinsville win No. 8 (Getty)
With only three minutes remaining in the first Goody’s Fast Relief 500 practice session at Martinsville Speedway, Jeff Gordon laid down the fastest lap of the day at 97.048 mph. The seven-time Martinsville winner eclipsed the lap of Kyle Busch (96.595), who was second fastest, that had stood at the top of the charts for about 45 of the 90 minute session.

Denny Hamlin had the third fastest lap (96.835) at about the same juncture Gordon did in the final stages. Hamlin will be looking for his fifth Martinsville win and if average time is any indicator (it is), he’s well on his way. Hamlin had a session high average speed of 94.077 mph while running 36 laps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished runner-up in this race last season and all indications from the first practice is that he’ll be right there contending again for his first Martinsville win. Junior ran the fourth fastest lap (96.686) and finished with a very respectable average of 93.798 mph.

Ryan Newman brought his winning New Hampshire chassis from last year in hopes of recreating some flat track magic and finished with the fifth fastest lap (96.376) of the session. Newman also raced this car in both Martinsville events last season and led a combined 44 laps.

The surprise of the entire practice may have been the absence of Jimmie Johnson among the top-10, top-20 and even top-30. Johnson ran a session high 67 laps, but was only able to muster the 38th best time, or better yet, ninth worse among the 46 drivers attempting to qualify Saturday.

Friday’s final session will surely decide the fate of the six-time Martinsville winner and something tells me they’ll be just fine. The car Johnson's using this week is the same one that was runner-up last fall at Martinsville.

A driver who didn’t place in the top-10 during individual lap times, but excelled with his average speed was last year’s winner Kevin Harvick. He was best lap of 96.111 was good enough for 12th fastest, but his average speed of 94.053 was second best to Hamlin’s. Hamlin and Harvick were the only two drivers to average over 94 mph.

The final 90 minute practice session is for 3:30 pm (ET).

Top-5 Practice 1 Speeds:
1) Jeff Gordon 97.048
2) Kyle Busch 96.959
3) Denny Hamlin 96.835
4) Dale Earnhardt, Jr 96.686
5) Ryan Newman 96.376

Practice 1 Speeds

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