Monday, April 1, 2013

Martinsville Storylines

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition resumes Sunday at one of the schedule’s tightest and most action-packed tracks. The STP Gas Booster 500 marks the 129th time the series has assembled at Martinsville Speedway, which hosted its first race in 1949, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ inaugural season.

Last year’s Martinsville spring race concluded with a multi-car pile-up, bruised feelings lasting until season’s end and Ryan Newman in Victory Lane.

Three drivers – Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin – have won 15 of the last 20 races at the 0.526-mile, paper clip-shaped track. With Hamlin on injured reserve, replaced this week by Mark Martin, the Hendrick Motorsports “Big Two” are the drivers to beat.

Don’t overlook NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. He’s without a victory but has led more laps at Martinsville than any other Cup track. Junior finished third in last year’s spring race.

Being a NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie is no easy task, especially at Martinsville. Neither Danica Patrick nor Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who share the Sunoco Rookie of the Year lead with 54 points apiece, has competed in a national series race at Martinsville.

Patrick would become the first female driver to start a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the southern Virginia track.

More than a month after the start of the season at Daytona International Speedway, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series swings back into action with Saturday’s Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway.

The race features a mixed group of veterans – led by three-time Kroger 250 winner Kevin Harvick – and a quartet of teen drivers making their first NASCAR national series appearances. Daytona winner, points leader and 2011 Martinsville winner Johnny Sauter is among favorites at the 0.526-mile track.

Teams in the NASCAR Nationwide Series enjoy another week off in preparation for the April 12 O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. Sam Hornish Jr. and Regan Smith head the standings when the series heads west to the Lone Star State and the season’s first night race.


Pushing And Shoving A Hallmark Of Martinsville Competition
Nothing says Martinsville Speedway like last year’s slam-bang finish that saw Clint Bowyer attempt to shove his way to the lead on a late restart, only to ignite a multi-car pile-up and bruised feelings that carried all the way to the season’s conclusion. Ryan Newman was the beneficiary of the metal-rending action that gifted him with his only victory of 2012. Twenty-five of the last 26 races at the track have featured double-digit numbers of caution flags. 

Johnson, Gordon Comprise Martinsville’s “Big Two”
In recent years, a so-called “Big Three” – Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin – has dominated at Martinsville Speedway. With four-time winner Hamlin out due to injury, make that “Big Two.” Johnson is the most recent winner at the 0.526-mile, paper-clip shaped track during last fall’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon have won 11 of 20 races dating to the 2003 season. Gordon has started 40 races at Martinsville without a DNF. 

Points Leader Earnhardt Shines At Martinsville
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. has yet to win at Martinsville Speedway. But by most other measures, the southern Virginia track is one of Earnhardt’s best. His 868 laps led at Martinsville is a personal best, as is his Driver Rating of 99.8. Junior’s 14 top-10 finishes (in 26 starts) rank second only to Daytona International Speedway (15). He finished third in last spring’s race.
Virginia Short Track Can Be Daunting For Rookie Drivers 
Racing at Martinsville can be a daunting experience for rookies – especially if they’ve turned no national series laps at the 0.526-mile track. That’s the situation for Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who enter this week’s race with matching, 54-point totals toward the 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. Patrick can become the first female driver to compete in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway. 

Martinsville A Mixed Bag For Mark Martin
Mark Martin subs for Denny Hamlin this week, hoping to keep the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota among the top 10 in owner championship points. This will be Martin’s first race at Martinsville since 2011, when he finished 10th (spring) and 28th (fall) for Hendrick Motorsports. Martin counts two Martinsville victories – 2000 and 1992 – both with Roush Fenway Racing. He has four top-10 finishes in his most recent six Martinsville starts. 

Kurt Busch Eyes Elusive Third Straight Top Five
A third consecutive top-five finish could move 13th-ranked Kurt Busch into the NASCAR Sprint Cup top 10. The last time the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion accomplished the feat was 2005, when Busch logged top fives in the season’s opening three races driving for Roush Fenway Racing. His No 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet has finished among the top 16 in three consecutive Martinsville races, topped by Regan Smith’s 13th in October 2011.

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