|Kenseth faster than Johnson in all practices|
It’s not unusual for Kenseth to be faster than Johnson at several other tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit, but at Martinsville, that is a pretty big deal. This was supposed to be a track Johnson put some distance between the 4-point gap he has over Kenseth in the Chase. Johnson came into this race the with the lightest odds (9/5) in Las Vegas seen on a favorite in any race this season.
Kenseth did lead 96 laps in the spring Martinsville race, won by Johnson, but has only three top-5 finishes in 27 career starts. It’s safe to say this isn't one of Kenseth’s favorite tracks. But it looks like he and his Joe Gibbs Racing team have their best opportunity to not only compete with Johnson, but actually win.
The only timed segment on Friday and Saturday that Kenseth wasn’t faster than Johnson was during qualifying where Johnson will start second on the front row, just ahead of Kenseth who will start fourth. Kenseth will not only have to battle his past Martinsville skeletons, along with having the pressure of only four Chase races remaining, but he’ll also have Johnson’s eight grandfather clock trophies looming.
Johnson has won the past two Martinsville races, and is using the same chassis from the spring race this week. His eight career wins and 5.3 average finish in 23 starts at the flat half-mile track puts him in an entire other category of drivers dominating at specific track. At Martinsville, he is NASCAR’s equivalent of Alabama football in a home game at Tuscaloosa, and Kenseth would be Arkansas.
They still have to race the race and anything can happen, but the larger than life image of Johnson at Martinsville is a daunting task for anyone to tackle, especially for a driver with Kenseth’s track resume.
After Friday’s practice and qualifying, it looked as though Denny Hamlin would be competing for his fifth Martinsville win. He was third fastest in the 90-minute practice and then set a track record in qualifying to gain the pole. But then Saturday came around, and he wasn’t so fast anymore. His JGR teammates, Kyle Busch and Kenseth remained quick, but Hamlin slid to 28th fastest in the early session and then 17th in happy hour.
Hamlin is still a live play for Sunday, but when looking at those speeds from Saturday, you start thinking about how this season has gone and him not having a top-5 finish in his past 20 races. There is still doubt with Hamlin despite this being his favorite track and being from Virginia.
Earnhardt Jr. had the fastest single lap and 10-consecutive lap average during happy hour, and is a candidate to win his first career race at Martinsville. The only problem in wagering on Junior, other than he doesn’t win anywhere lately, is that he’s too nice on the jumbled track. He’s had a few golden opportunities in the past at Martinsville where he either got bullied, or he didn’t want to do any bullying himself when it was warranted.
Clint Bowyer looks like he’s ready to take that next step and get his own Grandfather clock as well. He’s been very close over the past three events there and looked outstanding in all practices.
Read More Here.............Final Driver Ratings
The Battle at Martinsville: No. 1 vs No. 2
1 - Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 108.2
· Five wins, 13 top fives, 20 top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 11.5
· Led 20 races for 1,606 laps
Martinsville Speedway Outlook:
· Eight wins, 16 top fives, 20 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 5.3 in 23 races
· Series-best Average Running Position of 5.9
· Series-best Driver Rating of 123.8
· 889 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 91.569 mph
· Series-high 7,849 Laps in the Top 15 (92.0%)
· 596 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), second-most
2 - Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota)
· Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 110.2
· Seven wins, nine top fives, 17 top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 12.7
· Led 23 races for 1,434 laps
Martinsville Speedway Outlook:
· Three top fives, eight top 10s
· Average finish of 15.8 in 27 races
· Average Running Position of 16.9, 16th-best
· Driver Rating of 80.5, 15th-best
· 904 Green Flag Passes, third-most
· 4,049 Laps in the Top 15 (47.4%), 13th-most