Monday, March 24, 2014

Martinsville Storylines: 2014 STP 500

Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin are two of the top candidates to win 
NASCAR Storylines for Week of Mar. 24, 2014

NASCAR has never been predictable.

Heading into each race weekend there are several favorites pundits point to as possible candidates for capturing the win.

With five different winners in the first five races of 2014, predicting a race’s outcome is even more difficult this year.

Kyle Busch ended up victorious but not before a late restart put Landon Cassill on the point for a green-white-checkered finish.

Busch’s prize for winning? A probable spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

With the series headed to Martinsville for Sunday’s STP 500, eight-time winners at the short track Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have to be considered the favorites. Neither have won in 2014 and would become the sixth different driver to win in the first six races – a Chase-era record.

But, it could be anybody.

Although Larson came close to claiming his first victory in NASCAR’s premier series, a win in Saturday’s Nationwide race and a runner-up performance on Sunday made his trip home one he’ll remember for a long time.

He at least hopes his second visit to NASCAR’s shortest track will be more rewarding than his first trip last year when he finished 42nd.

After five races and five different winners to kick off the NASCAR Nationwide season as well, the drivers receive a much-deserved weekend off before returning to action on April 4 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The series heads to the off week with Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne tied for the points lead. The strong rookie class continues to impress with at least two Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders finishing in the top 10 of every race so far this season.

With the last four weeks now in the rearview mirror, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finally returns to action at Martinsville Speedway where the new truck styles make their short-track debut.

Among the drivers suiting up for the second truck race of the season is Darrell Wallace Jr., who in his last visit to the track became the second African-American driver to win a national series race.


Five Different Winners In First Five Races

When Kyle Busch crossed the finish line first in the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, he became the fifth driver in the season’s first five races to celebrate in Victory Lane. And there’s good reason to think that trend will contend this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, last year’s winners at the shortest track in the NSCS, are both searching for their first wins of 2014 and are the Kings of Martinsville with eight wins apiece. Six different winners in the first six races would be a Chase-era record.

Kyle Busch Makes His Case For Chase Spot
After a thrilling end to the Auto Club 400 that saw Kyle Busch hold off rookie Kyle Larson in a green-white-checkered finish, the Las Vegas native has virtually locked up a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. It was his second consecutive victory at the two-mile speedway. A second win in the season’s first 26 races would cement his spot in the postseason. The series now heads to Martinsville Speedway where Busch tied his best result there last fall with a third-place finish.

Larson Shines In Homecoming, Challenge Awaits
Kyle Larson of Elk Grove, Calif., had an incredible weekend, first winning the NASCAR Nationwide race on Saturday and then finishing second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race on Sunday. Now comes perhaps his toughest challenge of the season to date – Martinsville Speedway. He didn’t race there in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and last year in his only NASCAR Sprint Cup start at the short track, he finished 42nd due to engine problems.

‘Smoke’ Continues To Rise
After sitting out the final 15 races of 2013 due to a leg injury and enduring a rough start to his return, Tony Stewart has posted consecutive top-five finishes at Bristol and Auto Club in the last two races. The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is still looking for his first victory of 2014 and all but clinching a spot in the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Next up is the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, where has won three times, most recently in 2011.

Can Martinsville Reheat Earnhardt’s Season?
After a torrid start to the 2014 season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has cooled down following two consecutive finishes outside the top 10 at Bristol and Auto Club. The good news for Earnhardt and Junior Nation: Martinsville Speedway is on deck. Although the popular driver has never won in Martinsville, his driver rating of 98.9 at the short track is his best in terms of the loop data statistic. In 22 starts, he has two runner-up finishes to go along with 10 top fives and 15 top 10s.


Video: Roberts talks Martinsville odds

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