Saturday, March 28, 2015

Final Martinsville STP 500 Driver Ratings

How about Denny Hamlin?
LAS VEGAS -- There isn’t too much to report following the practice and qualifying sessions at Martinsville Speedway that we didn’t already know ahead of Sunday’s race (1:16 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1). Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin are the drivers to beat, just like they’ve been over the past decade. But a few of the side stories to emerge involve Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards.

After 30 Martinsville starts, Earnhardt Jr. finally captured the checkers on the flat half-mile layout last fall. Even though victory had eluded him for so long, he had always been very respectable at the track and came close to winning a few times. Expectations were high coming into this week, not just because of last year’s win, but also because he was using the same chassis. However, during Saturday’s practices he couldn’t muster a lap better than 18th quickest in either session. That isn’t encouraging for Sunday, and he could even be a driver to pick on in match-ups against quality drivers.

Edwards is a driver we used to be able to pick against consistently at Martinsville, as he hasn’t had a top-five there since 2008. While he’s not terrible there, you’d never consider him a contender to win. But in the final practice session on Saturday, he came up with the fastest 10-consecutive lap average, a good sign he might be good on long runs – and at Martinsville, there are lots of long runs.

New teammate Denny Hamlin might have helped Edwards find a better line, or a quicker way around the track. Each and every Joe Gibbs Racing driver wants to do well in this race after the terrible news they got about the health of team president J.D. Gibbs earlier in the week. Edwards, Hamlin and Matt Kenseth are all capable of fighting for top-five finishes on Sunday.

Hamlin has the look of a winner, and it’s been a seven-race drought since he won for the fourth time at Martinsville. He had the fastest lap during Saturday’s early practice and then came back with the third-fastest 10-consecutive lap average in the final session.

All roads still go through Johnson and Gordon, but it’s hard not to root for Hamlin and the Gibbs organization this week.

Micah Roberts’ Top-10 driver ratings, STP 500, Martinsville Speedway

Read More Here........Final Driver Ratings

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