Saturday, March 28, 2015

Martinsville Practice Notes: Easy to root for Joe Gibbs Racing this week

Junior not so hot in final practices
There isn’t too much to report here following all practice and qualifying sessions at Martinsville that we didn’t already know coming into the race. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin are the drivers to beat just like has been the case over the past decade. But a few of the side stories that did come to light involve Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards.

After 30 Martinsville starts, Earnhardt Jr. finally captured victory of the flat half-mile layout last fall. Even though victory had eluded him for so long, he had always been very respectable and come close to winning a few times. Expectations were high coming in this week not just because of last years win, but also because he was using the same chassis again this week. 

However, during Saturday’s practices Junior 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.

A driver that we used to be able to consistently pick against at Martinsville had been Edwards, who hasn’t had a top-five there since 2008. He’s not terrible there, but you’d never consider him a contender to win. But in the final practice session he came up with the fastest 10-consecutive lap average which is 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 his fourth Martinsville race. 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 to give them some kind of good news.

Micah Roberts’ Top-10 Driver Ratings
STP 500
Martinsville Speedway
Sunday, March  29, 2015 -  10:16 am (PT)

 1. Jimmie Johnson 7/2            4th           5th           2nd        2nd 
Eight time winner with 6.2 average in 26 starts; wins every 3.2 starts; winless past three starts.
 2. Jeff Gordon 5/1                   3rd           4th           3rd         3rd 
Eight-time winner with 6.8 average in 44 starts; using 2014 Martinsville runner-up chassis.
 3. Denny Hamlin 7/1                9th         15th           1st         4th 
Four-time winner with 8.76 average finish for the Virginian who grew up racing on this track.
 4. Ryan Newman 25/1             1st           2nd           7th         5th  
2012 winner with 15th-place average in 26 starts, third last fall; using new chassis this week.
 5. Kurt Busch 18/1                  14th         26th         12th        1st 
Two-time winner, including this race in 2014; second best 10-consecutive lap average in practice 2.
 6. Joey Logano 10/1                6th           1st          15th        7th 
Career-best second in 2010; top five finishes in both 2014 races. The kid has the hang of it.
 7. Kevin Harvick  5/1               16th        17th          10th        8th  
2011 winner, one of only three top-five finishes in 27 starts; it’s not his best track (16.4 average).
 8. Carl Edwards 25/1              12th         11th           5th        9th  
Career-best third in 2008; not his best track, but looked very good in final practices Saturday.
 9. Matt Kenseth 20/1               26th          8th          16th      11th  
No wins in 30 starts, but has been outstanding in past three starts with second and two sixths.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 10/1      25th         14th         18th      18th 
After 30 career starts, he finally won here last fall; using the same winning chassis this week.

Note: Qualifying well is key at Martinsville with 95 of the 132 winners (71.9%) coming from a top-10 start position.

Odds courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book

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