Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Sprint Cup notes during off week for NASCAR

Martinsville lived up to its billing again as most fun race to watch

Hamlin Chimes In With Fifth Martinsville Victory

With past nemesis Brad Keselowski beating on his bumper in the closing laps of Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Denny Hamlin kept control of his car and sped to his first checkered flag since he won at Talladega on May 4, 2014.

The victory marked Hamlin’s fifth at Martinsville, his most at any track. He is now all but guaranteed a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – bad news for his competitors, as Hamlin made the Championship 4 last season.

During the race, the No. 11 driver posted three of the four fastest laps, including the quickest one (96.310 mph on lap 66).

Hamlin, who calls Chesterfield, Virginia home, notched his 25th career win, tying NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Weatherly for the most victories by a driver from the Old Dominion State.

On the season, he boasts three top-five finishes and a 102.5 driver rating.

Harvick’s String Of Top Twos Comes To An End
Kevin Harvick raced well on Sunday at Martinsville with the most laps led (154) and the second-highest driver rating (129.0), but did not race well enough to continue his streak of eight consecutive top-two finishes. He placed eighth.

The No. 4 Chevrolet driver’s streak was the longest since 1975, when NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty strung together a record 11 consecutive top-two finishes.

Harvick’s run began on Nov. 2, 2014 when he finished runner-up to Jimmie Johnson at Texas and contained four wins (Phoenix, ’14 and ‘15; Homestead, ‘14; Las Vegas, ‘15) as well as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Below is a list of time units Harvick’s streak can be measured by:
147 days
4 months, 27 days
21 weeks
3,528 hours
211,680 minutes
12,700,800 seconds

Harvick’s hot start has helped him build a comfortable 24-point lead over Joey Logano in the standings.

Truex Jr. Leads Furniture Row To Another Top 10
In one offseason, Martin Truex Jr. has transformed his performance.

After the first six races of 2015, the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet driver claims six top 10s – one more than the five he collected in all of last season. The six consecutive top 10s are also a career best for Truex.

He joins Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano as the only drivers to start the season with top 10s in all six races. The record for consecutive top 10s to start a season is 11, set by Morgan Shepherd in 1990.

At Martinsville, the New Jersey native led a season-high 23 laps on his way to a sixth-place showing. Still hunting for his first win, he ranks third in the points standings, eight notches below Joey Logano for second and 32 behind Kevin Harvick’s torrid first-place pace.

Entering the Ducker Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11 (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX), Truex claims a 101.2 driver rating, 6.2 average finish and 26 fastest laps.

Danica Patrick Posts Strong Finish At Martinsville; Sets Female Mark
Danica Patrick joined Janet Guthrie as the female with the most top-10 finishes in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition (five), following her seventh-place showing at Martinsville.

Patrick’s finish tied the second-best result of her career (Kansas-1, 2014). Her previous high showing was sixth at Atlanta last season.

The No. 10 Chevrolet driver battled from a lap down to finish better than all three of her Stewart-Haas Racing teammates: former NSCS champions Kevin Harvick (8th), Kurt Busch (14th) and Tony Stewart (20th). She currently ranks 16th on the Chase Grid and would qualify for NASCAR’s playoffs if they began today.

Ragan Rallies For High Finish
David Ragan navigated Martinsville Speedway almost as well as Ferdinand Magellan navigated the high seas, working his way from the 20th starting position to a fifth-place finish in Sunday’s STP 500.

Not only was the showing Ragan’s best since subbing for Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, but it was also his best finish since winning the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 5, 2014.

Ragan’s performance was just one highlight on the day for JGR. The Huntersville, North Carolina-based organization placed three drivers in the top five: winner Denny Hamlin, fourth-place Matt Kenseth and Ragan.

JGR newcomer Carl Edward stayed up front most of the day with a 7.5 average running position and 13 laps led, but had a tough-luck 17th-place finish.

Team Penske Off To Impressive Start
One year after leading Team Penske to its organization record for wins in a season with 11, Brad Keselowski (six wins; most in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) and Joey Logano (five wins; second-most in the NSCS) have carried their performances into 2015.

Logano ranks second in the NSCS points standings – 24 points behind Kevin Harvick – and claims one win, three top fives and six top 10s. Keselowski sits fourth in the NSCS points standings – 57 points behind Harvick – and owns one win, two top fives and five top 10s.

Combined, the tandem boasts two wins (33.3%), 11 top 10s (91.7%) and five top fives (41.6%) in 12 total starts.

In addition to their gaudy traditional statistics, Keselowski and Logano have posted stellar loop data results. Logano is second in the NSCS in driver rating (115.3), average running position (5.925) and fastest laps run (117). Keselowski ranks third in the NSCS in driver rating (104.6) and fastest laps run (112), and is fourth in average running position (9.664).


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