Mash The Gas: Martinsville Preview

The .526 mile paperclip shaped short track at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia. [Credit: Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images]

The .526 mile paperclip shaped short track at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia. [Credit: Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images]

By Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

After a week off for the Easter holiday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers are back at it this weekend as the Martinsville Speedway hosts the STP 500, the first short track race of the season.

STP 500
Martinsville Speedway
263 miles (500 laps)
Sunday, April 3 1pm ET
FS1, 11:30am ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Martinsville is a tough half mile bull ring that features tight full contact racing and often times the only way to pass someone is to move them out of the way. Martinsville is also a place where tensions run high as evidenced last Fall when the Matt Kenseth/Joey Logano feud reached its boiling point.

For the first time this season we won’t be talking about the aerodynamic rules as to succeed at Martinsville drivers have to get their cars to turn through the concrete turns and make sure the front bumper is strong enough to handle anyone that holds them up.

The “Frammin’ and Bammin’” begins on Sunday and here are some drivers to watch….

Jimmie Johnson (Dan Margetta)
With Jeff Gordon now retired, Jimmie Johnson is the current top dog at Martinsville statistically speaking. In 28 starts here, Johnson has an incredible eight wins and eighteen top five finishes. He has finished in the top ten in 22 of those 28 races and enters this weekend as the 9-2 odds on favorite to win. He also has the best driver rating and his average finishing position of 6.9 is tops in the garage as well. Throw in the fact that he is the only driver to win more than one race this season and you have yourself a clear favorite on Sunday. However, this is Martinsville and anything can happen just like a year ago in this race when Johnson finished way back in 35th. Coming off their California victory, Johnson and the #48 team is on a roll this season and there is a very strong chance they can continue their winning streak on Sunday.

Matt Kenseth (John Wiedemann)
Matt Kenseth will be one to watch at Martinsville, but not for reasons you might think. Put the wrecking issue in the past, I’m sure Kenseth has. Lost in all of that drama was the fact that Kenseth was running very well and solidly in contention for a win before something happened to Brad Keselowski and he wrecked both Kenseth and Kurt Busch. In the last four races at Martinsville prior to last fall, Kenseth finished each in the top six. While he has yet to win at the paperclip track, Kenseth has six short-track wins in his Sprint Cup Series career. Ignore the drama that will be talked about all weekend and race long and watch Kenseth run at the front of the pack.

Joey Logano (DM)
Joey Logano has established himself as a threat to win each and every week and this weekend is no exception as he has finished in the top five in three of the last four Martinsville races. Of course that one finish outside the top five was in the last race contested here and while he led the most laps we all know how that ended. This season Logano is a strong contender once again and while he is listed at 6-1 odds, with some of the cages he has rattled in the early races (most notably his run in with Martin Truex Jr. at California), there are at least 20 reasons a similar fate could face him again. The trick for Logano will be to outrun his detractors as they can’t hit you if they can’t catch you and while I don’t see anyone cutting Joey Logano any slack this weekend, he just may be strong enough to keep them in the rear view and wind up in victory lane on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin (JW)
Denny Hamlin is the defending champion of the STP 500 at Martinsville. Including that victory last year, Hamlin has five wins at his home state track. Historically, Hamlin has an average finish of eighth place. Add those stats to Hamlin’s current season where he won the Daytona 500 and has two third place finishes in the last two events. To me, they equal Denny Hamlin in victory lane on Sunday, collecting his sixth grandfather clock trophy. I know that statistically Hamlin is second to Jimmie Johnson in every category but I really think this is Denny’s year as well as Joe Gibbs Racing’s year. Those Toyotas are going to be tough to beat all year, and that includes this Sunday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (DM)
This could be an important weekend for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #88 team as I think we will see just how strong they are this season. Earnhardt has a victory at Martinsville to go along with 13 top five finishes and 18 top tens and he has been strong here recently. He also has top five finishes in three of the last four races, the exception being this event a year ago when he was caught up in an accident not of his own doing. Earnhardt has the third best driver rating at Martinsville and with a somewhat mediocre start to the season this weekend presents a good opportunity to showcase his talents. At 10-1 odds, Dale Jr. is “old school” and Martinsville is where “old school” shines so look for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #88 team to be up front on Sunday.

Kurt Busch (JW)
Kurt Busch had a great run going before being caught up in the Keselowski/Kenseth dust up last fall. A great short track driver, Kurt has two wins at Martinsville and is the series leader in the exciting NASCAR statistic fastest laps run with 170. The results haven’t always been there for Kurt as evidenced by his 21st place average finish. But when he is good, he is really good – and fast – and exciting. As always with the Stewart Haas Racing cars, they will most likely be fast at Martinsville as they are at every track on the schedule. The part to watch is to see if Kurt can take his fast car to the finish. If so, he will be in contention for the win.

Ryan Blaney (DM)
While Martinsville looks simple, it’s actually a tough place for a rookie, and Ryan Blaney will make his first Sprint Cup Martinsville start this weekend driving for the famed Wood Brothers. Founded in nearby Stuart, Virginia, the Wood Brothers are the hometown team and they make their return to Martinsville for the first time since 2011. Blaney does have five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series under his belt at Martinsville so he has driven the track before but this is his first Cup start here and with the high intensity the Cup Series brings, it will be difficult for the rookie to not get himself caught up in trouble. At 100-1 odds Ryan Blaney is definitely a long shot this week but he has shown tremendous poise in the opening races this season and he could surprise some people with a solid run on Sunday.

Clint Bowyer (JW)
Clint Bowyer moved up three spots in the standings to 31st and is just one point behind David Ragan to get into the top 30. This season has been a struggle so far for Bowyer and while some of it has been expected, one would think the heir to Tony Stewart’s ride next season would have had better success so far. Is it the equipment? Is it the lame duck status? Whatever the reason, Bowyer has basically said that he will get 100% out of any car, but if it doesn’t have it, the results will show. Martinsville has been solid track for Bowyer who has a career average finish of 13.7, fourth best out of active drivers. If Bowyer can’t get a good finish this weekend, you would wonder if this is just a lost season for him.

Share Button