Mash The Gas – Martinsville Preview

Returning from a soggy California rain-shortened race, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads back to short track racing this weekend. Sunday’s race will be contested on the 1/2 mile paperclip shaped track at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, VA. 500 laps of beating, bumping and banging will commence at 1:00 Eastern for old-school short track entertainment.

We look at who’s hot in the season so far combined with who runs well at the upcoming track as well as hunches to come up with the following list and discussion.


#48-Jimmie Johnson
John Wiedemann: This just in, Jimmie Johnson has found his horseshoe. After a mid-week ruling on the Daytona c-post infraction went Hendrick Motorsports way and 25 points were returned to the team, Sunday’s race featured Johnson’s Chevrolet losing oil and smoking as the rain came down and the red flag flew. Johnson was able to finish in 10th place as his car leaked the rest of its oil on pit lane. Had the race restarted, Johnson would have dropped back through the field and who knows if he would have been able to recover. The 10th place finish bumped Johnson into 9th in the standings. Johnson has 6 wins (tied for 5th most wins at the track), 14 top 5 and 18 top 10 finishes in 20 races at Martinsville. Now that he has his horseshoe back, look for him in victory lane.

Dan Margetta: This team also always finds itself fighting for the win at Martinsville where Johnson has 18 top-ten finishes in 20 races. They caught a major break last week with the overturning of their inspection penalties and then had the race called just as their car began to dump oil. Right now they’re both lucky and good which makes for a dangerous combination.

#11 – Denny Hamlin
DM: Arguably the best flat track racer on the circuit, this Virginia native is almost always a factor for the victory on the Martinsville paper clip oval. Plus, this team has something to prove this week after giving away points at California by pitting in the rain.

JW: Denny Hamlin was the short/flat track hero before his fall from the front runner group last year. This year Hamlin looks to be back. Whether it is the addition of crew chief Darian Grubb or a new attitude, Hamlin needs to be considered every week and especially at tracks where he has had success before. Hamlin has four wins at Martinsville.

#24 – Jeff Gordon
JW: Jeff Gordon is the leader in wins at Martinsville amongst active drivers with seven. But, if Johnson gets the win this weekend, he will be tied with Gordon. Jeff can’t let his teammate tie him so it could be another fight to the finish between the two. One thing Gordon may want to do before the weekend is sneak over to the 48/88 shop and steal the lucky horseshoe. Gordon’s luck needs to change and get him out of the points hole he is currently in, 51 points out of 10th place in the standings.

DM: Much like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon also has a knack for running up front at Martinsville where his 31 top-ten finishes in 38 races includes 25 top-five results. This is the perfect place for the team to turn around its disappointing 2012 season and start to get back into Chase contention.

#88 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
DM: Martinsville doesn’t require a lot of finesse, other than being careful to save brakes, and nearly all the cars are full of scuff marks at the finish. This pure “Rubbin’ is Racin'” style fits Earnhardt well and if the driver and team are serious about ending their nearly four year winless streak, this may be the place to do it. The main concern here is to take care of the brakes early and have a car for the end.

JW: Hey, look who is third place in the point standings following a third place finish at Auto Club Speedway. Earnhardt is having a solid start to the season as he continues to try to find his way to victory lane. A win this week a Martinsville would be his first at the track. Think it can’t happen? Don’t forget that Earnhardt had the lead with four laps to go in this race last spring before Kevin Harvick muscled his way to the lead, leaving Junior to finish second.

Front Runners
#14 – Tony Stewart
JW: The rain-shortened victory at California makes Stewart the first multi-winner this season. It is widely believed that two wins makes you a lock for the Chase, but don’t think that Stewart will coast from here. Everything is running well early in the season at Stewart-Haas Racing for the #14 team. That may be a bad sign for the rest of the competition.

DM: Tony Stewart and the #14 team are on a roll having won two of the first five races and Stewart has three wins at Martinsville, including the last race contested there. However, that victory last Fall came as the result of a lucky break with a late caution and the team had an average run at the Bristol short track two weeks ago. While you can’t count them out, they may not be as strong here as they have been on the bigger speedways.

#51-Kurt Busch
DM: Busch also thrives on the aggressive Martinsville style of racing and the momentum from a strong run at California should carry over to Martinsville as the team looks for its first victory of the season.

JW: Following his first top 10 finish of the season, Martinsville is just what this team needs. Busch believes that the short tracks are an equalizer for his team to compete with the top organizations in the Sprint Cup Series. Everyone is looking for Bucsh to explode in anger, he may just explode to the top of the scoring pylon.

#55-Brian Vickers
JW: I would have loved to see Mark Martin in the car this week at Martinsville, to me he would have been high on the list when picking a driver to end up in victory lane. But, Brian Vickers will be running the Aaron’s Dream Machine this weekend. After a great run at Bristol, Vickers still has something to prove. After run-ins with Matt Kenseth starting at last year’s fall Martinsville race and ending (maybe) at Phoenix, Vickers needs to run clean and run well at Martinsville to show everyone the type of racer that he is. Michael Waltrip racing is running strong, this is an excellent opportunity for Vickers to continue auditioning to return to a full time ride.

#29-Kevin Harvick
JW: Harvick won this race last year with an unpopular pass of Dale Earnhardt Jr with only a few laps remaining in the race. Currently in second place in the points, Harvick has not finished lower than 11th place this season. In the last three races at Martinsville Speedway, Harvick has produced finishes of 3rd, 1st and 4th. He will be there at the end.

Stories to Watch:
Martinsville winners (currently active drivers) — Jeff Gordon – 7 wins; Jimmie Johnson – 6 wins; Denny Hamlin – 4 wins; Tony Stewart – 3 wins; Mark Martin – 2 wins; Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton – 1 win. Richard Petty is the overall leader in wins at Martinsville Speedway with 15 followed by Darrell Waltrip with 11.

DM: Martinsville is the first race where the 2012 Owners points are used to set the top 35 guaranteed starting spots. After California, the #10 car and David Reutimann is in while the #83 car and Landon Cassill is out. Also, it appears the entry list will be at least one car short as the #7 car and Robby Gordon has reportedly fell off the circuit until Sonoma after having failed to qualify for the last three races. The Richard Childress owned #33 car which was to run the opening races it held a guaranteed spot sits 35th in the Owners points and has a locked-in position at Martinsville. Reports are that Hermie Sadler may be behind the wheel this weekend.

DM: The Roush-Fenway drivers also historically have mediocre records at Martinsville with no wins and only three top-five finishes between Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and Carl Edwards. Kenseth sarcastically calls Martinsville his “favorite” track and Biffle is a hard charging driver that may be tough on the brakes, which are crucial at Martinsville. If this group escapes Martinsville with top-ten finishes, I think they will be satisfied as they gear up for Texas in two weeks where they should be exceptionally strong.

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