Mash The Gas: Martinsville Preview

After a weekend off for the Easter holiday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls to the smallest and tightest racetrack on the tour as the Martinsville Speedway hosts the STP 500 on Sunday afternoon.

Martinsville is the oldest track on the circuit and its close quarters, fender rubbing racing makes it the perfect place to exact some sort of payback on those who drivers feel may have done them wrong in recent weeks.

Paybacks will be on everyone’s mind as it remains to be seen if the weekend off has done anything to diminish the post-race fireworks from California which left drivers and pit crews in a shoving match and Martinsville favorite Denny Hamlin on the sidelines with a back injury.

Jimmie Johnson
Dan Margetta: With Hamlin not able to race, Jimmie Johnson becomes the clear cut Martinsville favorite. Johnson has seven Martinsville wins including the last time the series raced here in October. He has a remarkable average finishing position of 5.5 and his worst finish in his last twenty starts here is 12th. This team rarely runs poorly two weeks straight and after a mediocre performance in California, they could be set to dominate at Martinsville.

Clint Bowyer
John Wiedemann: Last year at this race, Clint Bowyer dove to the inside on a late race restart and went three wide. The result was leaders wrecked, hurt feelings and Bowyer ending up wrecked at Phoenix in the next to last race of the season. Bowyer did finish with a top ten in that race and a top five in the fall return to Martinsville. All in all, Bowyer has nine top eleven finishes in fourteen Cup races at the short track. Bowyer should be up front again this weekend and making things exciting.

Jeff Gordon
DM: Jeff Gordon also has seven Martinsville victories to his credit, although the last one occurred in 2005. While he hasn’t found victory lane here lately, Gordon has been very consistent, scoring eleven top five finishes in his last fourteen races. Gordon was very much in contention in this race a year ago before scrapping with Clint Bowyer, igniting a feud that wasn’t settled until Phoenix, nearly eight months later.

Brad Keselowski
JW: Brad Keselowski would love to wrestle the point lead back from Dale Earnhardt Jr this weekend at Martinsville and there is no reason to expect he can’t do it. In six races at Martinsville Keselowski has a twelfth place average finish, but his stats are on an upswing with Keselowski capturing his best finish of sixth in the fall race last season.

Kyle Busch
DM: While Kyle Busch has yet to win at Martinsville, he finished second in the last race held here in October and has been on a roll of late with a second place finish at Bristol and a win at California. The momentum from the California win should carry over to Martinsville and if Busch can race smart without penalties or unnecessary dust ups with other drivers, the streak of strong finishes should continue.

Brian Vickers
JW: Brian Vickers gets another run in the #55 this weekend. Vickers qualified in the top ten last year in the spring and then qualified second in the fall race on his way to an eighth place finish. In fifteen races at Martinsville Vickers doesn’t have a great track record but his runs in the #55 are another story. In nine races driving for Michael Waltrip Racing, Vickers has six top ten and three top five finishes. Take out the Watkins Glen race where his engine let go on the opening lap and Vickers has an average finish of 8.9 for MWR.

Tony Stewart
DM: Tony Stewart owns three Martinsville victories with the last one occurring in 2011. Stewart absolutely needs a good result this week to turn his team around and he was clearly fired up after California. A determined Tony Stewart on a bullring type race track could be a dangerous combination for the rest of the field on Sunday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
DM: All is right in Junior Nation as Dale Jr. enters Martinsville leading the points and although he hasn’t won here, statistically the track shapes up to be one of his best. Earnhardt Jr. has fourteen top ten finishes to his credit and finished a strong third in this race a year ago. The consistent runs should continue this weekend and the point lead should be safe as well.

JW: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going to win at Martinsville. Junior is happy to be on top of the points but desperately wants to win. With seven top ten finishes in the last ten races at the track, including two second place and one third place run, Earnhardt Jr. has the stats to back up contending this weekend. Bunch those stats in with his consistant running this season (worst finish of 7th) + Martinsville is the track Earnhardt has led the most laps in his career + Hendrick Motorsports success, and I believe he will be in victory lane at the end of the day.

Mark Martin
DM: Mark Martin returns to Martinsville for the first time since 2011, piloting the #11 Fed-Ex Toyota in relief of the injured Denny Hamlin. Martinsville is not one of Martin’s favorite tracks and it was part of the reason he skipped the paperclip circuit’s races last season. But still, Martin has had success here with two career wins and four top ten finishes in his last six starts. Look for Martin to race conservatively and if the car is in contention late in the race, he’ll make a late run for the win.

JW: Don’t expect an easy victory for Mark Martin at Martinsville this weekend. Yes, he is getting in arguably the top car for that racetrack. But, he needs to mesh with the team and communicate well with crew chief Darian Grubb plus he skipped both races at Martinsville last year. Martin will definitely get the job done at the short track and most certainly will thank Joe Gibbs for the honor and privilege of driving the #11 Toyota.

Joey Logano
DM: Joey Logano stood up for himself at California and in the process, drew the ire of some of his competitors, most notably Tony Stewart. Logano’s post-race comments after his final lap crash with Denny Hamlin also helped fuel the fire and he has done little publicly during the week to ease any of the hard feelings. It’s quite possible Logano will have a target on his back this week and he could get shoved around all day on Martinsville tight circuit.

Kasey Kahne
JW: Don’t forget aout Kasey Kahne. The Hendrick Motorsports driver won the pole for this race last year and finished third in the fall race at Martinsville. Kahne has a current streak of three top ten finishes including his win at Bristol and second place finish at Las Vegas. I believe a great qualifying position and top five finish is on tap for the driver occupying seventh place in the point standings.

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