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

The Eliminator Round of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off Sunday afternoon as the Martinsville Speedway hosts the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500.

Goody’s Headache Relief 500
Martinsville Speedway
263 miles (500 laps)
Sunday, Nov. 1
1:15 p.m. (ET)
NBCSN, 12:30 p.m. (ET)
MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Martinsville is a tight bullring track where close quarters racing and fender rubbing action is all but guaranteed as the drivers muscle their heavy stock cars around the tight paper clip corners.

This race is also the first opportunity for the Chase drivers to punch their ticket to the season finale as a victory on Sunday guarantees a Chase driver a slot in the final four at Homestead. However, very few of the remaining Chase drivers have had success at Martinsville.

Tensions have been mounting all Chase long and after a few pressure packed weekends, there are plenty of scores to settle and Martinsville is the perfect place to exact a bit of revenge. It’s some old-school ‘frammin and bammin’ on the oldest, shortest, and tightest track on the circuit and here are some drivers to watch…

Joey Logano (Dan Margetta)
Joey Logano has quickly racked up three straight wins and will be going for his fourth in a row on Sunday, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Jimmie Johnson did it in 2007. His Martinsville record doesn’t particularly stand out either with an average finish of 13.2. However he has finished in the top five in his last three races here and he led laps and took the checkered flag in third back in March in the last race contested on the tight bullring. Also along the way to his three straight wins, Logano has made some enemies (think Matt Kenseth) and the probability of some sort of payback has to enter into the equation when considering Logano’s chances at Martinsville. If Joey Logano can steer clear of all that he could continue the roll he is on and find victory lane for a fourth straight week.

Jeff Gordon (John Wiedemann)
This is the race I have been watching for. As soon as Jeff Gordon made the Chase, my thought was that if he could make it to the Eliminator Round, he could win Martinsville and be in the final four to go for his fifth and final championship. The Eliminator round is here and Gordon’s best shot is this weekend at Martinsville. Gordon has eight wins at Martinsville and leads most of the NASCAR statistical categories including an average finish of 5th place with 28 top fives and 36 top ten finishes. The next closest driver to Gordon in terms of average finish is Joey Logano with a 13th place average run. This weekend will be Gordon’s 46th and most likely final start at the paperclip track. What a story it could be this weekend, and just about everyone will think it’s rigged if he wins.

Jimmie Johnson (DM)
Jimmie Johnson may be out of contention for the championship but he should not be forgotten at Martinsville where he holds a nearly spotless record. Johnson has eight Martinsville wins to his credit to go along with a whopping fifteen top five finishes in just 27 starts. He also owns the top driver rating at the tight bullring and his 7.3 average finishing position stat is best in the garage as well. Johnson has had trouble the last two races here, having finished outside the top 30, and Sunday would be a perfect day to turn that around and regain his place in Martinsville’s victory lane.

Kyle Busch (JW)
Kyle Busch has yet to win at Martinsville Speedway, but this weekend would be a good time to find victory lane. Even though he missed the first part of the season, statistically this has been one of Kyle’s best seasons so far. Kyle currently has the best average finishes and starts ever in his career and is one step further in the Chase than last season when he was eliminated at Talladega. One of the best short track racers in the series, it is a little surprising that Kyle has yet to win at Martinsville. On the good news front, three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers finished in the top five in the Martinsville spring race including David Ragan who scored a fifth place finish subbing for Kyle. That fact and Kyle’s series leading winning percentage on short tracks (9 wins in 62 races) should give the #18 driver and team a boost in the Chase at the end of the weekend.

Kevin Harvick (DM)
Kevin Harvick drew the wrath of many fans and some fellow drivers when he triggered the incident that ended the Talladega race a week ago and barely preserved his place in the Chase. While Harvick is very good at flat tracks like Phoenix, he has had mixed results here at Martinsville having scored one win and nine top ten finishes. Harvick finished eighth at Martinsville back in March and he owns a 14.2 average finishing position statistic here. Because of the Talladega finish a week ago, Harvick may be under intense scrutiny at Martinsville if not by NASCAR, for sure the fans so a respectable finish may just be the order of the day. Then again as last week proved, Harvick is not one to lay over easy and that guaranteed spot in the Homestead finale that awaits the winner this week is enough to throw any conservative strategy right out the window. Look for Kevin Harvick to be in the mix on Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr. (JW)
Most would probably have predicted Martin Truex Jr. out of the Chase at this point but the Furinture Row Motorsports driver has a solid shot at his first championship. Truex has been doing what it takes to stay in the Chase including a run from 43rd to finish seventh last weekend at Talladega. Even though he doesn’t have a great track record at Martinsville, this past springs results were great – after qualifying third, Truex led 23 laps and finished sixth. Truex has yet to win at Martinsville, or any short track in the Cup series, so I don’t expect a victory this weekend but a solid finish which will keep him near the top of the Chase standings should be in the cards.

Brad Keselowski (DM)
Brad Keselowski has managed to avoid elimination in the first two rounds of the Chase by taking an opposite approach than his teammate Joey Logano. While Logano has won multiple races, Keselowski has strung together decent finishes to move on. But with the Chase winding down and the final in sight, the time to charge for wins is now and Keselowski knows how much victories are worth. He has yet to win here but does have six top ten finishes including a second place showing last March. Keselowski has been strong on the flat tracks and he and the #2 team should start taking the gambles necessary to win as we enter the Eliminator Chase round. I think we see a slightly more aggressive Brad Keselowski this Sunday as the team makes their championship charge in the final races before the Homestead finale.

Kurt Busch (JW)
The wild card in the race this weekend is Kurt Busch. Kurt has two wins at Martinsville and is one of two drivers, Jeff Gordon being the other, who has won on all four tracks remaining on the schedule. Kurt’s average finish at Martinsville is 20.6 but he is arguably in the best ride of his career with Stewart Haas Racing and his results bear that out with an average start of 10.1 and finish of 10.7 this season. Kurt led 21 laps in the spring race at Martinsville on his way to a 14th place finish. I’m predicting a top five run for him this weekend as he positions himself near the top of the Chase standings.

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