Last weekend was an interesting race at Talladega, probably making some fans and race teams wish that the Good Sam 500 was the TUMS or Pepto Bismol 500. Some charging to the front, some charging to the back, and some coming up empty-handed and out of the Chase with nothing but bad feelings in the pits of their stomachs as they saw their title hopes evaporate. In the end, it was Clint Bowyer who crossed the stripe first, abandoning his “dance partner” Jeff Burton after a late-race caution with ten laps to go, leaving the rest of the field in the dust and making it to Gatorade Victory Lane. On to the second of the “wild card” tracks in Martinsville VA.
We move from the largest track in the NASCAR schedule, to the shortest at Martinsville. As previewed earlier in my post for the April race , this .526-mile “paperclip” is quite a contrast from the high-banked turns of Talladega. And similar to any NASCAR track, there is a lot more to take in at Martinsville than
just the fast, flat-track racing. Qualifying was rained out this weekend, so the drivers will roll off the grid by standings in the Chase points. While giving a bit of an advantage to Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, we’ll see if they manage to stay up front. In addition, since only final practice was run, there will be a competition Caution flag somewhere around lap 40. There will be plenty of action this week, if the Truck Series race yesterday was any indication of the temperature of the many drivers’ anger and frustration, even if the ambient temps may only be in the 40s and 50s.
The Broadcast day starts at 11am EDT with NASCAR Raceday on SPEED, NASCAR Countdown on ESPN at 1pm, with the race coverage on ESPN at 1:30pm EDT. The drop of the Green Flag will be at approximately 1:43 pm EDT. Today’s Tweetup behind Turns 3 & 4, and featured guest @RCR31JeffBurton.
Best Bets: Very wide dynamics between Talladega and Martinsville, and not just due to track size. But the familiar faces remain.
Denny Hamlin (#11 FedEx Ground Toyota) - For Denny, who’s been dealing with a lot of heartache this season after making it to the Chase, yet barely able to dig himself out of the basement, this could be his weekend of “Denny Time.” He ran Kyle Busch’s #18 Toyota yesterday in the NASCAR Camping W0rld Truck Series Kroger 200 and came out the big winner, now joining an elite group of drivers who have won races at all levels of NASCAR competition (NCWTS, NNS, and NSC). This being his “home” track will likely put a lot of #11 fans in the stands, hoping Denny delivers the goods and sweeps the weekend. He’s got four wins here in NSC competition (three out of the last four M’ville races, to be exact), with eight top-fives and ten top-tens. Although only running fourteenth in practice, can he make it two grandfather clocks in one weekend?
Jimmie Johnson (#48 MyLowe’s Chevy)- Jimmie has had a lot of good luck at Martinsville over the years, scoring six wins, thirteen top-fives, and seventeen top-tens. No worse than eleventh in the least four races here, his best was the Spring 2010 race with a P2. With the controversy this past week over crew chief Chad Knaus’ orders to wreck the car if he won, you can bet that watchful eyes will be on the #48 team, particularly if he winds up in Victory Lane. And with the season waning, he may be out of the running for his sixth Cup, but he won’t just give in, that’s for sure, especially since he was third fastest in final practice.
Probables: Short track specialists lead up the probables this week.
Kyle Busch (#18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota) – Kyle waved off running the truck race Saturday, presumably to concentrate on the Cup race. He’s had a decent string of luck here; while winless, he’s put up six top-five and seven top-ten finishes. Placing no worse than fourth in three of the last four races here (throw out Spring 2010), he’s proven he can do it. He was fifteenth in final practice.
Kevin Harvick (#29 Budweiser Chevy)- Kevin got caught up in an accident last week at Talladega, but still manage to finish the race in 32d. Ol’ Happy might not have been happy with his finish, but at Martinsville it’s something different. In the last two Martinsville races, he’s finished no worse than third (with a win here in April), and has won two of the last four short-track races (April M’ville and Richmond). His practice speed puts him twenty-fifth when the Green flag waves, but don’t bet he stays there for long. Aside of the win in April, he’s also got two top-fives and nine top-tens.
Dark Horses: These drivers have traditionally run well, but not always finished great at Martinsville.
Carl Edwards (#99 Scotts WinterGuard Fertilizer Ford)- Edwards managed to maintain his lead in the Chase standings last week, after an eleventh-place finish last week at Talladega. And with the rainout for qualifying, he was awarded the Coors Light Pole Award and will lead the field to Green this afternoon. So the question becomes, with a 29th place practice speed, and only one top-five and four top-tens here, will he have what he needs to keep his edge with only three more races remaining after this weekend?
Dale Earnhardt, Jr (#88 Diet Mountain Dew “Paint the 88″/National Guard Chevy)- Jr’s ready for a win, there’s no doubt about it, and his confidence has shown it in past weeks. His performance of late has shown some very bright lights, but bad pit road calls and little mistakes have taken their toll. Jr could have had some serious chances at winning last week at Talladega, but he and his “dance partner” Jimmie Johnson’s strategy just didn’t pan out with the late race cautions. In all the races he’s run here, he’s still O-fer in the win column, but has nine top-fives and twelve top-ten finishes, including a runner-up finish in April. He was tenth-fastest in final practice…I’m not going to say it since I’ve mused before this season; Jr Nation will be keeping its fingers crossed and breaths held.
I do have to hold some hopes out for Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon, whose practice speeds, previous finishes, and especially for Bowyer, recent win has given new life to hopes for further wins. And although Bowyer is moving on to Michael Waltrip Racing next season, he still wants to thank and reward his team for all the hard work and effort over the past few years he’s been at Richard Childress Racing.
Rumor Mill: Some interesting developments since the Checkered Flag waved at Talladega.
Pink Curbs? The well-known curbs around “the Paperclip” are sporting a new color for this week’s race. They’ve been painted pink, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s all the effort of a four-woman team, hoping to promote the cause one last time this month. It’s a little odd to see, but you definitely can’t miss where the curbs are. Curious to find out if the drivers do. (MartinsvilleSpeedway.com)
Biffle Scuffle? During practice yesterday, a little “discussion” took place between Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle, who seemed to be wanting to keep the other from getting into their respective garage areas. Not quite sure what generated this controversy, but it will be interesting to see how this translates to the track today. (Pete Pistone, CBSSports.com)
Wreck if you win!??!! Many NASCAR fans (not to mention the officials) wonder what #48 crew chief Chad Knaus meant when he told Jimmie Johnson to wreck the back of his car if he won the race. Given the post-race inspection process, Knaus told Johnson to “cover the bases” in case the car was out of tolerances at the end of the race. NASCAR officials said no fines or penalties would be assessed, since the event (i.e. JJ wrecking the car) never happened, but the #48 car would likely be “a regular customer at the R&D Center for post race inspection the remainder of the season.” I’m just waiting for the conspiracy theorists to start second-guessing whether or not the #48 team won their five Championships fairly. Personally, since there is a lot that NASCAR regulates and gives little wiggle room for adjustments, it’s all about what driver and crew chief do to manage what they can. Don’t get me wrong, Jimmie Johnson is a great driver, but I’m giving a lot of credit to Chad Knaus for the five championships as well. (Jayski.com)
So tune in to ESPN, your local MRN affiliate, or on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch 90) for all the beating and banging around the track at Martinsville. But who will be hearing the “bonging” of the grandfather clock this afternoon? You’ll have to tune in to find out. So follow me on Twitter (@speedglutton) for all my updates, analysis and rantings.
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