Goody's Fast Relief 500: Predictions for Top 5

Michael DesjardinsCorrespondent IIMarch 27, 2012

Goody's Fast Relief 500: Predictions for Top 5

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    NASCAR returns to short-track racing once again this Sunday, as 43 drivers race in the Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

    Martinsville is one of my personal favorites. Besides it being a half-maile track, its long straightaways, tight turns, and the certainty of cars clashing as the drivers jockey for position always makes a race here enjoyable.

    It's also withstood the test of time. NASCAR has existed for more than 60 years, and Martinsville is the only track left from its 1948 beginnings to still run Cup races.

    So who will make their mark on Martinsville's long-standing history and pick up a win? Here are prediction's for the top five.

5. Jeff Burton

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    Here's a driver whose team has made some improvements after a few up-and-down years.

    Martinsville has also been an up-and-down track for Burton in recent years.

    He won here back in 1997 and has 10 top-fives and 16 top-tens at this track, but the last time Burton finished in the top five here was in the Spring 2008 race.

    However, with the way he's been running this season, I have him as a dark horse in this race.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Here's another driver whose team has improved.

    Even though we're only five races into the season, who would have thought that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be the carrying the banner for Hendrick Motorsports?

    He finished third at Fontana, and sits third in the points standings right now.

    He has not won at Martinsville, but he has finished in the top-ten six times in his past eight races at the track, including two runner-up finishes (Fall 2008, Spring 2011).

    So long as Earnhardt Jr. continues to run as well as he has so far this season, and with no mistakes, Junior will do just fine.

3. Tony Stewart

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    Tony Stewart may have a new crew chief, but it hasn't made his team worse. In fact, his team is better than ever.

    Remember last season when Stewart couldn't even win until the Chase? That's all in the past. He already has two wins, including this past Sunday at Fontana, and we're not even one-sixth of the way through the season yet!

    Martinsville is a track that he has run well on over the years. He was last fall's winner here, and has won here two other times. Stewart also has nine top-fives and 14 top-tens to go along with those victories.

    His track record plus his momentum going forward into this race make him a viable contender.

2. Denny Hamlin

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    Denny Hamlin has been a fantastic driver at Martinsville in the past couple of years.

    He's won here four times, including three straight (Fall 2009, swept 2010 races).

    Last spring, he finished 12th. The only other time he finished outside the top ten was in the Spring 2006 race, when he got caught in an accident and finished 37th.

    I wouldn't be surprised if we have a two-car race between Hamlin and the number-one driver on this list...

1. Jimmie Johnson

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    Want to know how good Jimmie Johnson is at Martinsville?

    He's won here six times.

    His average finish at this track is 5.4.

    He's finished outside the top ten just twice here, with an eleventh-place finish last spring, and a 35th-place finish (due to a vibration) in the Spring 2002 race.

    He'll have stiff competition, but he's still the unquestioned favorite to win this race.