This week, the boys head to Southwest Virginia for the half-mile track known as "The Paper-Clip."
Martinsville is unique. The only similarity it has with any other short-track is the fact that it's a half-mile.
The corners are flat and sharp, while the straight-aways are long, and also flat.
Heading into this weekend's Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500, here are a few things to watch for.
Mr. Martinsville Himself: Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson?
It's a battle between teammates for the title Mr. Martinsville.
The half-mile speedway in Southwestern Virginia is a special place for Hendrick Motorsports. The teams drivers have owned the track in recent years, and Sunday will probably be no different.
Together, Gordon and Johnson have won seven Sprint Cup Series titles, but the title up for grabs this weekend is: Mr. Martinsville.
In one corner, you have Johnson, the reigning and three-time series champion, while in the other you have Gordon, a four-time series champion.
Both have excelled at the famed .526-mile short-track in Virginia.
Excelled? How about aced the place.
This Sunday, don't be surprised if you see the No. 48 and No. 24 teams battling it out for the top spot, and remember, they don't play nicely (see the spring 2007 event when the two bumped and banged their way to a one-two finish)!
The duo have combined to win nine of the last 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup events at Martinsville.
Of those nine wins, Johnson has five, and Gordon has four. The two also rank one-two (Johnson first, Gordon, second) in driver rating at the track. Johnson has 124.7, while Gordon is just slightly behind at 124.
Johnson averages a top-10 finish at 10 of the Sprint Cup Series' 22 tracks. Martinsville is second on that list, with Johnson averaging a finish of 5.6. (His best is 5.5 at Phoenix International Raceway.)
Johnson also leads pre-race Loop Data in average running position (6.4) and laps in the top-15 (3,579 or 89.3 percent).
Gordon, however, leads all active drivers with seven wins and seven poles at the paper-clip track. He has 20 top-fives and 26 top-10 finishes in 32 starts there.
In the last eight Martinsville events, he has finished in the top-five.
His average finish of 6.9 is nearly two positions better than his second-best track, Indianapolis (8.6).
Denny Hamlin Looks to Continue Success
Don't forget about Hamlin.
While the attention this week is on teammate Kyle Busch and his dominance (again) and all the talk of who is better at Martinsville between Gordon and Johnson, Hamlin is creeping up the points quietly and could make a big jump at Martinsville.
Hamlin gave Joe Gibbs Racing a one-two finish at Bristol last weekend, and moved into the top-12 in points for the first time this season.
Up next is Martinsville, a track where Hamlin won at last time the series visited it.
"This is a great track, with a ton of history and special style of racing," Hamlin said. "I think it's where I am at my best, and I know the entire No. 11 FedEx team circles the Martinsville races on the calendar."
Hamlin's climb back into the top-12 in points has been a season-long effort.
After opening the season with a 26th-place showing in the Daytona 500, he moved to 15th in the points after a sixth-place finish at Auto Club Speedway.
In Las Vegas, Hamlin brought home a 22nd-place finish, followed up with a 13th-place showing at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Heading into Bristol, Hamlin was 14th in points.
The runner-up on the "World's Fastest Half Mile" moved him up six spots, to eighth in the standings. The Virginia native, now looks capture another win at one of his "home" tracks.
"The experience of winning a Cup race here, at a Virginia track where I raced Late Models a few years ago, and in front of great racing fans and in front of my family, was something I will never forget," Hamlin said.
"And to have a Martinsville clock sitting in my home that I see everyday, it reminds me of that day and how much went into getting to that point."
Hamlin is fifth in driver rating at Martinsville (101.3) and averages a finish of 8.9, which ranks third behind Johnson and Gordon.
Kyle Busch Looks to Continue Streak of Weekends With a Win
Busch has won in one series or another in each of the five NASCAR weekends so far this season, but Martinsville is a track that has been a bit of a challenge for Busch.
After his second win of the season (and second in the past three races), Busch currently sits fourth in the Sprint Cup standings.
At Martinsville, Busch has three top-fives and four top-10 finishes in eight starts there.
Busch has an average running position of 14.9, with his best finishes being a pair of fourths in 2007.
Last spring, he finished 38th, and last fall 29th (both due to brake problems).
"The first race locking up rear brakes and eventually breaking the rear gear, and then the second race overheating the front brakes and popping right-front beads," Busch said of last year's two events.
"We went and tested at Little Rock to try and get our brakes squared away and we found out how to pop right-front beads over and over. We fixed that problem. We used to pop them in 46 to 50 laps, and now we can go 80 laps straight and not see a darn issue."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin and Tony Stewart Could Challenge For Win
While statistically Johnson and Gordon are the clear favorites for any Fantasy leagues this weekend, the "other two" HMS drivers, Earnhardt, Jr. and Martin, are not too shabby at the paper-clip as well.
Between the two, Earnhardt, Jr. has the better recent stats, with two top-10 finishes in three of the last four races there.
Earnhardt, Jr. has a driver rating of 102.4 (fourth-best), an average running position of 10.4 (fourth), 311 fastest laps run (fourth), a series-high 396 green flag passes, a laps in the top-15 percentage of 76 (fourth), and 210 quality passes, which is second-most.
Earnhardt, Jr. has never won at Martinsville, but has eight top-fives in 18 career starts.
Martin, on the other hand, has won twice at Martinsville, but has struggled there recently.
His last win at the paper-clip track came in 2000, and hasn't raced at the track since 2006.
Martin finished out of the top-10 in his last three Martinsville races, with his last top-five finish coming in the spring race of 2005.
Since 2005, Martin has a driver rating of 78.2, an average running position of 17, 22 fastest laps run, a laps in the top-15 percentage of 44 and a pass differential (passes minus times passed) of 13.
Stewart may not be an HMS driver, but he will be in HMS equipment (including those powerful engines) this weekend and could be a factor this Sunday.
Stewart has a driver rating of 113.7 (third), an average running position of 7.4 (third), 312 fastest laps run (third) and a laps in the top-15 percentage of 86.6 (third).
Stewart won at the track in 2006, breaking a staggering streak laid down by Gordon and Johnson.
The Race: Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500
The Place: Martinsville Speedway (.526-mile concrete oval)
The Date: Sunday, March 29
The Time: 2 PM ET
Race Distance: 500 laps/263 miles
TV: FOX , 1:30 PM ET
Radio: MRN (Locally WZBB-FM 99.9) and Sirius Satellite.
2008 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon
2008 Winner: Denny Hamlin
Schedule: (All times local ET)
Friday – Practice, 12-1:30 PM, Qualifying, 3:40 PM.
Saturday – Practice, 10:30-11:15 AM, 11:50 a.m.-12:50 PM.
2009 Top 12 Drivers
1 Jeff Gordon 794
2 Kurt Busch 718
3 Clint Bowyer 715
4 Kyle Busch 709
5 Carl Edwards 665
6 Kasey Kahne 639
7 Tony Stewart 633
8 Denny Hamlin 631
9 Jimmie Johnson 627
10 Matt Kenseth 610
11 David Reutimann 607
12 Kevin Harvick 584
Up Next: Texas Motor Speedway
After consecutive short-track events, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stretches out a bit, traveling to Fort Worth, Texas for the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 5.
Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) won both 2008 events at Texas, beating second-place finishers Jimmie Johnson in the spring event and Jeff Gordon in the fall.
Edwards also led the most laps in both events, 123 in the spring and 212 in the fall.
Next Sunday’s race will air on FOX starting at 1:30 PM ET. The green flag will drop at approximately 2 PM.
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