Hendrick Motorsports is king at Martinsville, but if the qualifying order is any indication, Joe Gibbs Racing and a host of others have something to say about the 2014 STP 500.
In what is annually one of the season's most thrilling NASCAR events, thanks to a half-mile track much different from most, plenty of the sport's biggest names will look to get a leg up in the standings courtesy of a careful navigation of the track's 500 laps.
Few names have broken through past Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson to claim the checkered flag, but there are contenders who qualified well and have what it takes to make history at Martinsville.
Here is a look at the schedule, order and drivers to watch—outside of the kings of Martinsville, Gordon and Johnson.
Where: Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Va.
When: Sunday, March 30 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Steam: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Motor Racing Network
|STP 500 Qualifying Order|
|Position||Driver||Number||Best Speed (mph)|
|26||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||98.379|
|30||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||17||98.206|
|31||Martin Truex Jr.||78||98.200|
Drivers to Watch
While a big name, not many have penciled in Tony Stewart as one who can breeze past the obvious favorites on Sunday.
But Stewart has plenty of history at the paper clip-esque course. In his rookie year back in 1999, he stole the show for his first Sprint Cup pole. He won the pole in 2000 as well, and has a recent victory in Martinsville in 2011.
Now coming off top-five finishes in consecutive weeks, Stewart told the media why he is so excited to once again return to a comfort zone such as Martinsville, via Fox News:
One thing about Martinsville is there is no lack of excitement. I don’t care how flawlessly your day goes, you’re going to bump into somebody at some point, even on a perfect day. You put 43 cars on this half-mile track and it’s always going to be exciting. You will never have a race there where you don’t have some sort of drama during the day. I think every driver will say they will have some drama at some point. When you have 43 drivers with 43 dramatic moments, that’s a lot of action going on.
With history and current momentum on his side, don't be shocked if Stewart can successfully navigate the obstacle course in order to nab another grandfather clock.
Outside of a recent injury acting as motivation, Denny Hamlin has plenty of history at the paper clip that should put fans in his corner.
Hamlin has won four times at Martinsville, but most of the recent attention has focused on his injury, as illustrated by Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press:
After qualifying in second, it's safe to say Hamlin is back to form. He suggested as much to the media, via Fox Sports' Jared Turner:
It crushed me last week not being able to compete for the guys on the FedEx team. I definitely have extra motivation this weekend at Martinsville, a place that has been a pretty good track for our team over the years. ... I'm confident that we will be able to run up front and compete for the win this weekend. I’m feeling better and can't wait to get back in the car on Friday for practice.
It has been five races since Hamlin rattled off three wins in a row at Martinsville, but one has to think that given his current motivation he has a strong chance of winning the prestigious race yet again.
Considered a long shot by most after qualifying 18th, Kevin Harvick has plenty of motivation to pull off a win on Sunday.
Harvick's house caught on fire back in November and was subsequently saved by the local fire department, so he is using Sunday's event as a way to honor the brave men and women, according to Jerry Bonkowski of Motor Sports Talk.
Dustin Long of Motor Racing Network even has a picture of the decal Harvick will race with:
A winner in 2011 and with plenty of momentum thanks to powerful cars so far this season, Harvick is not one to sleep on come Sunday.