Dustin' Off the Next Race: Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville

Dustin ParksAnalyst IOctober 22, 2009

MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 29: Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, leads Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, and Aric Almirola, driver of the #8 Guitar Hero Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 at the Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2009 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

There is no better time for NASCAR to go short-track racing. This weekend, it is a trip to Virginia and the Martinsville Speedway. Two long straightaways and tight corners play host to the NASCAR Chase for the Cup.

This could prove to be a rather interesting race, especially with the double-file restarts. As tight as these drivers will be heading into the first turn, positioning will be even more important. I do not expect to see the leader go for the outside lane at any point in the race, not even to test it out.

The best line on the restarts will definitely be the inside. It will be the quicker way to the corner and the better way onto the straightaway.

Now, without any further delay, let's take a look at the favorites and sleepers for Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500.



Jeff Gordon

There was a time where this team was the dominant driver at Martinsville. Through the mid-1990s up to about four years ago, Martinsville was owned by the No. 24.

Gordon himself has said he loves racing at this track. Even though he has not won here since 2005, he has been up front competing for the win each time.

There is a 135-point gap that Gordon needs to make up to get the points lead, and this is the perfect track for him to erase some of that deficit. Don't expect Gordon to just race clean either, he has been known to beat and bang his competitors to get position. Ask Jimmie Johnson, he'll verify that.

Gordon is my pick for this race, and I would be shocked if he let his team down. Watch for the DuPont/NationalGuard.com Chevrolet to be out front early and often come Sunday afternoon.


Jimmie Johnson

After Gordon's domination at Martinsville, it was Jimmie Johnson taking the reigns at the "paper clip." The statistics of how Johnson runs at this track speaks for itself.

Since his rookie season, Johnson has six wins, 11 top-five, and 14 top-ten finishes at Martinsville.  Five of those wins have come in the last six races. Much like Charlotte, this track could be considered his "house."

This race itself is emotional for the entire Hendrick company. It was this race in 2004 where the Hendrick family took a big hit. An airplane carrying many of Rick's family and employees, including his son Ricky, crashed just outside of Martinsville.

Everyone on the plane passed away, and everyone at Hendrick was hurting. But, that weekend, Johnson went out and got the victory for the Hendrick organization.

He's got the points lead, he's the driver all the competitors are chasing, and he's the one with a stranglehold on Martinsville. Johnson will once again be a player when the green flag flies.


Denny Hamlin

Yeah, it may not be Richmond, but Hamlin is in his home state. He also has a win at the Martinsville Speedway.

But, what Hamlin really needs is a good run for his entire team's sake. The last two weeks have been extremely rough for the FedEx Toyota. He had a great run going, leading 54 laps, but then the engine dropped a valve. The early exit left Hamlin with a 42nd-place finish, and dropped him to 11th in the points.

A trip home could cure some of the ills Hamlin and his team have been feeling. Just maybe, the Martinsville Speedway will put some luck back into this team.



Tony Stewart

Not very often will I put "Smoke" in this category, but there are exceptions. Stewart is a two-time winner at this track, but has not won here since 2006.

The Chase has not been kind to Stewart, but slowly he has worked his way up to fourth in the standings. He is still in this championship hunt and could cut into Johnson's lead.

The Office Depot/Old Spice team is still trying to make history in NASCAR, so keep an eye on the No. 14.


Dale Earnhardt Jr.

When was the last time I put his name in any category of predictions? Well, there's a reason I have him here.

Martinsville is a good track. Despite not having any wins, he does have eight top-five and ten top-ten finishes at this track. That is not bad considering that his season has not really been one to remember.

Earnhardt Jr. needs to have a good run, and both this week and next week will possibly be his best opportunities to salvage one good finish before the year ends. This weekend could be critical for the No. 88 team as the season draws to a close.

"Junior Nation" definitely needs reason to cheer, hopefully their driver can pull through this time.


All the rubbing and banging will begin at 1 p.m. on ABC.