Opened in 1947 the Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, V.A. has been the site of some of NASCAR’s best racing. The greats of Petty, Pearson, Yarborough, and Earnhardt have all taken home a Grandfather clock from victory lane. This weekend another will be on the line as the Sprint Cup Series heads to its second short track in as many weeks.
Jimmie Johnson is looking for his second win in a row after taking the checkered flag at Bristol for the first time, his fourth win in the six races in 2010, and his seventh at the Martinsville Speedway. He’s the defending winner of the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 after a late race battle with Virginia native Denny Hamlin.
Speaking of Hamlin, Martinsville cannot come at a better time. Hamlin’s been off to what could be considered a slow start with his No. 11 FedEx team. They haven’t won a race in 2010 and currently sit 19th in points. Hamlin won the fall race at Martinsville for his first win at one of his home tracks and will be trying desperately to get another one on Sunday.
Other factors will be the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports gang.
Johnson isn’t the only Martinsville winner among the group; teammate Jeff Gordon has seven Martinsville clocks to his name, while Mark Martin has two. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has never won at the track that his father conquered nine times, but if you ask Earnhardt, Jr., it hasn’t been for a lack of trying.
The driver of the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet runs very well at the paper clip and will tell you that it’s been his Hendrick teammates that have been his toughest competition.
Tough competition thus far in 2010 has been Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. Last Sunday in Bristol, Busch dominated the event and looked to be on pace for his second win this season but it was Johnson that stole it at the end. Afterward, Busch was none to happy to once again see the 48 team in victory lane and with a Martinsville win back in 2002, Busch will be back to challenging for a win on Sunday.
Harvick on the other hand continues to lead the point standings after getting off to a red-hot start second only to Johnson. While Johnson has been winning, Harvick has been right there at the end making his presence known. He hasn’t won a race since the Daytona 500 at the start of the 2007 season but the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil team has been doing everything right in the first five races and will be ready at Martinsville.
Then come our Creatures.
After starting the year four-for-four in wins, Johnson snapped that streak in Bristol. But there is still plenty of racing left and Martinsville played host to victory for our Creatures in 2009 and they’re ready to do it again. Here’s whom they believe will be holding the checkered flag after 500 laps and 500 miles in Martinsville.
Misan Akuya: Jimmie Johnson
I am not a Jimmie Johnson fan as most know, but I can't ignore what they have done already winning three out of the first five races and I certainly can’t ignore their history at Martinsville. Johnson is perhaps one of NASCAR's best drivers in this era.
He also owns Martinsville: In 16 starts he has six wins, 12 top fives, 15 top 10s, 1,551 laps led, and an average finish of 5.13, only second to his average finish at Phoenix which is 5.08.
Though I do hope I am wrong and that another team can beat the 48, it is hard to bet against anywhere especially their best track.
Ben Bomberger: Tony Stewart
After getting bitten by some bad luck with my pick last week, I'm hoping to regain some points—or possibly a win—this week by picking Tony Stewart. Smoke may not have the best numbers at the paperclip, but with two wins, eight top fives, 13 top 10s, and an Average Finish of 12.0 he looks to be a solid pick for this weekend's race.
· Two wins, eight top fives, 13 top 10s; three poles
· Average finish of 12.0
· Average running position of 7.6, third best
· Driver rating of 112.5, third best
· 346 fastest laps run, fourth most
· 384 green flag passes, 11th most
· Average green flag speed of 91.319 mph, third fastest
· 4,384 laps in the top 15 (87.5 percent), third most
· 261 quality passes, fourth most
James Broomhead: Jimmie Johnson
Yes, it's unoriginal, yes it's a no brainer, but Johnson is an irresistible force at the moment at any track, let alone Martinsville where he hasn't finished outside of the top 10 since 2002.
You can say that "the wing years" have been Johnson's best, but the spoiler won't change anything, especially at Martinsville.
Kelly Crandall: Jimmie Johnson
Say hello to Mr. Martinsville. Regardless of what had happened the first five races of 2010, Johnson was my pick from the beginning for Martinsville. He won this race for me last year and it’s never too far-fetched to pick him anytime the series is in town.
He’s either going to win or finish second. With six wins already at the track and the start he’s off to in 2010 what’s to say that he can’t pull into victory lane again? The wing may be gone from Johnson’s car, but knowing what it takes to win at Martinsville and Chad Knaus atop his pit box aren’t.
Billy Fellin: Denny Hamlin
While Jimmie Johnson is on a tear through the circuit, I'm going to go with Denny Hamlin this week. He has struggled a bit this year, but he's got two wins and two consecutive top 10 finishes at Martinsville. He likes this track and if anyone is going to challenge the 48, it’s going to be the No. 11 FedEx Toyota.
Adam Heasley: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Earnhardt, Jr. has always run well at this short track and after his seventh place run at Bristol, it gives me hope that he can have a solid top five finish or even maybe a win.
Christopher Leone: Jimmie Johnson
I’d be picking Johnson to win Martinsville even without the momentum of three wins in five starts, and the latest coming at his worst track. He’s also won five of the last seven runs at the paper clip, six in his career, and you don’t expect any less from him barring catastrophe.
Kara Martin: Tony Stewart
I might be slapping a gift horse in the mouth by not picking the favorite Jimmie Johnson to win, but after careful consideration I just cannot bring myself to do so. I am hoping that by not choosing him, some of his mojo will vanish on Sunday afternoon. It's a gamble, I know, but one that I am willing to risk.
With two wins, eight top five finishes, and 13 top 10s, Stewart has an average of 12.0 in his 22 races at Martinsville. We saw him come close last week by challenging Johnson for the lead. Hopefully it was the subtle kick in the ass that he needed to get that adrenalin pumping and get him to victory lane this weekend.
Because as the great Ricky Bobby once said, "If you ain't first, you're last!"
Dustin Parks: Jimmie Johnson
Does any driver have more momentum right now that the champ...NO. He’s won 60 percent of the races so far and is coming to a track where he’s flat out dominant. Six wins since 2005, one less than teammate Jeff Gordon’s total, who was the man to beat every time NASCAR came here means the torch has been passed.
The only way he’ll lose is if there's a mechanical failure or a big wreck. Otherwise, Johnson will be the one in victory lane yet again.
Patti Rodisch: Tony Stewart
If you look at the numbers, Tony Stewart sits behind Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon statistically at Martinsville Speedway. Stewart has a 112.5 driver rating and his average running position is 7.6, meaning rarely does he run outside the top 10. It also doesn’t hurt that he has the Hendrick Motorsports power behind him.
Martinsville is all about managing your brakes and saving your equipment. It is similar to a road course in that regard. We all know how Stewart is the man to beat on road courses. On top of that, he nearly won that race last week at Bristol Motor Speedway on pit strategy. Stewart will be up front on Sunday and I would not be surprised to see him standing in victory lane.
Sal Sigala, Jr.: Jimmie Johnson
Johnson has led a total of 614 laps in the six races he has won here and has twice won back-to-back races at this track. That includes three in a row in 2006 and 2007. Right now Johnson is the hottest driver in the series with three wins in the first five races, and he is going into a track looking to breaking Jeff Gordon's modern day record of 13 wins in a season. The only obstacle that could keep Johnson out of victory lane is Johnson himself.
Rob Tiongson: Jeff Gordon
It's been quite some time since he's won a race, as we reach nearly the year anniversary of his most recent victory at Texas. With Martinsville coming up this Sunday, it's a great chance for the four-time Cup champ to score a pivotal victory before the spring swing starting in a couple of weeks.
Gordon has seven victories at this paperclip-shaped facility and could use another one to make history, tying him with the great Cale Yarborough in the all-time wins list at 83, plus a huge boost in the points race. After a somewhat adverse go of it at Bristol last week, those concrete terrors may be lost in the memory banks with a fine, dominant performance from the FireStorm Warriors.
David Yeazell: Jeff Gordon
Gordon's one of the best when it comes to Martinsville, with seven wins to his name. Since the spoiler returns this weekend that should hopefully throw Jimmie Johnson off his game and out of victory lane.
Kara Martin (782 ) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished seventh (1 )
Kelly Crandall (699 ) Jeff Gordon finished 14th (0 )
Dustin Parks (682 ) Kyle Busch finished ninth (1 )
Christopher Leone (680 ) Kyle Busch finished ninth (1 )
Ben Bomberger (653 ) Marcos Ambrose finished 33rd (1 )
Billy Fellin (646 ) Kyle Busch finished ninth (0 )
James Broomhead (632 ) Kevin Harvick finished 11th (1 )
Sal Sigala Jr. (583 ) Kurt Busch finished third (0 )
Rob Tiongson (566 ) Kyle Busch finished ninth (0 )
David Yeazell (566 ) Kyle Busch finished ninth (0 )
Misan Akuya (554 ) Kevin Harvick finished 11th (0 )
Patti Rodisch (504 ) Kyle Busch finished ninth (0 )
Adam Heasley (460 ) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished seventh (0 )
At the conclusion of Sunday’s event in Martinsville, don’t be surprised if you see two things: Jimmie Johnson, or a Chevrolet in victory lane. Johnson has won five out of the last 10 races at the Speedway, including this race last year. Chevrolet on the other hand has seen victory lane 11 times out of the last 20 races.
However, if Johnson is kept out of victory lane it may most likely come from Denny Hamlin or Tony Stewart. They are the only two drivers to see victory at Martinsville besides Johnson since the spring of 2006.
Summary of Picks
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.—1