Another historical race track awaits the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend. But, high speeds and sweeping corners will not.
Instead, it's all about close quarters, a little bit of banging, and at the end of the day a lot of bent sheet metal.
It all sums up the Martinsville Speedway.
Quite a different track from last weekend when NASCAR was home at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, but participants are still feeling the aftermath of that race. Jamie McMurray continued his astonishing, unprecedented season by picking up his third win. Not to mention, all his wins have come at marque tracks on the circuit.
However, long after the checkered flag flew, the story went from the No. 1 Chevrolet to the No. 9 Ford. As was reported late Wednesday, Kasey Kahne's tenure at Richard Petty Motorsports has come to an end five races earlier than anticipated.
After Kahne made comments as to why he didn't get back into his car after the team made repairs, officials at RPM decided it was time to make the change. Thus, Kahne's contract was terminated and Aric Almirola is in the Budweiser Ford for Sunday's action.
Where is Kahne? He's taking over the ride Almirola was originally going to drive. Ironically, that car is the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota.
That's the exact organization Kahne will race for next year before he goes to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012. Odd how things work out in the end, as Kahne will finish the year with Red Bull Racing in the No. 83 car, and will start fresh, putting the incidents of Charlotte in the past.
Kahne was one of the picks last week, but would the change of team make him a pick this week? With five races in already, our Creatures are in a close battle for the title. Add in that with five races remaining, the names available for each to pick is becoming limited.
Strategy and statistics will soon play a part in who each writer chooses for the rest of the Chase. Here's who our writers picked to win Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500.
Misan Ayuka: Denny Hamlin
Hamlin is trying to win his first Sprint Cup Championship and Martinsville might be the place where he makes a move.
Hamlin has three wins, seven top-fives, nine top-10s, and 909 laps led in 10 starts at the paper clip with an average finish of 6.60. He has won the last two races there and led the most laps in the last three. Hamlin has taken Martinsville away from Jimmie Johnson.
Watch him take the championship away too.
Kyle Brandt: NO PICK SENT
No pick sent at posting time.
James Broomhead: Jimmie Johnson
I'm playing my Johnson card. It's impossible to deny the man is, again, in championship form, and Martinsville is the kind of track where he has been enviably good in past years.
Of course it also helps I can call on Vanilla to try and pull me out of the 100 point hole Ryan Newman's rear-quarter panel put me in last weekend.
Billy Fellin: Denny Hamlin
The no-brainer pick this week. Hamlin owns Martinsville and could really catch up on Johnson in the Chase with a good day.
Christopher Leone: Jeff Gordon
He was the original Martinsville superstar, with seven wins and 29 top 10s in 35 career starts there. His average finish is an impeccable 6.7.
He’s led at least 36 laps in his past eight Martinsville starts, and has led at least one circuit in 27 of those events.
That’s about as reliable as it gets.
Kara Martin: Kevin Harvick
Last week's random draw from the hat actually did me some good, so I am trying it again this week. Come on Harvick, make me happy!
Dustin Parks: Jeff Gordon
I was contemplating two drivers this week since my Johnson pick has already been used. That left me with two choices, either Hamlin or Gordon. I debated, got some outside advice, and finally had to pull the trigger on the No. 24.
Let's look at the statistics: seven wins, 23 top-fives, 29 top-10s and an average finish of 6.7. He and Kenseth were the top cars earlier this year, but the banging cost both of them. It reminded me of Bristol a few years ago where Gordon ended the race shoving Kenseth, and not with his car.
Gordon is again running the National Guard colors this weekend, which is how the car looked when he won at Texas last season. Maybe, just maybe, he can pull it off at his best track in the Chase.
I have to pick him eventually, and now is the time.
Rob Tiongson: Denny Hamlin
The last time the Cup gang raced at this paperclip-shaped arena, Denny Hamlin snookered his way to a win after Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth decided trading paint was more important than a win.
This time, Hamlin will make it to victory lane, taking 3 out of 4 races at this venue, and establishing himself as "Mr. Martinsville."
Alan Wade: Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has shown mastery of the paperclip at Martinsville. Will the No. 24 or No. 48 spoil Hamlin's good day seems to be the question.
STANDINGS FOLLOWING CHARLOTTE:
Rob Tiongson (5,804) Jeff Gordon finished 23rd (2)
Dustin Parks (5,803) Kurt Busch finished 30th (5)
Christopher Leone (5,798) Jimmie Johnson finished third (5)
Misan Ayuka (5,746) Jamie McMurray WON (3)
Kara Martin (5,706) Kyle Busch finished second (3)
James Broomhead (5,701) Ryan Newman finished 36th (4)
Alan Wade (5,654) Kurt Busch finished 30th (2)
Kyle Brandt (5,552) NO PICK SENT (2)
Billy Fellin (5,535) Kasey Kahne finished 38th (4)
FINAL THOUGHTS: It seems the drivers expected to be good at Martinsville are the ones our writers have chosen to run well come Sunday.
Who makes the right choice is yet to be seen, but at the same time, a streak of our own is on the line. Since the Air Guard 400 at Richmond, at least one writer has picked the driver who won the race. In fact, through the last eight races, only once has no writer correctly picked the winner.
Can the streak continue?
We shall see when the green flag flies Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. on ESPN.
Summary of Picks:
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