From NASCAR’s longest track to its shortest, the Round of 8 gets underway this week with Sunday’s Sprint Cup Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The .526-mile track is known as the paperclip for its unique shape and drivers who win here know they have earned something special. No one considers Martinsville as special perhaps then the defending winner of this race, Jeff Gordon. In what was to be his final race here last year, Gordon recorded his ninth career victory, leading all active drivers, and secured a chance to race for one more title.
This year Gordon is back in a relief role for Hendrick Motorsports as Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms. Although not competing for a championship, Gordon will ge racing to add another win to his Martinsville resume.
“You kind of like to leave a place with a win and I definitely don’t want to mess that up,” Gordon said, “But it’s also a track that I like and feel confident at. I don’t see why we couldn’t go there and contend for a win. We won there last year and I don’t think a lot has changed. The question is ‘were we the best car there?’ To me, I think we’d have to be a little bit better than we were last year to be in that position.”
Here are my favorites for Sunday’s 33rd race of the year for your betting or fantasy racing leagues. Driver Ratings are compiled from 2005-2016 races (23 total) among active drivers at Martinsville Speedway. The Driver Rating is a number based on a formula developed by NASCAR which combines “loop data” elements such as average running position, average speed under green, number of fastest laps, and other stats. There is a maximum of 150 points that a driver can earn for each race. The odds are current as of Wednesday.
1. Jeff Gordon (5-1). Gordon has to be the favorite this week. He has the most wins, 9, the highest driver rating among the field, 119.5, nothing to lose, and everything to gain by winning.
2. Jimmie Johnson (5-1). Johnson has eight wins here, but none since 2013. He has the second highest driver rating in the field, 117.8, and has shown some strength since the Chase began. Johnson could end his winless drought Sunday, especially as he chases down his old friend and Martinsville rival, Jeff Gordon.
3. Kyle Busch (5-1). Busch dominated here in the spring, leading 352 laps in route to his first career Martinsville win. Busch has been relatively quiet lately, but knows he needs to turn it up if he hopes to defend his title. He has the fourth best driver rating in the field, 98.8, and a good chance to sweep the season at Martinsville Sunday.
4. Joey Logano (8-1). Logano was denied a win here last year after leading 207 laps. He was taken out of contention by Matt Kenseth, who was parked in the race, then suspended for two races. Logano has yet to win here, and has the 10th best driver rating in the field, 89.1, and has come close and coming off the momentum of his win last week, could seal the deal Sunday.
5. Kevin Harvick (7-1). Harvick won here in 2011, and has the sixth best driver rating in the field, 95.4. He led 38 laps in this race last year and 72 laps here in the spring. Now that the Chase is on, Harvick is more aggressive than usual and has been near the front much of the Chase races, look for him to be there Sunday.
OTHERS: Brad Keselowski (7-1), was knocked out of the Chase last week and is looking for redemption. He has the seventh highest driver rating in the field, 89.7, and will be looking for his first career Martinsville win Sunday. Matt Kenseth (8-1) was parked in this race last year. He has the 10th best driver rating in the field, 87.1, and has two wins at Martinsville. He led 45 laps here in the spring, and he if keeps it together Sunday, could add a third win.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Goody’s Fast Relief 500 will be run on Sunday, October 30. Live coverage will be on NBC starting at 12:30 p.m. ET with the green flag coming just after 1:00 p.m. ET.