NASCAR Weekend Preview – Martinsville Speedway

MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 26: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 5-hour ENERGY/Bass Pro Shops Toyota, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Caramel Toyota, lead the field to the green flag to start the weather delayed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 26, 2018 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

The NASCAR short track season is officially upon us – huge grins, high spirits, bumpers and intensity all around.

Sunday’s STP 500 at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway (at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) opens the test of gumption, patience and short track mastery for the season.

Certainly the last time the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visited Martinsville it met all expectations of drama and excitement. With a 2018 championship spot on the line, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. went door-to-door, bumper-to-bumper for the win in an epic duel in the final laps

The two made contact multiple times. Ultimately Logano moved leader Truex out of the way in a “bump and run” winning the race and earning his spot to ultimately be in the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami. Logano answered with his first Monster Energy Series championship three weeks later with a victory in South Florida.

The final lap intensity that Logano and Truex showed last year is every bit what NASCAR fans have come to expect in short track racing – that particular chapter came complete with a post-race promise from Truex that he would not soon forget the way Logano raced him.

The defending winner of Sunday’s race – Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer earned his first win at the track in a less dramatic, however equally stellar fashion – leading a race best 215 laps. He was one of three drivers who led at least 100 laps on the afternoon (also Ryan Blaney, 145 and Denny Hamlin, 111).

Over the course of their careers, it’s been Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch leading the short track (Martinsville and Bristol, Tenn.) statistics among active drivers.

Johnson has nine wins at Martinsville and two at Bristol. Kyle Busch has seven victories at Bristol and two at Martinsville. His brother Kurt has six wins at Bristol and a pair at Martinsville – including the longest span between wins there (22 races) between his first win in 2002 and last in 2014.

And Denny Hamlin is always a favorite at Martinsville, where he’s won five times – a mark second only to Johnson’s nine among active drivers. This year’s Daytona 500 winner has four top-10s in the opening five races and won this race last in 2015.

Interestingly, over the last 10 races at Martinsville and Bristol, there have been only two drivers to win multiple times at the tracks. Logano has a pair of wins at Bristol (2014-15). And Kyle Busch is the only one to do so at both tracks – winning twice in that time frame at Martinsville (2016 and 2017) and also at Bristol (2017 and 2018).

There have been nine different winners in the last 10 Martinsville races (Kyle Busch the long repeat winner) and eight different winners in the last 10 Bristol races (Kyle Busch and Logano repeat winners).

Three of the last four Martinsville winners – Logano, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski – already have wins this season.

Busch, who scored his 200th NASCAR national series win last week at California’s Auto Club Speedway is looking to earn his third consecutive win and top that magic number. So far he’s won on Phoenix’s ISM Raceway one-miler, the California Auto Club Speedway two-miler and eager to see if he can retain his magic in the epic 500-miler at Martinsville’s historic half-mile “paperclip”.

“I think just being able to get comfortable, get settled and make sure that you’re good to go for those hauls,’’ Busch said about the demands of racing at Martinsville. “Don’t worry about what lap it is ,ever, during a race. That’s the worst thing that could happen to you.

“You just try to not ever worry about what lap you’re on or what’s going on around you. You just keep battling, keep driving, keep your focus forward on what you’re doing. That’s the best way to go about those long, long races.”

GANDER OUTDOORS TRUCK SERIES

The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series returns to competition this week in the Martinsville 250 at Martinsville Speedway (at 2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) after a two-week break.

Grant Enfinger leads the series driver championship standings with a six-point advantage over Sunoco rookie Harrison Burton, but history has proven Martinsville remains a race very much “up for grabs.” There have been eight different winners in the last 10 races.

The exception to that is veteran Johnny Sauter – who has won twice in the last five races. His four career wins are most in series history at the track. He’s still looking for his first win of 2019 and ranked sixth in the championship since changing teams this season and returning to ThorSport Racing where he raced from 2009-2016.

Defending race winner John Hunter Nemechek is not entered this weekend, however one of the track’s most high profile former winners, Bubba Wallace will be competing. The Richard Petty Motorsports fulltime Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver is very partial to Martinsville as that’s where he scored the first career victory (2013) in one of NASCAR’s three national series. He added another in 2014 making Martinsville the only track on the circuit where he’s been a repeat winner.

Other fulltime Monster Energy and Xfinity Series drivers entered this week include two-time Gander Outdoors Truck Series winner already this year Kyle Busch, along with Austin Dillon, Ross Chastain and Timmy Hill, who will debut an entry for his new family-owned team – Hill Motorsports.

Coming into the race, points leader Enfinger and defending series champion Brett Moffitt are the only drivers with two top-five finishes in the opening three races. Neither of them has won at Martinsville, however. The top-10 in the standings are separated by only 26 points heading into the weekend and show a very diversified points battle with four Fords, three Chevrolets and three Toyotas represented.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: STP 500
Defending race winner: Clint Bowyer
The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Sunday, March 24
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: FS1
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 263 miles (500 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 130),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 260), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 500)
What to Watch For:  Ford drivers Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing) and Joey Logano (Team Penske) won the two Martinsville races in 2018. The last time Ford won back-to-back races at the track was 2001 when Dale Jarrett and Ricky Craven brought home the season wins for the manufacturer. … Hendrick Motorsports has won a record 24 Martinsville races – series most. Geoff Bodine (1984) was Hendrick’s first win at the track and Jimmie Johnson (2016) was the last. …There have been nine different winners in the last 10 Martinsville races and the manufacturer parity is equally as impressive – four for Chevrolet, three for Ford and three for Toyota. … There were 11 lead changes in both the spring and fall race at Martinsville last year. … Jimmie Johnson is the last polesitter to win at the track. He did it back-to-back in Fall/2012 and Spring/2013.  … Johnson a nine-time Martinsville winner, boasts the top driving rating (113.3) and five-time winner Denny Hamlin is second best at 107.0. … Johnson leads all active drivers in average running position (6.871), laps run in the top-15 (84.1 percent) and average finish (8.0). … Kurt Busch has the most career starts (37) among active drivers – with one win (Spring, 2014) and six top-10s. …. Grey Gaulding (October, 2016), Chase Elliott (March, 2015) and Michael McDowell (March, 2008) all made their Cup debuts at Martinsville. …. Joey Logano has won the most pole positions (four) among active drivers. Darrell Waltrip owns the all-time record of eight. … Nearly half the Martinsville winners (25 of 52) have multiple wins at the track. … The pole position is the winningest starting position on the grid (21 victories). …. A victory Sunday for Johnson would make him only the third driver to have 10 wins or more at multiple tracks – joining Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip. …. The late Dale Earnhardt has the most runner-up finishes at Martinsville (seven). Jimmie Johnson has the most (four) among active drivers.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Next Race: Martinsville 250
Defending Race Winner: John Hunter Nemechek
The Place:  Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Saturday, March 23
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: FOX
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 131.5 miles (250 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 70),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 140), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 250)
What to Watch For: Defending race winner John Hunter Nemechek has three finishes of runner-up or better in 11 races at Martinsville. … Johnny Sauter won the race in November. The last time a driver won back-to-back races was Mike Skinner who swept the 2007 season. … Sauter has a series best four wins at Martinsville. He is the only repeat winner in the last 10 races, winning in November of both 2016 and 2018. … In five of the last six years, the Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion scored a win in the opening four races of the season. So far only Daytona winner Austin Hill is eligible. Kyle Busch won the Atlanta and Las Vegas races but the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship contender is ineligible for the Truck title. … Veteran Grant Enfinger leads the series driver championship standings. He holds a six-point edge over rookie Harrison Burton. … Three teen drivers will make their series debut this weekend – including 17-year old’s Derek Kraus, of Wisconsin and Canadian Raphael Lessard along with 18 year-old Juan Manuel Gonzalez, of Mexico. … Popular driver Bubba Wallace – now a fulltime Monster Energy NASCAR Cup competitor – will be competing in the Truck race. He has two wins at Martinsville including his first ever national series victory in 2013. He is a perfect 4-for-4 in scoring top-five finishes at the half-mile track. … Johnny Sauter is the only Martinsville winner in the last five races to lead the most laps and earn the victory.  He led 148 en route to the November win at the track. Previously Ben Rhodes (134 laps in Spring, 2018), Matt Crafton (102 laps, Fall, 2017), Christopher Bell (96 laps, Spring 2017) and Chase Elliott (109 laps, Fall 2016) led the most laps in a race and did not hoist the trophy. … Harrison Burton leads Sheldon Creed in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings.

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