Weekend Preview: Martinsville master Gordon goes for ninth win at Virginia short track

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 27:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger at Martinsville Speedway on October 27, 2013 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, VA – OCTOBER 27: Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger at Martinsville Speedway on October 27, 2013 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)

Jeff Gordon has the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field exactly where he wants it.

Gritting his way into NASCAR’s playoffs without a win, Gordon has picked up momentum by notching three consecutive top 10s in the Contender Round to advance to the eight-driver Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Now, Gordon gets to carry that momentum to the place where his eight wins are tied for the track record among active drivers – Martinsville Speedway. If he visits Victory Lane in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief 500 (1:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at the oval affectionately referred to as “The Paperclip,” Gordon will automatically advance to the four-driver Championship Round race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“We’re carrying a lot of confidence and momentum and pride right now knowing that we’ve had to grind it out just to get ourselves in the Chase,” Gordon said. “That grind and that fight that we have in us is what we’ve been putting out there these last six weeks that has gotten us to this round and now we get to continue that fight and grind, but we get to do it at some tracks we have a legitimate shot at competing for wins.”

Martinsville has been Gordon’s playground over his 23 full-time seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In 45 starts at the .526-mile track, he boasts 28 top fives and 36 top 10s in addition to his eight wins. His 6.7 average finish and 6.681 average running position are both series bests at Martinsville.

“I also know that it is the one track if I could put any track on the schedule to give ourselves the opportunity to win at right now, I would pick Martinsville,” Gordon said.

The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion sounds confident about entering the Eliminator Round with little fanfare.

“I think the way we’re performing right now, and I look at the tracks we have coming up, yeah, I feel good about (our chances to win a championship),” Gordon said. “We’re still under the radar, and still, I don’t think anyone expects that to happen.

“And we like it that way.”

Improved Suarez eyes first career win at Martinsville

Daniel Suarez is getting quite the education in stock car racing this year.

And he’s passing with high marks.

Daniel Saurez stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 7, 2015 in Watkins Glen, New York.

Daniel Saurez stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 7, 2015 in Watkins Glen, New York.

With only three NASCAR national series starts to his credit entering this season, Suarez has competed in 39 races in 2015 across the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series, claiming 13 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes. He ranks seventh in the XFINITY series standings and has failed to post a top-10 showing just once in his nine NCWTS starts.

Still, he is searching for his first NASCAR national series win. Suarez gets his next chance to capture that elusive first victory in Saturday’s Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1) – a track where he started 11th and finished sixth in March.

“We had a good run (at Martinsville) earlier in the season and I think I’m a much different driver and we’re a better team than we were back then,” Suarez said. “We’ve been through a lot together as a team since then and I think that will help us going back to a track we’ve already run before.”

Also, working in Suarez’s favor is that his Kyle Busch Motorsports team has won the last four fall races at Martinsville. Bubba Wallace took the checkered flag at the .526-mile track the last two seasons, while Denny Hamlin visited Victory Lane there in 2011 and 2012.

“Our trucks have come a long ways since the spring race, as has Daniel (Suarez),” said Jerry Baxter, crew chief of the No. 51 truck Suarez will wheel. “He is a completely different driver at this point than he was several months ago. The biggest difference is the experience that he has gained in that time, which I think will be the biggest help on Saturday. Our team has won there twice in the last two years so I am confident in the weekend being successful.”

Race Weekend Guide:

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Goody’s Headache Relief 500
Place: Martinsville Speedway
Date and Time: Sunday, Nov. 1 at 1:15 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 263 miles (500 laps)
What to Watch for: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series kicks off its eight-driver Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. … Joey Logano attempts to become the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to win four consecutive races. … Joe Gibbs Racing hopes to continue Martinsville success after placing three drivers in the top five at the .526-mile track in March. … Kevin Harvick heads to Martinsville as he continues his 2014 title defense. … Denny Hamlin tries to sweep Martinsville after winning there in the spring … Dale Earnhardt Jr. goes for his second straight fall win at “The Paperclip.”

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Race: Kroger 200
Place: Martinsville Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 105.2 miles (200 laps)
What to Watch for: Erik Jones attempts to extend his 18-point lead in the championship standings with four races remaining. … Ross Kenseth, son of 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth, and Austin Cindric, son of Team Penske President Tim Cindric, will make their NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debuts at Martinsville. … Three current members of the NASCAR Next initiative showcasing the sport’s up-and-coming drivers are on Saturday’s entry list: Austin Hill, Cole Custer, Dalton Sargeant and John Hunter Nemechek.

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