Martinsville Weekend Preview: Red-hot Larson goes for second consecutive win

After running out of gas with the lead on the final lap of the Daytona 500 and finishing runner-up in the three subsequent races, Kyle Larson finally got his first win of the season.

The No. 42 Chevrolet driver led a race-high 110 laps on his way to Victory Lane in last Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

This weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back east to Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway where Larson will go for his second consecutive win and fifth straight top-two finish in Sunday’s STP 500 (2 p.m. ET on FS1).

“Our cars are by far as good as they’ve ever been, really good at every race track right now,” Larson said. “In both series I feel like I have a shot to win every time I go to the race track.”

Larson’s early-season performance, highlighted by his 3.8 average finish, has vaulted him to first in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings. He currently sits 29 points above second-place Chase Elliott. A Japanese-American, Larson is the first alumnus of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity development program to lead the Monster Energy Series in points.

In six career starts at Martinsville, the 24-year-old has finished better than 14th only once – third in last year’s spring race.

“In the past, I had race tracks where I knew I would be good at,” Larson said. “But right now we’re going to some tracks that aren’t great for me, and running up front. It’s a lot of fun to have that confidence in the race team, go to the race track, fight hard and run for wins.”

Bell ready to continue early-season success

There’s been no sophomore slump for Christopher Bell in his second full-time season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Christopher Bell, driver of the #4 JBL Toyota, affixes the winner?s decal to his car in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 4, 2017 in Hampton, Georgia. (Getty Images)

The 22-year-old Oklahoman tops the standings by seven points over defending series champion Johnny Sauter after an eighth-place finish at Daytona and win at Atlanta to open the season. Bell, who became the first driver to sweep the stages and win a race under NASCAR’s enhanced format at Atlanta, leads the Camping World Truck Series with seven playoff points.

On Saturday, Bell will attempt to extend his points lead in the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on FOX) – the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in a month.

In two career starts at Martinsville – both last season – the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports driver finished 19th (spring) and fourth (fall).

“The more seat time you have the better off you are, so I’m looking forward to going back to Martinsville for a third time,” Bell said. “It’s a tough track because it’s very unique – there’s nothing else out there like it. It’s a short track, it’s really small, there are a lot of vehicles out there on the track and because of all of that it’s pretty easy to get roughed up. You have to make sure you run a smart race yourself, but you also have to be extra careful of what the other drivers are doing around you because the quarters are so tight.”

Martinsville Race Weekend Preview

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race: STP 500

Place: Martinsville Speedway

Date and Time: Sunday, April 2 at 2 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 263 miles (500 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 130),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 260), Final Stage (Ends on lap 500)

What To Watch For: Seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson attempts to extend his active Martinsville wins lead to 10. Johnson won last year’s fall race at “The Paperclip.” Kyle Busch, last season’s spring Martinsville winner, tries to defend his victory. … Brad Keselowski goes for his fifth consecutive top-five finish. … Clint Bowyer attempts to build on his third-place finish last Sunday at Auto Club. The showing was his best since June 28, 2015 at Sonoma.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: Alpha Energy Solutions 250

Place: Martinsville Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, April 1 at 3 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 131.5 miles (250 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 70),

Stage 2 (Ends on lap 140), Final Stage (Ends on lap 250)

What To Watch For: 2016 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Justin Haley, 17, makes his season 2017 debut. … Johnny Sauter goes for a track-record fourth win at Martinsville Speedway. He visited Victory Lane at “The Paperclip” last year. … Five different drivers have taken the checkered flag in the last five races at Martinsville. … Chase Elliott will compete in Saturday’s Alpha Energy Solutions 250 for GMS racing. … NASCAR Next alumnus Harrison Burton will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season debut in Saturday’s race.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.