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NASCAR Martinsville Preview

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, March 31, 2011

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Denny Hamlin won in Martinsville last year
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be returning to the fan favorite Martinsville Speedway for this Sunday's running of the Goody's Fast Relief 500. The race has all of the ingredients that makes drivers and crew chiefs crazy but, at the same time, revs the fans to a feverish frenzy. It's 43 cars on a half mile track that often produces demolition derby like incidents. It's also  bragging rights regarding who gets to take Martinsville's unique trophy home. That would be that beautiful grandfather clock.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

There are keys areas to racing at the Martinsville Speedway that requires detailed protection. Certainly topping that list is the protection of the race car's brake system. This track is extremely tough on brakes and a good system to keep the brake rotors cool is a must. Drivers will also have to protect the front nose of their cars, in order to further protect brake duct systems, which is not easy to do considering the aggressive nature of short track racing at Martinsville.

Still another area of concern is that pesky little, six inches high, curb that borders the bottom of the Martinsville Speedway. The first area of concern is obvious: hit the curb and you could find yourself spinning sideways headed towards the middle of expensive crash damage. Hit the curb hard enough and you could severely damage the car's front end handling capability.

Track position is extremely important at a track like Martinsville which in turn places an increased importance on qualifying day. There has been 124 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at the historic racing facility. 19 of them, roughly 15.3%, have been won from the pole position while 15 of the races have been won from the outside of the front row. 65 times, 52.4%, Martinsville winners have started the race from the top five starting positions while 89 previous race winners, 71.8%, have started from the top ten. Driver Tony Stewart owns the Martinsville track qualifying record, 98.083 MPH, which was set back in October of 2005.

Also of crucial importance is the maintaining, and gaining, of track position while motoring out of the pits. That's also easier said than done at Martinsville. The pit stalls there are narrow, measuring 14 feet wide by 28 feet long, The pit road speed is a slow 30 MPH.

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The thought of racing at Martinsville Speedway brings a variety of thoughts from a lot of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers. It's safe to assume that Denny Hamlin loves this speedway. The driver of the #11 Fed Ex/Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has 11 starts at Martinsville and his personal stats there are simply awesome. They include four wins, including the last three consecutive races, ten top ten finishes and a very healthy average finish ratio of 6.0. There is also a strong sense of home whenever Hamlin races at Martinsville. His home town of Chesterfield is just a short drive from the race track.

But Hamlin has a serious matter on his mind these days. It's the recent rash of engine failures that has left engineers at Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota Racing Development in a state of confusion. In the first five races of the still young season, Gibbs Racing has suffered DNFs, (did not finish), in three of them due to engine failure. There has also been three cases where engines had to be changed prior to a race because of the discovery of suspected problems. All three team drivers: Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano have been plague by this problem. In comparison to last year, the organization only had two DNFs in 38 races related to engine failure.

The situation has also placed Hamlin in a bit of a hole regarding the current championship standings. The engine failure suffered last Sunday, at the Auto Club Speedway in California, dropped Hamlin to 21st in the rankings and 45 points out of the top ten which determines the Chase line up.

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Jimmie Johnson is another driver who thoroughly understands and appreciates the Martinsville Speedway. The driver of the #48 Lowes/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has driven into victory lane there six times and has an amazing average finish ratio of 5.3.

But it's his Hendrick Motorsports team mate Jeff Gordon who owns all of the professional stats at the Martinsville Speedway. Among the active Sprint Cup drivers, Gordon has a series high seven wins. He also leads the series in top five finishes with 23, top ten finishes with 29 and he's led a series high 2,994 at Martinsville. He also has earned a healthy average finish ratio of seven.

In some recent comments on Sunday's race, Gordon said "not much has changed at Martinsville and it seems like all the things that I've done over the years at Martinsville still apply and still work well there. I think we're very capable of winning at Martinsville this year."

When asked if he considered Martinsville to be a wild card race Gordon replied "not necessarily," adding "it's tight racing and it's a short track. You have to be careful not to overheat the brakes and use up your equipment. I think if you run well and have a good race car, you can drive away to work yourself through some of the wrecks and things you see that gets guys in trouble. It's a small, tight race track and we're running inches away from each other so anything is possible."

For Hendrick Motorsports team mate Mark Martin, next Sunday's race will become the latest milestone in his amazing career. Martin will be making his 800th official NASCAR Sprint Cup start. He's only the eighth driver in Cup history to reach that milestone and, before the season is over, is expected to pass Darell Waltrip, 809 starts, and Kyle Petty, 829 starts.

The driver of the Go Daddy Chevrolet is a two time winner at Martinsville. When recently asked what does it take to be successful at the Virginia short track, he said "It's the same as everywhere else: good engine, good handling, good crew, good brakes and fast through the corners. The only difference is the brakes are really important there and they are not at most places we race so that's a big deal."

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Finally there's the matter of 43 drivers who would love to be the one to take that beautiful Martinsville grandfather clock home. The beautiful custom clock, created by the Martinsville based Ridgewood Clocks, is seven feet tall and is valued at $10,000. The tradition began in the fall of 1964 when "Fearless" Fred Lorenzen became the recipient of the first ever clock. NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty tops the list with 15 of those beautiful clocks.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

To absolutely no surprise the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE), has Denny Hamlin, 7 to 2 odds, and Jimmie Johnson, 5 to 1, on the top of their list for Sunday's race. Why wouldn't they? These two drivers have combined to win the last nine races at Martinsville.

Right behind them, at 8 to 1, is the driver who is favored to win any race he enters. That, of course, would be every body's favorite "rowdy" one Kyle Busch. At 9 to 1 is the duo of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon. These are both good wagers. Harvick is running on high momentum especially after that dramatic win in California last weekend. But it's Gordon at 9 to 1 that is a bit of a mystery. The four time NASCAR champion literally owns all of the modern day Martinsville stats from wins to laps led. This is an excellent long shot wager. At ten to 1 you will find Tony Stewart. The two time Martinsville winner is another solid long shot consideration. He will also be seeking his 250th career top ten finish on Sunday.

The middle tier of this week's WSE listing is led by Carl Edwards. The current series points leader is rated at 12 to 1 this week and his NASCAR power ranking this week suggests he may be a very interesting long shot wager. At 16 to 1 is former race winner Jeff Burton followed by Richard Childress Racing team mate Clint Bowyer at 20 to 1. Both drivers will be seeking to get their Chase status back on track this Sunday. At 25 to 1 you will find the trio of Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr and former race winner Kurt Busch. The elder Busch brother recently went on record as saying he's not that fond of the Martinsville brand of racing and said "It's not one of my favorite tracks, but they're handing out 48 points if you have a perfect day."

The bottom of the WSE Martinsville rankings features Jamie McMurray, who is making his 300th official Sprint Cup start, and the aforementioned Mark Martin at 28 to 1. At 30 to 1 are the trio of Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya. The duo of Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle, also making his 300th official start, are ranked at 35 to 1 while Martin Truex Jr completes the list at 40 to 1.

By the way, if you don't see your favorite driver listed here they are automatically ranked at 5 to 1.

Now for the disclaimer. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these posted Las Vegas numbers should be regarded for information and entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their events.

They would instead prefer that you make fantasy, aka pretend, wagers. That way you can still cover your realistic mortgage, realistic car payment, realistic food and gas bills and, in an effort to really get real, you'll have money left over for realistic NASCAR tickets and souvenirs.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 is 500 laps/263 miles around the Martinsville Speedways 0.526 oval and is race number six of the 36 points events on the schedule.

The race has 45 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. Ten of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they do not have a guaranteed start in the race because they are currently outside of the top 35 in NASCAR owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speed to earn a starting spot.

This asphalt oval is unique in the fact that its four turns are covered in concrete. There is only 12 degrees of banking in the turns and zero degrees on the straightaways. The front and back stretch measures 800 feet each which means the left turns are going to come at the drivers very quickly. The speedway presently has seating for 61,000.

The Martinsville Speedway was built by the legendary Clay Earles and opened in September of 1947. The speedway began as a dirt track and was paved in 1955. The concrete overlays were placed on the speedway's four turns in 1976.

The Martinsville Speedway played a huge role in the history of NASCAR. The first NASCAR Grand National, now known as the Sprint Cup, event was held there in September of 1949 and was won by the legendary Red Byron.

Since that time the speedway has hosted 124 Sprint Cup events that has sent 45 different winners to victory lane.

Petty Enterprises, led by King Richard's 15 wins, leads the team win list at Martinsville with 19. Hendrick Motorsports, based largely on Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson's efforts, leads the modern era teams with 18 wins at Martinsville.

When it comes to manufacturer wins the bow tie brigade tops the list. Chevrolet has been to victory lane at Martinsville 46 times followed by Ford with 26 wins, Dodge with ten and Toyota at five.

Weather could play a role in Friday's practice sessions. The Martinsville area forecast calls for cloudy conditions on Friday with a 30% chance of afternoon showers. Saturday's forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, a daytime high of 56 degrees and breezy winds. On Sunday race day expect clear skies and a high of 61 degrees. But if race conditions, such as a high number of yellow flags, forces the race to run long there is a chance of showers on Sunday evening.

The Goody's Fast Relief 500 will be broadcast live by Fox Sports with the pre race show beginning at 1230 pm eastern time. The race re air will be on Wednesday, April 6th, on SPEED beginning at 12 pm eastern.

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