Martinsville pre-race news and notes
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Martinsville Speedway is the smallest race track in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and thus finds itself bursting at its .526-mile seams this week, due to an overload of news making developments.
To start, Sunday’s Goody’s Cool Orange 500 will be the second race of this season’s 16-race “rollout” of the “Car of Tomorrow,” following the “COT” debuting race on March 25th at Bristol Motor Speedway.
But that’s only part of this week’s picture.
Martinsville also offers the second half of a “back-to-back short-track experience” for competitors, a scheduling situation once commonplace in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing. The two-week slugfest was created two years ago via a schedule adjustment, giving teams a unique early-season challenge.
Along those lines:
- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) is likely up to the challenge. He has seven career Martinsville victories – tops among active drivers and third-best all-time behind Richard Petty (15) and Darrell Waltrip (11). Fuel to his personal fire: Gordon comes in this weekend atop the series standings for the first time since winning the Daytona 500 to start the 2005 season.
- Sunday’s race, on paper, has the potential to be a high-profile showdown. The last 10 Martinsville races have been won by former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champions, only one of which – Rusty Wallace – is no longer active. Last year’s winners were Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) (in the spring) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) (fall); in 2005, Gordon won both events. And how about last year’s spring race top-five finishers: Stewart, Gordon, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) and Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet).
- Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) is back, coming in this week 10th in the series points. After his superb 2005 season, last season was a disappointment even though Edwards ended up 12th in the final standings – because he never cracked the top 10. Edwards returned to the top 10 two weeks ago, after the Atlanta Motor Speedway race.
- David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford) left Martinsville Speedway last October with mixed emotions after his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup debut.
He finished 25th and on the lead lap but he also was involved in three accidents that left some of his rivals a bit dismayed, among them, then-reigning champion Stewart, who called him a “dart without feathers.”
That was then.
This is now: Ragan, in his first year as Mark Martin’s replacement at Roush Fenway Racing, is 22nd in points after starting the year with a fifth-place finish in the Daytona 500. He also is tied for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year points lead with Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 40 Texaco Havoline Dodge).
In the process, his confidence is building.
“I’m continuing to feel more comfortable week in and week out,” Ragan said. “I'm working with [crew chief] Jimmy [Fennig] better week in and week out.
“We'll sneak up on this thing; 15, 20 races into the year when we pop up with a strong top-five run, possibly a pole, a win or something down the road, it will surprise everyone.
“That's just the way we want it to play into our hands.”
Locked In: Top 35 Guarantees Now Determined On Weekly Basis
This past Sunday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway was the fifth of the 2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season. That meant the event had significance far beyond the fact that it was the first-ever race for the Car of Tomorrow.
For the first five races of a new season, the weekly guaranteed starting spots for the top 35 teams in car owner point standings are based on the previous season’s final point standings. After five races, the “locked-in” spots are based on current car owner points, creating a weekly drama for teams on the “bubble.”
Coming out of Bristol, the 35th and final guaranteed berth this week goes to the No. 70 Yellow Transportation Chevrolet owned by Gene Haas and driven by Johnny Sauter. There are some incredibly notable entries giving chase, testament to the increasingly competitive environment in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.
In 36th heading into Martinsville, is the No. 4 State Water Heaters Chevrolet driven by Ward Burton, former Daytona 500 champion and owned by James Finch, 34 points out of 35th; former NASCAR Busch Series champion Brian Vickers is 38th, driving the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota owned by Dietrich Mateschitz; in 39th is the No. 44 UPS Toyota driven by former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Dale Jarrett and owned by Michael Waltrip.
2007 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Owner Points – After 5 Races
Position Points Team Owner Driver
30th 404 No. 96 Chevrolet Bill Saunders Tony Raines
31st 400 No. 14 Chevrolet Bobby Ginn Sterling Marlin
32nd 382 No. 45 Dodge Kyle Petty Kyle Petty
33rd 374 No. 88 Ford Robert Yates Ricky Rudd
34th 365 No. 09 Dodge Ray Evernham Kasey Kahne
35th 365 No. 70 Chevrolet Gene Haas Johnny Sauter
36th 331 No. 4 Chevrolet James Finch Ward Burton
37th 325 No. 22 Toyota Bill Davis Dave Blaney
38th 322 No. 83 Toyota Dietrich Mateschitz Brian Vickers
39th 320 No. 44 Toyota Michael Waltrip Dale Jarrett
40th 320 No. 21 Ford Glen Wood Ken Schrader/Jon Wood
In The Loop: Indications Point To A Good Week For Tony Stewart
This past Sunday at Bristol, Tony Stewart had the field licked. If not for a broken fuel pump at the midway point of the Food City 500, Stewart looked as if he would lock up his first victory of 2007.
It was the true-to-life form of “one of those racing deals” – the unlucky happenstances that make NASCAR unpredictable. What the Loop Data does is add some control to the chaos of those “racing deals.” And if the Loop Data holds true this weekend, Stewart will get what’s owed to him.
With a win and three top fives in the past three years, Stewart has collected an array of impressive stats at Martinsville.
Stewart has the top average Driver Rating over the past four races at 129.4 and registered a near-perfect 147.5 (a perfect rating is 150.0) in his win at Martinsville in this race last year.
Actually, what Stewart did at the 2006 spring Martinsville race borders on unfair. Stewart had an incredible Average Running Position of 1.582, meaning he rarely fell out of the top TWO. The previous Martinsville race in October of 2005, Stewart had an Average Running Position of 1.872. Overall, his ARP is 4.168.
Stewart is fast all over the .526-mile oval. He navigates the paperclip-shaped terrain faster than any driver, as his Loop Data speed figures over the past two years at Martinsville will attest. Stewart is the Fastest on the Frontstretch, the Backstretch and Turn 4. He’s the fifth-fastest in Turn 1, fourth-fastest in Turn 2 and third-fastest in Turn 3. He has the Fastest Green Flag Speed and the Fastest Speed in Traffic to go along with the highest number of Fastest Laps Run – 252 (Jimmie Johnson is second with 193).
The only question left after a perusal of the Loop Data stats is: Why hasn’t Stewart won every race he’s run at Martinsville? The answer is simple, yet two-fold: Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
Gordon, who swept the 2005 Martinsville races, has a second-best average Driver Rating of 122.9 and – of the drivers competing in Sunday’s race – a second best Average Running Position over the past four Martinsville races of 8.315.
And last year Stewart ran into the buzz saw that was Johnson, who was in the middle of five consecutive top-two finishes. Johnson won the October Martinsville race last season and has the third-best average Driver Rating of 116.0 and the third-best Average Running Position of 8.439.
Martinsville: It’s All About Bumping And Braking
Take a 5.26-mile concept and turn it into a paperclip- shaped race track and what do you have?
A unique challenge to say the least, one heightened by the presence of 43 stock cars competing over the course of 500 laps.
Ah yes, Martinsville.
Keys to victory, you ask? Might as well be listed as keys to survival. Much like Bristol, finishing Martinsville is a bit of a victory in and of itself. Of course, drivers do want more, namely, a trip to Victory Lane.
To even think about that, they need to think about the following:
- Drivers must be able to manage and maintain their equipment. With the long straightaways and tight corners, racing at Martinsville can be very hard on brakes. Rationing your brakes is a key to success. Martinsville races can put a lot of wear and tear on drive line equipment. Whoever does the best job of taking care of their equipment has a good chance to be in the hunt at the end of the race.
- Avoid getting caught up in individual battles. A driver has to realize they are going to get bumped and pushed around during a Martinsville race. It’s inevitable. They must put all that aside and focus on the big picture – and that’s keeping your car intact and putting yourself in a position to win at the end.
Ragan Tied With Montoya In Raybestos Rookie of the Year Standings
Juan Pablo Montoya and David Ragan are tied for the points lead, in this week’s Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings. Overall Montoya is 19th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points while Ragan is 22nd.
“He's not looking at the rookie of the year the same way I am,” Ragan said. “I don't want to say he's above that, but he's coming in as a champion in other divisions. He's going about it in a little different way than I am.
“But it's certainly cool to be on that same level playing field and it definitely gives us something to shoot for every week.”
Juan Pablo Montoya 57
David Ragan 57
Paul Menard 32
David Reutimann 27
AJ Allmendinger 13
Brandon Whitt 2
Richard Petty, a “lifetime spokesperson” for Goody’s Headache Powders, has been named Grand Marshal for Sunday’s Goody’s Cool Orange 500. Petty will be honored throughout the race weekend as Goody’s celebrates 30 years in motorsports and Martinsville Speedway marks its 60th year.
On Friday evening of race weekend, Petty will be honored at a Goody’s 30th Anniversary celebration hosted on the grounds of the Martinsville Speedway. Guests will include NASCAR legends, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers, team owners and others in the motorsports industry.
Petty will also handle the traditional Grand Marshal duties, including saying “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines” to start Sunday’s race. … For media attending the Martinsville Speedway race weekend, Richard’s son Kyle Petty (No. 45 Marathon Spirit Motor Oil Dodge) will be the guest for the weekly “NEXTEL Wake-Up Call” on Friday at 9:30 a.m. in the track’s infield media center. Kyle Petty will make his 791st career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup start on Sunday. Provided he stays in the top 35 “locked in” group – he’s 32nd this week – he should make his 800th career start on June 3 at Dover International Speedway. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. is on the move. His seventh-place finish at Bristol moved him up to 17th in the series standings. He hasn’t won at Martinsville but he has had six top-five runs, including last year’s fourth-place finish. "We've always been strong at Martinsville, and all I want or expect from my guys is that we're in the ballpark when we unload that car,” Earnhardt said. “If we're close, then we're going to be all right. Get me in the ballpark and I'll drive that thing as hard as I can. The mindset at Martinsville is a lot like Bristol or at a road course: you try to stay out of trouble and survive until the last 100 laps, and then you go racin' to see who's gonna take home the trophy. It’s good to have some momentum after a top-10 finish … and it'scool to see we've gained 24 spots in the points in the last three races."
Chevrolet Leads Manufacturers Standings
A Chevrolet Impala won for the first time this season this past Sunday, but overall, Chevrolet has four wins in five events – and thus, also has the early lead in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Manufacturers Championship standings.
Ford is second, nine points back, with one victory thus far.
The Impala is the Chevrolet model being used as the manufacturer’s Car of Tomorrow entry. On non-COT events, it’s back to the Monte Carlo for Chevy drivers.
On Deck: Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway
The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series moves on to Texas Motor Speedway for Race No. 6 (Sunday, April 15) for the Samsung 500 (FOX, 1:30 p.m. ET).
Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) is the defending champion who, coming into Martinsville, has yet to win this season.
In 12 Texas Motor Speedway races in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, there have been 12 different winners.
There have been nine different Budweiser Pole winners at Texas with two repeat winners: Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge) in 2003 and ’04 and Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) who swept the poles for 2005’s two events.
The Race: Goody’s Cool Orange 500
The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Sunday, April 1
The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 1:30 p.m. (ET)
Track Layout: .526-mile oval
Distance: 500 laps/263 miles
2006 Winner: Tony Stewart
2006 Pole: Jimmie Johnson
Pos. Driver Pts.
1 J. Gordon 791
2 J. Burton 788
3 Johnson 716
4 Kenseth 697
5 Harvick 647
6 Kyle Busch 639
7 Martin 629
8 Bowyer 621
9 Hamlin 606
10 Edwards 598
Pre-Race On-Track Schedule: Friday—Practice, 10:30-Noon. Qualifying, 3:45 p.m.; Saturday—Practice, 10-10:50 a.m. and 12:50-1:50 p.m.