Sick of racing on intermediate ovals? Of course you are, but luckily the Sprint Cup Series has the cure for you – returning to where stock car racing is meant to be, a half-mile short track. This week it’s a trip to the famed Martinsville Speedway, where the only thing more famous than the hot dogs is the close-quarters racing that makes contact not an option, but a necessity. While not the wild card that Talladega will be in two weeks, the smallest oval on the Cup circuit will have the field mixed in a blender for all 500 laps, leaving drivers and fans holding their collective breath in every corner that the brakes will hold. But are you sure your roster can take the heat? You will be after listening to us. We’ll brace you for a run at the bullring with a crash cart, a reinforced front bumper, and the Frontstretch Fantasy Insider.
By the Numbers
Best Average Finish at Martinsville Speedway (since 2005, active drivers)
Jimmie Johnson, 9 starts, 2.6
Jeff Gordon, 9 starts, 2.7
Denny Hamlin, 8 starts, 8.0
Tony Stewart, 9 starts, 9.7
Dale Earnhardt Jr., 9 starts, 11.2
2008 Tums Quikpak 500 Top-Five Finishers
Jimmie Johnson, 339 laps led
Dale Earnhardt Jr., 0 laps led
Carl Edwards, 0 laps led
Jeff Gordon, 57 laps led
Denny Hamlin, 0 laps led
Johnson may be getting all the hype as the odds on favorite to win this weekend, but don’t overlook the driver that taught him how to get around Martinsville… Gordon. A winner of seven grandfather clock trophies himself, Gordon has not finished outside the top 10 at this track since 2002. That’s 13 consecutive top-10 finishes – 11 of which were in the top five. Plus, it’s not like Gordon’s been puttering around as of late, either. – Bryan
Johnson is most well-known for his success at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as during a two-year stretch in 2004 and 2005 he won every race at the 1.5-mile oval. But although Johnson hasn’t won four straight at Martinsville, he has won five of the last six races at the paperclip, with a third-place finish in the other one. When asked after the victory at Charlotte last week, the reigning champ admitted he thinks Martinsville is his best track on the circuit, meaning it’s perfect timing for him to capitalize on some playoff momentum. After winning three of the first five Chase races, Johnson is poised to seal the 2009 series title, and another victory at Martinsville will go a long way to making that happen. No matter what, you can count on a very strong finish from him this weekend. – Mike
If there is one place that Ryan Newman and his No. 39 team have been consistent this year, it has been on the bullrings. In fact, they haven’t finished outside the top 10 in any of the five short tracks in Cup this year. Newman is no stranger to success in the fall race at Martinsville, either: be it in 2005 where he finished third after bumping teammate Rusty Wallace out of the way, or in 2007 when he was running down leader Johnson in the closing laps, only to have a caution on the final one rob him just short of a pass for the win. This is also likely the last real shot the No. 39 team has of getting to victory lane in 2009 – so look for them to give it all they’ve got. – Bryan
Hamlin is well known as being a glass half empty kind of guy. And after last weekend’s disappointment at Charlotte, that’s exactly where he’s at emotionally, all but throwing in the towel on this year’s Chase following two straight DNFs. But oddly enough, that could be a good thing for Hamlin and his No. 11 team. He’s extremely good at Martinsville, and not dealing with the pressure of thinking he needs to perform might just make him loose enough to come home with another victory at one of his home state tracks. With an average finish at the paperclip of eighth, including a win and just one run worse than eighth place, you can depend on him for a solid result this weekend. – Mike
David Stremme is racing for a ride in 2010… and his results the last few weeks speak volumes to that. Suddenly, after what has been a woeful 2009 campaign, the No. 12 team has posted back-to-back top-20 finishes and finished on the lead lap in both instances. Stremme was an unremarkable, but solid, 22nd in this race back in the spring, and that kind of result has the potential to turn into a fantasy bargain come Sunday – especially if he winds up a few spots better. – Bryan
Marcos Ambrose has only been to Martinsville once, but he came home with a 14th-place finish as the freshman continues to showcase his strength on short tracks. Here’s why: while Ambrose is noted as a road-racing master, one thing that is required to be a good road racer is very good straight-line braking skills. Well one thing that tracks like Richmond, Bristol and especially Martinsville will demand from a racer to be successful is excellent braking control in a straight line. Ready to rumble following a few weeks of subpar finishes, anticipate a solid run when this impressive freshman makes his second visit to the foothills of Virginia. – Mike
The Last Word
Martinsville requires two things from the best drivers in the sport. They have to have the ability to make their brakes last for 500 laps, or 1,000 turns, and they have to use incredible patience, using caution while making passes so as to not tear up their equipment before making it to the finish line. Short-track racing is an art form, and there are people who are good at it and people who aren’t – so remember that this could be a week even your best drivers on your roster may need to sit. But once again, always take a look at the Chase drivers as the exception to that rule – no matter what their history is at a race track, they always seem to find a way to make it towards the front of the field in the playoffs.
Results of our Experts in the Frontstretch Fantasy Games
Game of Tomorrow
Bryan – 8608
Mike – 8104
Bryan – 6240
Mike – 6375
Bryan – 15989
Mike – 13919
To help the readers track how well our experts are doing, we’ll keep track of the cumulative points scored by all three drivers every week, as well as the total for the season.
Bryan – 413 10631
Mike – 255 10218
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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