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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions at Martinsville: Dastardly Debris & Kurt Busch’s Chance to Cash In

Another year has passed, and another West Coast Swing is in the books. The 2015 edition NASCAR’s annual early-season excursion out West produced a litany of storylines that will serve as the bedrock for the rest of the 2015 season’s plot. Kevin Harvick has emerged as the clear favorite for the title, while teammate Kurt Busch has emerged as the ultimate underdog capable of knocking Harvick off his throne. Everything from debris and sub drivers to rules changes has made news over the past three weeks, culminating in what has been a truly unusual start to the year.

Now, the series heads to Martinsville Speedway, a track high on drama and known for producing storylines. Last year’s spring Martinsville event was a wild affair, with a record number of lead changes and a dizzying number of cautions. Will the series see yet another topsy-turvy race on NASCAR’s tiniest track. Read on and find out.

1. Can Kurt Busch finally cash in?

In what has been perhaps the most unlikely story of the year, Stewart-Haas Racing driver Busch has emerged as a legitimate threat to win the championship despite missing a whopping three races to start the year. Busch, who was suspended for the early portion of the season, has come flying out of the gate in his 2015 return, posting top-three runs in each race he has participated in and leading countless laps in the process.

Generally speaking, drivers usually take awhile to bounce back after an absence from being in the car. Not in Busch’s case. The man has been a driver possessed, displaying speed that was entirely absent in his middling 2014 season. Busch has been so good that he has already climbed to 28th in the standings, comfortably within the Chase cutoff range. Thus, despite missing three races, a win would virtually lock Busch into the Chase.

Oh, and did we mention that Martinsville is this Sunday, you know, the track at which Busch scored his lone 2014 victory? It is entirely possible, and perhaps even somewhat likely, that Busch will cash in on Sunday, effectively making him a lock for the Chase despite only participating in three out of the first six races of 2015. That’d be a bit of story, eh?

 2. Will Sunday’s race live up to the standard set by last year’s running?

Last year’s spring Martinsville race was easily one of the finest races of the 2014 season. That is quite a statement, given the fact that the 2014 season was packed to the brim with quality, memorable races filled with lots of excitement. But Martinsville simply stood above the rest. Last year’s race featured 33 lead changes, a number that is simply unheard of on short tracks at this level. It was a ferociously competitive affair and a true testament to the Gen-6 car’s short-track package that, despite not receiving much press, has been an absolute boon to the racing product on such tracks. (Hint: NASCAR should visit more of these tracks.)

The added grip overall aero-platform of the Gen-6 car is a perfect match for tracks like Martinsville and Bristol, and the racing on such tracks shows it. Nearly every short track race in the Gen-6 era on these two tracks has been wildly exciting, and I am not expecting that to change on Sunday. With even more tire wear expected on Sunday and plenty of cautions expected to fly, lead changes will be aplenty. And of course, with the driver being more important at Martinsville than at other tracks, you can expect the SHR cars to have far less of a mechanical advantage than they’ve had at other tracks thus far in 2015, opening the front of the field up to a wider range of contenders.

All told, expect a typical Martinsville race on Sunday. And trust me, that’s a good thing.

3. Will debris cautions continue to create suspicion of foul play?

Let me just start this one off by saying that I do not subscribe to the theory that NASCAR throws debris cautions when nothing is actually on the track simply to tighten up the field. Sorry to all of my followers who fall under the NASCAR Hypercritic banner, but I just do not believe such conspiratorial activity is actually occurring.

Rather, I am of the belief that NASCAR has simply become far too cautious when it comes to debris, and has become far too reliant on spotters who often milk the booth for debris cautions late in races and deep into long green runs. Inconsistency is the problem here folks, not conspiracy or whatever whacked-out reason the internet community has conjured up in the past week after the Auto Club Speedway late-race debris caution debacle.

With all of this in mind, I think you can fully expect to see at least one or two questionable debris calls in Sunday’s race, even after everything that has happened? Why is this? The answer is simple: NASCAR has become hyper-cautious about all things safety in recent years, debris included. I do not think that is going to change just because a few faceless folks on the internet were crying “conspiracy” last week.

I am not a fan of inconsistent debris calls, but I am also not naive enough to believe they are simply going to go away just because fans cried foul a week ago. Expect a few of them on Sunday.

4. Will Jeff Gordon resuscitate his lifeless 2015 season?

Does anyone remember that Jeff Gordon guy? You know, the one who is retiring at the end of this season? The guy who was kind of the biggest story entering 2015? Yeah, remember him?

You’d be forgiven if you forgot that Four-Time was actually on-track this year. Aside from a strong mid-race run in the Daytona 500, Gordon’s presence at the front of the field has largely been absent in 2015, and his retirement story has long been forgotten in the wake of more recent news surrounding the brothers Busch. Put simply, Gordon’s lack of performance thus far has allowed him to fall through the cracks of the popular NASCAR zeitgeist, and one is left to wonder if he’ll ever be more than a 12th-place car in his last season on the circuit.

Luckily for Gordon, Martinsville just so happens to be his best track, and without question is his best shot at getting a win this season. No matter how good or bad Gordon or his cars are in a given year, the man always shows up at Martinsville, without fail. I am fully expecting him to contend in a major way on Sunday afternoon. If he doesn’t do so at what is unquestionably his best racetrack, then… oh boy, Gordon fans could be in for a long 2015 season. He’s one to keep an eye on this Sunday.

Matt Stallknecht’s Fantasy Picks for the 2015 STP 500

This year on Four Burning Questions, I will share my fantasy picks from the Frontstretch Fantasy NASCAR League, located here on NASCAR.com. Here are my picks from this week. Join the league and see if you can beat me!

  • Brett Moffitt ($8.00) – You won’t find a better value out there (well… except for maybe David Ragan). Moffitt is a capable driver in excellent equipment, and he’ll free up cash for you to spend on the big dogs.
  • David Ragan ($9.00) – See: Moffitt, Brett.
  • Jimmie Johnson ($27.00) – He’s money at Martinsville and will likely be hungry to bounce back after a lackluster performance at Auto Club.
  • Jeff Gordon ($27.00) – He’s currently overvalued at the moment, but the way we’ve built this team, we have the extra cash for him. He’s a legend at Martinsville and likely sees this race as his best chance to nab a Chase spot.
  • Denny Hamlin ($25.50) – When he’s on, he’s the best short-track racer in NASCAR, period. My guess is that he’ll be on on Sunday.

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14 thoughts on “4 Burning Questions at Martinsville: Dastardly Debris & Kurt Busch’s Chance to Cash In”

  1. Moffit is a good pick for the C bracket this week yes. He’s more talented than Ragan I believe and he’s fresh off many seasons of K&N short track racing so he should be one of the strongest of the young guns at Marty.

  2. Awww, come on Matt. Haven’t you noticed when there are long green flag runs and the magic number of 20 cars left on the lead lap is reached there always seems to be a debris caution (for which we rarely see the debris)?

    You can’t even entertain the idea that NASCAR would throw a fake caution to keep a race from becoming boring to the average viewer?

    I think you need to pay more attention. Just watch. Whenever the number of cars on the lead lap gets near that 20 mark, a debris caution is a coming. Especially when there is still more than a third of the race left.

    • I do notice that. However, before I make the illogical leap that NASCAR is manipulating races and teams, oweners, and sponsors are alright with that, I’ll first take NASCAR race controllers to task and say that maybe they’re being overly cautious and secondly, I’ll take the broadcaster to task and say, hey, make an effort to show the debris. The thing is, with the manipulation accusation, again, everyone needs to be okay with it and not speak out. All drivers, owners, sponsors – everyone. That is beyond belief. And if NASCAR is manipulating the race, you’re positing that all teams, drivers, and sponsors are okay with it and that they wonj’t speak out because they are afraid? Be serious – if Jeff Gor, JJ, Jr, Harvik, or Penske stood up tommorowand accused NASCAR of throwing fake cautions, you think they’re terrified of being suspended?

      Riiiight…

      And I do watch, unlike most here who roll in on a Monday with their axe to grin after channel surfing through 90% of the race. Until you have actual evidence of manipulation of team collusion, it’s nothing more than message board dripping.

  3. What’s the flavour of your Kool-Aid? Trying to get in Brian’s good book?

    If you’ve been paying attention to the “debris” cautions, you have more than enough evidence to be suspicious. When the cameras can show debris for every caution, that would be different and contrary to Brian’s beliefs.

    If you want to do some research, check who benefits from most of the PDCs. There are too many cautions for water bottles and hot dog wrappers that blow across the track and disappear before a camera can find them.

    • This is exactly what drives me nuts about the racing press. Race manipulation through the use of fake cautions! No! Gee, I’m so stupid, who should I believe, NASCAR and its tame press or my lying eyes.

      • Caught a blurb from one of the lapdogs on PRN saying that NASCAR is not obligated to show debris on the track. Of course they’re not. And we’re not obligated to believe that there aren’t any spontaneous competition cautions, either. While it’s true that that those in the NASCAR media don’t need to continuously run down the source of their paychecks, it wouldn’t hurt to drop the talking points once in awhile and form an independent opinion. If they’re capable.

        • Of course they are not….
          It’s amazing..nascar is the only “sport” where I don’t believe anything that is written or said about it….. sad….

    • Well, it’s also what drive me nuts about conspiracy theorists – that ignoring of the fact for the conspiracy to work, everyone needs to be onboard for it. So Kurt and Stewart-Haas were actually okay with Penske’s scripted/semi-scripted/manipulated win because they know at some point they’ll get the same thing? Come on, that is patently ridiculous. Did it potentially make a bad call? Sure. Did the broadcast fill a diaper by not making an effort to show it? You bet. Was a script sent around for team owners suggesting what would ahppen if the race turned into a parade/Kurt Busch had the lead with a few to go? Nonsense. Speaking of kool-aid, conspiracy theorists seem to bring their own flavour…

      • Just to be clear, you believe that NASCAR does not through constant rules changes and questionable cautions attempt to manipulate the racing to make the outcomes more exciting? You believe that the claims of blatant manipulation from personalities as diverse as Smokey Yunick and Bill Elliott are completely unfounded. There are conspiracy theories and there are conspiracy facts (hard to ignore unless you are dependent on NASCAR for your living). Personally, I’m a stupidity theorist. I believe that Big Bill and all his progeny were/are too stupid to realize that racing can be entertaining without gimmicks and oft times unsubtle manipulation. Anyway, if the product as it exists entertains you enjoy it, even if you have to delude yourself to do it.

        • To be clear, NASCAR makes constant rule changes to manipulate the product into a better product – like evgery other sport. NASCAR makes bad officiating calls like every other sport which of course leads to conspiracy theorists moving away from the rational explanation into some form of a Rube-Goldberg conspiracy which paints the most complicated and convoluted explanation – yes, everyone needs to be in on it to succeed. I agree that racing can be entertaining without gimmicks – I’d be thrilled to see the back end of the Waltrips and their ilk – and eventually NASCAR will get its act together by one way or another or eventually die off – which might be good as it’ll go back to a regional sport and more than likely in its purer form.

      • Seriously? You really think that everyone needs to be in on it? When you are a becoming rich doing something you love, you aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds you, even if you know they are manipulating races. And that’s why you won’t hear a thing from the teams and drivers and only the fans are complaining about it. We all know what happens to drivers who speak out against Nascar. If you don’t, ask Robby Gordon about that and get back to me. There are many theories floating about as to why they do it or who benefits from it, but most everyone agrees, except for maybe you, that they are doing it.

        • I can’t imagine the hurbis required for you to speak for most fans. I would suspect, however, that you can speak for those that inhabit the echo chamber you are in. Frankly, it takes one big name to step out of line and lay it all out for a media that would be in a frnzy over this – scrpited races, tacit acceptance by drivers and owners, sponsors okay with not making the chase or winning a race? Just one to leave the hive mind and it’s all over. Maybe, however, the Lizard People got to them all?

  4. Matt I’m sure your press credential is also safe(along with most nascar wri..eerr..repor…eerr..journ..no thats not it..glorified bloggers) because what I saw was..”lets make this a more exciting finish for the fans cause its California”..
    Mom always said believe non of what you hear-1/2 of what you see & don’t ever bother to read a paid reporters view as it’s biased
    I Am sorry Matt but I can’t even come close to agreeing with you on that one..Best to All

  5. The 24 got screwed by that debris caution for that water bottle down on the infield which I’m sure if it was watched close came from the 11. Come on we all know Nascar wants the young guys ,new blood to win that’s why all the rule changes and car changes. To much muscle for the new drivers

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