Next Up: Martinsville’s STP 500
Coming off a “West Coast Swing” that produced some highly competitive racing and some dramatic finishes, the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour moves to the short track at Martinsville, Virginia for what promises to be another emotion-charged event. So far, four drivers have punched their ticket to the finals, so you can bet that there will be another no-holds-barred scramble to add another final-ten reservation to the list. Denny Hamlin will be defending his title in the event, and who can forget his dramatic come-from-behind win last year. He went from 31st place late in the race to grab a one car length win over Brad Keselowski to log his fifth Cup win at what’s considered his home track. The race goes green at 1:00 pm EST on Sunday.
Practice sessions are set for Friday at 11:00 am (EST) and Saturday at 10:00 am and 1:00 pm, with knockout qualifying scheduled to begin at 4:15 pm Friday. Last year, it was Joey Logano on the point with a pole speed of 98.461 on the .526 mile paperclip-shaped oval. Hamlin qualified 15th, but raced in the top ten most of the event until an uncontrolled tire penalty sent him to the tail end of the field and set the stage for a short track driving clinic.
Martinsville is the only track on the NASCAR schedule that has continuously hosted an event since the Cup series began in 1949. It’s the shortest track on the schedule, something that brings fans closer to the action than most tracks. With turns banked at a mere 12 degrees, it’s a pure driver’s track where nearly every lap produces some contact as the competitors revert to their short track roots and throw elbows for positions. As a result, the on-track skirmishes often lead to repercussions and emotional outbursts after the checkered flag falls.
King Richard Petty is the all-time leader in Martinsville wins with 15 in his 67 starts, while Jimmie Johnson leads active drivers with the best finishing average of 3.34. Joey Logano holds the track qualifying record with a 100.201 mph lap set in the 2014 spring race. Last year’s event was slowed by 16 separate caution periods for 112 laps, reducing the average race speed to under 69 mph.(the tight racing and long turns tend to generate the contact that breeds cautions, making it a tactical race that creates much fan interest). Another example of the racing intensity at Martinsville is the number of lead changes–last year there were 31, or a new leader every 16 laps on average. That’s the kind of competitiveness that keeps fans on the edge of their seats!
The Camping World Truck Series is also in action this weekend at Martinsville, with Cup regular Logano set to defend his win last year over Truck series regular Matt Crafton. Logano led 150 of the 250 laps, beating Crafton to the line by less that a half second. The trucks are set to qualify Saturday starting at 11:15 am EST, with practices sessions scheduled for Friday at 10:00 am, 12:30 pm, and 3:00 pm. The race–the Alpha Energy Solutions 250–is scheduled for 2:30 pm EST Saturday.
For a full weekend schedule of the Martinsville event, click here…