Friday, October 28, 2011

Skirts and Scuffs Takes on the Chase: Martinsville is the last big hurdle for most Chase teams

Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR
Short-track racing at Martinsville brings intense racing. The 0.526-mile track holds many challenges for teams and puts extra pressure on the cars. Brakes are an issue as with most short tracks, so that challenge abounds on top of worrying about racing on the shortest track on the NASCAR circuit.

Who can handle the pressure and rise above these challenges? We can tell you based upon the stats who has the best odds headed into this weekend.

1. Carl Edwards – Winless at Martinsville but looking to change that – By Melissa Wright
Top 5s: 1, Top 10s: 4, Wins: 0

Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Winterguard Ford, has a driver rating of 99.1 this season. The current Chase leader has one win, 16 top 5s, 22 top 10s and two poles with an average finish of 10.0. Edwards has led 21 races for 715 laps so far this year.

Edwards has one top 5, four top 10s and an average finish of 16.9 in 14 races and a driver rating of 81.1 (14th best) at Martinsville Speedway. He has a 14-point margin between him and second-place Chaser and teammate Matt Kenseth, who also hasn't collected a victory at the “paper clip.” Who will pull off the tricks and who will come home with treats this Halloween weekend for the TUMS Fast Relief 500?

Last weekend at Talladega, Carl Edwards said, “I was prepared to lose the points lead, but I wasn't going to accept making a mistake and losing control of my car.” As they always say, I may not win the championship today but I sure as heck can lose it.

Moving forward, Edwards said about his teammate, "We're doing well. It's fun. I'm a little nervous about Matt, honestly, 'cause I know how good he is and how good his team is. Having him in second doesn't make me breathe easier, competitive wise.” However, his biggest concerns this weekend may end up being Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. Even though Hamlin is so far out in the points, Edwards may have to battle these two for a win. There are 10 combined victories at this track between the two of them and Edwards really has his sights set on this year’s championship.

2. Matt Kenseth (-14) - Will he clinch his second Sprint Cup championship and dethrone Johnson? - By Lindi Bess        
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 7, Wins: 0

Matt Kenseth, the driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford, finished in 18th position at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend. Although the finish wasn't what they'd hoped for following his recent win in Charlotte, he moved up to the 2nd position in the standings, placing him only 14 points behind his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards. Neither of the RFR teams have great numbers at Martinsville. Kenseth has two top 5s in 23 starts at the infamous paper clip, with an average finish of 15.8.

Spanning 432 races, 21 wins, 111 top 5s, 207 top 10s and six poles, Kenseth's career in the No. 17 Ford with owner Jack Roush also includes a NSCS championship in 2003.

For the first time in history, RFR find themselves holding on to both the first and second positions in the standings. This couldn't have come at a better time for the Ford teammates. With all this support both on and off the track, it makes the 2011 championship well within their reach.

With Talladega in the rearview mirror and Martinsville upon us, the final three tracks, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, are all tracks which Kenseth has won at previously. I'd say that Kenseth has an awesome chance of winning the NSCS championship, but only time will tell!

3. Brad Keselowski (-18) Hoping the tire test proves a valuable asset – By Holly Machuga
Top 5s: 0, Top 10s: 1, Wins: 0

Although the stats don’t reflect well on Brad Keselowski, the No. 2 Miller Lite team is fully prepared for Sunday’s race at Martinsville. Over the last 13 races, the team has an average finish position of 6.5, which is a series best.

“Everyone on this team feels really good about going to Martinsville this weekend, especially since we were able to take part in the Goodyear tire test there last month” says Keselowski.

4. Tony Stewart (-19) – Headed to Martinsville with a positive outlook – By Amanda Ebersole
Top 5s: 8, Top 10s: 13, Wins: 2

Though the numbers prove Tony Stewart has had past success at Martinsville, he is relying on his teammate’s setup for this weekend. “We are going to Martinsville this weekend with Ryan's package that he's been running really well with and we have kind of struggled there so we are going to start with Ryan's setup and work our way from there,” said Stewart.

With an average finish of 13.9 and 13 top 10s, along with Stewart’s two wins, I have to count Stewart in as a strong pick for this weekend. Stewart also holds the track qualifying record of 19.306 seconds at 98.083 mph, set in October 2005, so keep an eye out for him during qualifying if he is able to fine-tune his setup.

Stewart feels strongly that his team has what it takes as contenders in the Chase to the Sprint Cup. “I feel like our guys and our attitude in our shop is very, very positive right now. We have got a really strong group of true racers that have been involved with the team, guys that have been involved with racing for a long time in different series. They are really keen and savvy when it comes to keeping their morale high and realizing that one bad week doesn't take it out of it until they say we are mathematically out. I feel like they have been giving 100% all along,” Stewart said during his media availability.

5. Kevin Harvick – (26) Spring race winner looks to sweep Martinsville - By Katy Lindamood
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 9, Wins: 1 

“I was ready to slit my wrists and they (the team) kept me grounded I think, and then were were able to focus on working on our car and getting it back to where we needed it to be. Just a great character-building day for our team. I don't know how many character-building days we can have but we'll keep enjoying them as long as we wind up this way.” Those were Kevin Harvick's thoughts following his late race pass and eventual win in April's race at Martinsville. As the the circuit returns to the pretty paper clip this weekend, Harvick is hoping to once again find himself in victory lane, though with fewer hiccups.

Harvick and the No. 29 team enter the 33rd race of the season in the fifth position, only 26 points behind leader Edwards. Although the Richard Childress Racing driver won the spring event, Martinsville has not been one of his best tracks. In 20 starts, Harvick has an average finish of 16.5 and only two top 5s. Although some are already counting him out of the contenders, Harvick has proven this season that he's not ready to be counted out just yet and that with a little determination and teamwork he can accomplish anything.  

6. Kyle Busch (-40) Can he win the clock? – By LJ Cloud
Top 5s: 6, Top 10s: 7, Wins: 0

In his worst finish since the spring race at Loudon, Kyle Busch ended up 33rd at Talladega and dropped to sixth in driver points. 

Through 32 races, Busch has four wins, 14 top fives, 18 top 10s, and an average finish of of 11.5. He led 24 of those races for a total of 1,313 laps.

Heading into Martinsville, Busch needs more than just good luck and skill to overcome the points deficit between him and leader Carl Edwards: he needs his opponents to have bad luck as well. With only four races to go, those 52 points will be hard to recover, especially since Busch doesn't have a single grandfather clock trophy from the paper-clip shaped track. The guy in front of him in the points has six of them to go with his five championship trophies. In fact, the Chase drivers have a total of 21 clocks among them.

Busch does, however, have six top 5s, seven top 10s and an average finish of 15.6 in his 13 races at Martinsville. 

7. Jimmie Johnson - Will the Comeback King reign? - by Unique Hiram
Top 5s: 13, Top 10s: 17, Wins: 6

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 MyLowes Chevrolet, is headed into the TUMS Fast Relief 500 with determination to either win or finish in the top five on Sunday. In an interview with Speedway Media, he had this to say: “Running up front consistently is the key to the championship and we haven’t done a very good job of that in this Chase … We have to get back to top threes, top fives and this is a track where we can do that.”

He has an impressive success rate at this 0.526-mile oval track. In addition to the statistics listed above, this five-time Sprint Cup champion has done the following: average finish of 11.5, second-fastest laps run with 635, best average running position of 6.4 and 20 race leads for 1,051 laps at Martinsville Speedway.

He is currently seeded seventh, 50 points behind points leader Carl Edwards. 

8. Kurt Busch – “Martinsville has been so challenging” – By Lacy Keyser
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 4, Wins: 1

Kurt Busch has not been having the Chase season he wanted. Dropping points left and right, Busch has not been up to his A game. Busch has one win at Martinsville and is hoping to make some sort of a comeback at this short track.

Kurt Busch spoke on turning around his luck at Martinsville: "We're coming back into Martinsville with a lot of confidence and a really positive attitude about racing there this weekend. I'll be the first to admit that the Martinsville races have always been so challenging to me and that goes all the way back through my career. But ever since Steve Addington came aboard as our crew chief, things have really begun to turn for the better.”

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Second in the spring and hoping to do better - By Katy Lindamood
Top 5s: 9, Top 10s: 12, Wins: 0 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 2011 season has been interesting. Moments of brilliance and hard charging have been followed up by poor finishes and speculation over whether or not the passion is still there. Still through it all, the most popular driver's loyal fans never lose faith in the driver of the No. 88. With the season coming to a close in just four races and the winless streak continuing, it's time for the team to find their way back to victory lane, but will it be this weekend at Martinsville? 

Earnhardt Jr. currently sits in the ninth position, 74 points behind leader Carl Edwards. Although his chances for winning the Sprint Cup Series title are slim, they can still salvage a respectable finish in the standings and work on things that will help the team rise to the occasion in 2012. 

Having 23 career starts at the Martinsville paper clip, Earnhardt Jr.'s stats are respectable. With an average finish of 13.3, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has nine top-5 and 12 top-10 finishes. Although he's never won at the shortest track on the circuit, Earnhardt Jr. has led 865 laps at Martinsville. The last time the circuit visited Martinsville, Earnhardt Jr finished second after a last-lap pass by Kevin Harvick.  

10. Jeff Gordon (-82) Headed to Martinsville with confidence – By Amanda Ebersole
Top 5s: 24, Top 10s: 30, Wins: 7

Running at Martinsville takes experience; the short, paper-clip shaped track is very challenging on the driver and car. Racing at the shortest track on the NASCAR circuit can create many challenges, but none that Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson cannot handle.

Gordon says, “I always go to Martinsville with a lot of confidence. It’s a very challenging track, but we seem to get into a rhythm and seem to be very competitive here – no matter the cars, the tires or any other changes that we’ve had over the years. There are tracks that I like better, but there are few tracks that I feel as confident as I do than when we go to Martinsville.”

With seven wins, most recently in 2005 when Gordon swept both races, Gordon has been overshadowed by HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. With nothing to lose in the Chase, Gordon and the No. 24 team will give it their all this weekend.

11. Denny Hamlin - Headed to his home track with confidence - By Genevieve Cadorette
 Top 5s: 8, Top 10s: 10, Wins: 4

The fact that Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, has raced at Martinsville more often than he has at any other track could be a reason why he has been so successful there. "It’s really a combination of things," he said when asked what has been the key to his success at the track, "Growing up in Virginia I had the chance to race here in some other series and all that track time definitely gave me a comfort level at Martinsville."

He hasn't had the best season this year, with only one win under his belt and this season, Hamlin has unfortunately counted himself out of the Chase, being 84 points behind the leader, Carl Edwards. That hasn't stopped him from racing his heart out, however. " I feel really confident at this track and I know we bring great cars," he said. His success at Martinsville isn't only in the Cup Series; he has raced in other series at the track including the trucks and Nationwide Series. “Those things together usually lead to success. It’s also a lot of pressure because this is a race we circle as one where we expect to be really competitive.” 

12. Ryan Newman – Out of contention, his focus is on wins – By Rebecca Kivak
Top 5s: 6, Top 10s: 9, Wins: 0

With a points deficit equivalent to two races, Ryan Newman is out of title contention. This means the driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet can focus on winning races, as well as getting back into the top 10 to secure a seat at the end-of-the-year banquet.

A good starting position can pay dividends at Martinsville, and this weekend the “Rocket Man” has an opportunity to add yet another pole to his collection. Newman has three poles at the "paper clip," all of which have come in the fall races. His average starting spot is 8.7.

Newman has run well at Martinsville, but has yet to claim a win at the 0.526-mile short track. In 19 starts, Newman has six top 5s and nine top 10s, with an average finish of 14.6. Three of these top 10s came in the last five races. Newman’s career-best finish was a second-place in the spring 2007 race.

Newman's last two races at Martinsville were spoiled by mechanical issues. Last year after leading 32 laps, Newman lost a rear gear and finished 30th. This spring, Newman started second and was headed for a top-10 finish until two late-race issues, a broken header pipe and a flat left-rear tire, forced him to finish two laps down in 20th place.

If he can avoid mechanical failures and take care of his brakes, expect Newman to leave Martinsville with a top-10 finish or better.

The clock is ticking with only four races left in the Chase. Will one of the Chasers win the grandfather clock at Martinsville? Who will regroup and who will drop out of the title battle? Check back with Skirts and Scuffs on Monday when we wrap up how the Chase drivers fared.

0 comments :

Post a Comment