Five Questions before Martinsville

Kyle Busch with the coveted grandfather clock trophy in Martinsville Victory Lane, October 29, 2017
credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs

by Lisa Janine Cloud 

It’s the first short track of the season this Sunday and I’m excited! With all the recent talk about racing’s roots, seeing the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series beat and bang around the half-mile track in Martinsville, Virginia, feeds my soul. Be warned though, there are three phrases you’ll hear repeatedly. You can make one of them your drinking-game word, but only one, because alcohol poisoning is a real threat otherwise.

Martinsville is known for its radioactive red hot dogs, aka Jesse Jones Southern Style Red Hot Dogs. You’ll hear more about hot dogs this weekend than any time of the year other than the Fourth of July.

It’s also known for having a unique trophy, a Ridgeway grandfather clock. Drivers covet the clock more than just about any trophy on the circuit, with the possible exception of the Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 trophy. Expect to drink a lot if you pick “grandfather clock” for your trigger word.

Finally, Martinsville is famous for being shaped like a paper clip, with long straightaways and tight corners. Take care if you choose “paper clip” as your drinking word!

While we wait to see whether Mother Nature is going to be kind to and only dust the track with snow, let’s pause for five questions, shall we?

Which Gilliland will finish better, David or Todd? The father-and-son duo competes against each other for the first time in a NASCAR national series race. The younger Gilliland has three top-ten finishes in six CWTS starts, with a fifth at Martinsville last fall. His father has 11 Truck starts with three top-ten finishes and a 23-place finish in his only Truck race at the Paper Clip (drink!) in the fall of 2015. Based on that record, I think Todd has the edge over his father.

Will Johnny Sauter keep up his streak of top-three finishes? The 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion has finished first, third, and second, respectively, in three races so far this season. He ended the 2017 season with third-place finishes at Martinsville and Homestead, bookending wins at Texas and Phoenix, giving him a total of seven top-three results in a row. He has three wins and 11 top tens in 20 Martinsville starts, with finishes of first, second, and third in the last three races so his chances are not bad at all.

Will we have a new winner in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season this weekend? Five races in and we have had only three winners: Kevin Harvick (3), Martin Truex Jr. (1) and Austin Dillon (1). Of the three, only Harvick has a win at the Paper Clip (drink!). Dillon has a better average finish (15.6)  than Truex Jr., (17) over the last 10 races at Martinsville, but that may be because Dillon’s only had 8 starts.

Will we have a different driver win at the Paper Clip? (Drink!) Only seven active drivers have won at the .526 mile oval: Jimmie Johnson (9), Denny Hamlin (5), Kyle Busch (2), Kurt Busch (2), Kevin Harvick (1), Ryan Newman (1) and Brad Keselowski (1). Only two of Johnson’s and Hamlin’s wins have come in the last 10 races, and Keselowski is the defending race-winner. Clint Bowyer has the best average finish among non-winners (14.0) and Joey Logano is right behind with a 14.2 average finish. Could this be the week the No. 14 returns to Victory Lane? Can Logano score a grandfather clock to go with his collection of coolest trophies on the circuit? Both Chase Elliott and Darrell Wallace Jr. have Truck wins at Martinsville - can either of them capitalize on that experience?

Can Chevy start catching up to Ford and Toyota? Since Stewart-Haas Racing made the switch from bow ties to blue ovals, the overall performance of Chevy teams has been inconsistent at best. Teams hoped that the introduction of the Camaro body would help, but they don't seem to quite have a handle on it yet. This time last year, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott led the point standings. Going into the STP 500 this season, Larson in seventh and Austin Dillon in 12th are the Chevy standard-bearers. Elliott seems almost snake-bit, mired back in 21st, while his teammate 16th-place Alex Bowman leads all Hendrick drivers. Can Jimmie Johnson build on last week’s top-ten finish? Will Jamie McMurray make some noise? How will rookie William Byron fare?

We’ll find the answers to these and other questions Saturday in the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at 2:00 PM on FS1 and Sunday afternoon in the STP 500,  2:00 PM on FS1.

The Xfinity Series takes a break, returning April 7 in the My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.   
Five Questions before Martinsville Five Questions before Martinsville Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Saturday, March 24, 2018 Rating: 5