NASCAR hits Virginia
April 7, 2013
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After a week off, the NASCAR field makes its first of two appearances at the short track of Martinsville Speedway when the drivers rev up their engines in the STP Gas Booster 500 on Sunday. This 0.526-mile oval track was completed in 1947 and has banking consisting of 12° turns with completely flat straights, which both measure 800 feet (0.15 miles).
Since 2003, only seven different drivers have won the 20 races run on this track. Jimmie Johnson has seven wins in this span, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin have four, Tony Stewart has a pair of wins, and the trio of Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick and Rusty Wallace has one victory apiece. Newman won the 2012 spring race while Johnson took home the checkered flag in the fall. Hamlin suffered a back injury in the last race in Fontana two weeks ago and is out indefinitely.
Drivers to Watch
Jimmie Johnson (4/1) - Sure the odds are incredibly unfavorable, but if you're putting money down on just one driver this weekend, the choice would have to be Johnson. The No. 48 car not only has seven victories on this track, but Johnson has a ridiculous 15 top-5's in 22 career starts here and an unbelievable average finish of 5.5. After two straight subpar finishes this year (22nd at Bristol, 12th at Fontana), many expect Johnson to get back in the winner's circle this weekend.
Clint Bowyer (15/1) - In the past four short-track races (Bristol twice, Richmond and Martinsville), Bowyer has finished 7th, 1st, 5th and 5th. He is always racing near the front of the pack at this track, knocking out eight top-10's in his past 11 starts at Martinsville. In the four times he has started better than 12th at this track, Bowyer has finished 9th, 5th and turned last year's two great starts into finishes of 10th and 5th.
Kasey Kahne (12/1) - Of the four drivers garnering 12-to-1 odds on Sunday, Kahne is the best play of the quartet. He won the last short-track race on the circuit (Bristol) and finished third in the most recent race at Martinsville last fall. Kahne actually won the pole last spring at this track, but engine problems took him out of the race, marking the fourth time he's suffered car problems at Martinsville in his career. But with three straight great finishes this season (2nd at Las Vegas, Bristol win, 9th at Fontana), Kahne is showing it's better to be good than lucky.
Ryan Newman (25/1) - The champion of this race last spring has been up-and-down at this track, but seven top-5's in 22 starts isn't too shabby for a driver with darkhorse 25-to-1 odds. Newman also has three top-10's this season, placing 5th at Daytona, 7th at Bristol (also a short track) and 10th in the last race two weeks ago in Fontana.
Paul Menard (75/1) - He has finishes of 10th, 23rd, 12th (at Martinsville) and 9th in the past four short-track races on the NASCAR circuit. He's also started 12th or better in four of his past six starts at Martinsville, showing he can be successful at this track despite the absence of any top-10 finishes in his 11 starts on this short track. His three straight top-10's this season (10th in Las Vegas, 9th in Bristol, 8th in Fontana) is also a good trend for Sunday's race.