STP 500 Preview
March 24, 2015
By Micah Roberts
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We’ve all been waiting for a driver to step up and not take any more of this Kevin Harvick domination to start 2015, and surprisingly the one that has is Harvick’s teammate Kurt Busch who raced to a top-5 finish for the consecutive week since being reinstated by NASCAR after missing the first three races of the season.
Neither of those two Stewart-Haas teammates won last week at Fontana as Brad Keselowski stole one after cautions flew on two separate occasions when Busch had one lap to go before victory was his, but it’s still clear these two cars have a major edge over everyone else in the new rules package, and they don‘t seem willing to share their secret with anyone -- not even car owner/teammate Tony Stewart.
Busch finished third for the second consecutive year at Fontana, but he easily had the car to beat over the weekend. He put on a speed display during Friday and Saturday practices that not even Harvick has pulled off this season. Busch had the fastest lap in all three practice sessions as well as the fastest 10-consecutive lap average in both Saturday sessions. He also won the pole.
Harvick no longer had that huge edge we have seen from the end of last season when he won the final two races to win his first Sprint Cup to this season when he won the first two races on the West Coast swing. However, he still managed to finish ahead of Busch in second-place which is his eighth straight top-2 finish.
That is unreal in this era of NASCAR!
This week, the playing field is more even for the drivers at Martinsville. Other than the road courses, Martinsville is the most reliant upon a drivers skills where a car that may not be the fastest can out duel the top power teams just because of the driver being the equalizer. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the top Martinsville performers come from those power teams.
But last season, it was Busch who won there in the spring for his only win of the season and then Dale Earnhardt Jr. won for the first time in 30 career start on the flat half-mile paper clip layout.
Prior to those two winning, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin had combined to win 18 of the previous 22 races. That’s a lot of noise being made at each of their homes with the Grandfather clocks Martinsville gives away as its trophy.
Harvick managed to break up the party in 2011 for his only Martinsville win. Tony Stewart won for the third and final time that same season. Ryan Newman won in the spring of 2012, but then it was back to the Johnson and Gordon show for the next three events until Busch broke through last season.
Johnson and Gordon each have eight Martinsville wins and Virginian Hamlin has four, but none since 2010.
The big question this week is whether or not Harvick can maintain his second-place or better run again because Martinsville has not been his best track. Johnson and Gordon will still be favored this week, but because of what Harvick and Busch have done lately, you’ll get favorable prices on either Gordon or Johnson. Because Hamlin has been off his game on his favorite track of late, he’ll also fetch higher odds than usual.
Two drivers you might able to go out on limb with this week is Stewart or Newman and each will be getting higher than 30/1 odds. Stewart should have his best run of the season. But I’m sticking with the meat and potatoes here.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #24 Jeff Gordon (6/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)
4) #4 Kevin Harvick (6/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12/1)