Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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The Tums Fast Relief 500

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Track history: One of the oldest tracks on the Cup circuit, Martinsville Speedway opened as a half-mile dirt track in 1947 with only 750 seats. The track hosted one of 8 races held in the 1949 “Strictly Stock” series which eventually became the NASCAR Cup series. Today, Martinsville seats 91,000 and has 25 corporate suites. The Virginia track, paved in 1955, is a flat paperclip shaped half-mile oval, which is tough on drivers, brakes and sheet metal. Most of the passing is done by shoving someone out of your way. This usually causes some payback, but that's racin' on a short track. Since it doesn't take long before the leaders catch the end of the field, they're coming up on some cars that don't want to go down a lap. That's when it really gets hairy. These guys at the rear are usually not handling very well already, but now they'll overdrive the cars to stay ahead of the leaders. Martinsville is a lot different from the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway, which is high-banked and totally concrete. Martinsville is flatter, with longer 800-foot asphalt straights, and a concrete surface, added in 1976, throughout the turns. At .526 miles, it is also Sprint Cup's shortest track.

September 25, 1949: Curtis Turner, in his No. 41 Frank Christian-owned 1949 Oldsmobile, led a field of 15 cars to the green flag of the 1949 Strictly Stock race on the ½ mile dirt oval track. Turner led 18 laps and finished 9th. Red Byron started the No. 22 Parks Novelty Oldsmobile 3rd in the lineup, led 97 of the 200 lap race, and finished 3 laps ahead of 2nd place, Lee Petty. Byron earned $1,500 for the win. He won 2 races in the 8-race season and became the 1949 series champion.

October 24, 2010: Kevin Harvick (No. 29) led 97 laps and finished 3rd and teammate, Jeff Burton (No. 31) led a race-high 134 laps and finished 9th. Denny Hamlin led only 40 laps but the most important ones. He put the No. 11 Toyota on the pole and was there at the end for the victory. It was Hamlin's 3rd consecutive win at Martinsville and career 4th at the track.

April 3, 2011: Rain postponed the start of this race until Monday, April 4th. Kevin Harvick won the Goody's Fast Relief 500 from a 9th place start. It was the No. 29 Chevrolet driver’s 2nd (consecutive) victory of 2011 and his 1st at Martinsville. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr. (17 laps, finished 2nd), Pole-sitter No. 1-Jamie McMurray (31, 7th), No. 24-Jeff Gordon (37, 5th), No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (65, 11th), No. 11-Denny Hamlin (89, 12th), No. 33-Clint Bowyer (91, 9th) and No. 18-Kyle Busch led the most laps (151, finished 3rd). Winner Harvick led 6 laps.

Active drivers who made their Cup series debut at Martinsville: Mike Skinner on 4/27/1986, Mike Bliss on 9/27/1998, Travis Kvapil on 10/24/2004 and Michael McDowell on 3/30/2008.

Fantasy games won’t allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart.  There were 47 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500 in Martinsville, Virginia.

Mid-Pack picks

Jamie McMurray’s average start of 13.8 at Martinsville is his best among all tracks currently on the Sprint Cup Series schedule and his average finish of 15.7 is pretty decent as well. It is also the venue where he has the most top-10 finishes (10) among the current Cup tracks. McMurray is ranked number one in the NASCAR Statistics "closer" category. He gained 31 spots near the end of the last 13 races at the Virginia track. In April 2011, he started on the pole, led 31 laps and finished 7th. This is an excellent week to give the No. 1 Chevrolet driver a look for another top 15 finish.

Last weekend Jeff Burton crossed the finish line at Talladega .018 seconds behind winner (and teammate) Clint Bowyer. We're giving him another shot at a Martinsville win this week. His overall average finish is a 14.9 for 34 starts. Burton led a lot of laps here in 2010 (140 in March and 134 in October). In the March 2010 race he blew a tire while running 3rd with only 8 laps to go (finished 20th). This past April, Burton started 32nd and was running as high as 12th by mid-race. He was a unsuspecting victim of two other drivers performing a typical Martinsville 'payback' wreck. After repairs to the front-end on the No. 31, Burton finished five laps down in 24th place. We think, after almost breaking his long winless streak last week at 'Dega, Burton is pumped to go for it again on Sunday.

In nine starts at the Virginia paper-clip track, Juan Pablo Montoya has only one finish outside the top 19. In that race (March 2010), he started 22nd, ran 41 of the fastest laps to get up to 13th by lap 100 before hitting the wall. He broke some suspension parts but after repairs he did finish the race in 36th. In fact, Montoya has never had a DNF at Martinsville. He's a 'survivor' at the track. He has finished more than one lap down only once (March 2010). In the April 2011 race, Montoya started 27th, made the most green flag passes (91), averaged an 11th place running position and finished 4th.

Joey Logano may be one of the Chase ‘spoilers’ this week. A 13th place was his worst finish in his last four Cup races atMartinsville. He is ranked 2nd (to favorite Johnson) in NASCAR Statistics 'Quality Passes' (passing while running in the top 15) category. Logano made an average of 35.8 QP's in his five Cup starts at this track. Only his teammate, track favorite Denny Hamlin, has scored more driver points than Logano in the last three NSCS Martinsville races. Take a look at the No. 20 to round out your roster for Sunday's race.



Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at RotoWorld.com.
Email :Anthony Ballantoni



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