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.
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 second (consecutive) victory of 2011 and his first 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.
October 30, 2011: Tony Stewart won the TUMS Fast Relief 500 from a 4th place start. It was the No. 14 Chevrolet driver’s 3rd victory of 2011 and his 3rd at Martinsville. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: winner Stewart (14 laps), No. 43 AJ Allmendinger (19 laps, finished 11th), Pole-sitter No. 99 Carl Edwards (28, 9th), No. 29 Kevin Harvick (35, 4th), No. 39 Ryan Newman (41, 10th), No. 11 Denny Hamlin (58, 5th), No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (61, 2nd), No. 24 Jeff Gordon (113, 3rd) and No. 18 Kyle Busch led the most laps (126, finished 27th).
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 Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. There were 45 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 in Martinsville, Virginia.
Picking track favorites is tough enough at the unpredictable short track, but, according to a good friend down in sunny Florida, picking mid-packers at Martinsville should be done with a dart board and a blindfold. Now that the top 15 in points is getting a lot more stable, Mid-Pack Attack returns to its practice of not picking track favorites or any drivers currently in the top 15 in driver points. All that being said, here are our best guesses for this weekend.
Okay, our first dart hit a ‘target’. That would be the sponsor on the No. 42 Chevy driven by Juan Pablo Montoya. In ten starts at the Virginia paper-clip track, he earned two top-fives, three top-tens and led 46 laps. Montoya is a 'survivor' at the track. To date, he has never been credited with a DNF (did not finish), has completed about 98% of the scheduled laps and has a 14.7 average finish. His best was 3rd in 2009. In the April 2011 race, Montoya started 27th, made the most green flag passes (91), averaged an 11th place running position and finished 4th. He scored the 8th-most driver points in the two 2011 Martinsville races. This is a good week to give Juan a spot on your fantasy roster.
Jamie McMurray has ten top-ten finishes in eighteen Martinsville starts; the most at any current Cup venue. His average start of 14.6 here is his 3rd-best among all tracks currently on the Cup circuit. His average finish of 16.8 (4th-best on current tracks) is pretty decent as well. He is ranked 3rd in the NASCAR Statistics "closer" category. He gained 31 spots near the end of the last fourteen races at the Virginia track. In April 2011, he started on the pole, led 31 laps and finished 7th. McMurray ran two Truck Series races at Martinsville; won in 2004 and finished 18th in the 2008 event. So far in 2012, he got caught up in a multi-car wreck at Daytona, lost the motor at Phoenix, was in the wrong spot when the rains came last week in Fontana, but he did score top tens at Vegas and Bristol. Give the No. 1 Chevrolet driver a look this week.
In four starts at Martinsville, Brad Keselowski has a 14.5 average finish and has completed 2006 of the 2008 laps run. Not bad for a tough short track. Keselowski is not afraid of ‘sticking a fender in there’ on the short tracks. His first two Cup starts here resulted in 12th and 10th place finishes. In his most recent Martinsville race (October 2011), he spent 377 of the 500 lap event in the top-fifteen. We know he can get around a short track. He won the last two Bristol Motor Speedway races, including the March 18, 2012 one from a 5th place start. Look for the No. 2 Dodge cruising in the top-fifteen on Sunday.
Our last dart wiggled on its way to the board but it found part-time driver Brian Vickers for our last pick. It wiggled because Vickers was a total disaster here last October. His Red Bull team was folding up and he seemed to be mad at everyone in that race. Vickers was either the cause, or just involved, in five or six of the cautions. He eventually took himself out of the race by getting into the wall in a payback attempt on Matt Kenseth. His three races prior to that fiasco at this track averaged an 11.3 finish. MWR hired him to drive the No. 55 in six races in 2012 including both races at Bristol, Martinsville and Loudon, New Hampshire. He finished 5th in his first race of this season at Bristol. He led 125 laps in that race – almost as much as he did in his last three full-time seasons. Vickers is still looking for another full-time ride, so we think he will be on his best behavior this weekend.