Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Tums Fast Relief 500

Thursday, October 25, 2012


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 1/2 mile dirt oval track. Turner led 18 laps and finished ninth. Red Byron started the No. 22 Parks Novelty Oldsmobile third in the lineup, led 97 of the 200 lap race, and finished three laps ahead of second place, Lee Petty. Byron earned $1,500 for the win. He won two races in the eight-race season and became the 1949 series champion.

October 30, 2011: Tony Stewart won the TUMS Fast Relief 500 from a fourth place start. It was the No. 14 Chevrolet driver’s third victory of 2011 and his third at Martinsville Speedway. 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 laps, finished ninth; No. 29 Kevin Harvick 35 laps, finished fourth; No. 39 Ryan Newman, 41 laps, finished 10th; No. 11 Denny Hamlin 58 laps, finished fifth; No. 48 Jimmie Johnson 61 laps, finished second; No. 24 Jeff Gordon 113 laps, finished third and No. 18 Kyle Busch led the most laps (126) and finished 27th.

April 1, 2012: Ryan Newman won the Goody's Fast Relief 500 from a fifth place start. It was the No. 39 Chevrolet driver’s first victory of 2012 and first at Martinsville Speedway.  Drivers leading 10 or more laps: winner Newman 12 laps; No. 29 Kevin Harvick 21 laps, finished 19th; No. 11 Denny Hamlin 31 laps, finished sixth; No. 48 Jimmie Johnson 111 laps, finished 12th and No. 24 Jeff Gordon led the most laps (329 of 515) and finished 14th. Pole-sitter No. 5 Kasey Kahne never led a lap, had a blown engine at the half-way point of the race and was credited with a 38th place finish.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners:
Denny Hamlin 3/29/10, Denny Hamlin 10/24/10, Kevin Harvick 4/3/11, Tony Stewart 10/30/11 and Ryan Newman 4/1/12.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Mike Skinner 4/27/86, Stacy Compton 4/21/96, Mike Bliss 9/27/98, Travis Kvapil 10/24/04, Michael McDowell 3/30/08 and Scott Speed 10/19/08.
First Cup pole: Kenny Wallace 4/20/97, Tony Stewart 4/18/99 and Scott Riggs 4/10/05.
First Cup win: Geoff Bodine 4/29/84.

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 20 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 TUMS Fast Relief 500 in Martinsville, Virginia.

Mid-Pack picks
Here we go again taking a gamble on the underfunded Phoenix Racing team this week. AJ Allmendinger, who will split driving duties in the car with Regan Smith for the rest of 2012, takes his turn behind the wheel for the race this week. In better cars (Petty’s No. 43 and Penske’s No. 22), the Dinger has not finished worse than 14th in his last four starts at Martinsville. This includes a runner-up finish after the green-white-checker restart that ended the April 2012 race. Don’t expect another top five from Allmendinger this week but it’s reasonable to look for a top 20 or better from the No. 51 Chevrolet driver.

Brian Vickers is making his eighth and final 2012 start in the shared MWR Toyota this weekend. Even including his credited 43rd at The Glen (blew the engine on the first lap) he averaged a 14th place finish so far in 2012.  He finished 18th or better in four of his last five starts at the Virginia half-miler. The other race (last October) was a disaster since Vickers was either the cause, or just involved, in five or six cautions. His team was folding up and he was frustrated with everyone. This week he said: I'm very fortunate to be able to share the No. 55 with Michael (Waltrip) and Mark (Martin)”. That attitude is reflected in his driving this season.

On Sunday, Joey Logano could be one of the Chase ‘spoilers’. Only track favorites, and Chase contenders, Hamlin and Johnson have scored more driver points than Logano in the last five Martinsville races. Logano crossed the finish line in 23rd in the April 2012 event but his worst finish was an 18th place in his five prior Cup starts at Martinsville. He carries a 15.1 overall average finish for his seven races.  Take a look at the No. 20 Toyota to round out your roster for this weekend's race.

This might be the last time we talk about Jeff Burton in 2012. His overall average finish is a decent 14.8 for 36 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). While the days of him scoring eight-straight top-10 finishes at Martinsville are history (1999-2002), he has picked up nine top-20 finishes in his last 11 starts. That’s what we’re looking for in this column. Consider the No. 31 Chevrolet as a fourth or fifth driver at the tough short track.



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



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