NASCAR calls it an enhanced schedule.
Both practices and qualification were schedule for Saturday with the race on Sunday. That gives the drivers an extra day to be at home with their families. Equally important, on a rhythm track like Martinsville Speedway, it gives a complete picture of the drivers’ ability and potential for the weekend.
Unfortunately, only two of the three sessions were recorded. A snowy mix canceled qualification, so the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway will be lined up by owner points—putting Martin Truex Jr. on the pole for Sunday’s race.
Odds are good that he would have started there anyway.
In the first practice session for the STP 500, Truex topped both the fastest single lap chart and had the quickest 10 laps. His best lap of 95.752 mph beat Brad Keselowski by .022 seconds, which is a fairly comfortable margin on a half-mile speedway. His 10-lap average of 95.054 mph beat out Kyle Busch. All three of these drivers have been recommended as top-five capable, but Truex does not have the same degree of success on this track. What he does have, however, is a four-race, top-five streak in 2018.
Truex swept practice on Saturday with a lap of 95.415 mph in Happy Hour, but he was not the quickest in that session. His 10-lap average of 94.501 mph was third on the grid. That is still good enough to make him very attractive, especially in light of his starting position.
Kyle Larson was better on longer runs in the morning. He sat third on the charts in the morning session in regard to 10-lap averages, but he paced the field at 15-, 20-, and 30-laps. If the race develops long green flag runs, he will be able to make up ground on the competition and establish track position at the front.
Jimmie Johnson has been on everyone’s mind since he broke a long streak without a top-10 last week at Auto Club Speedway. He did not turn any heads on Saturday with the 20th-fastest lap in the first session and the 16th-quickest, 10-lap average. Final practice was worse at 27th and 28th on the grid. He obviously knows how to get around this track, but with the struggles this team has suffered, he will start with bad track position (18th) and fight an uphill battle all day.
Kyle Busch is tired of running second, but the numbers are pointing to that again. He posted the second-quickest, 10-lap average in both of Saturday’s sessions. He lines up second based on owner points and we’ll go out on a limb and predict that is where he is going to finish—just like he did in last year’s edition of this race.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed in final practice and will roll out a backup car for Sunday’s race. He got up out of the groove in turn three, wheel-hopped, and slammed the wall. Stenhouse was one of our dark horses this week based on two 10th-place finishes on this bullring last year, but that prediction is no longer valid.