Martinsville II: Series round 32 preview

* Chase For NASCAR Sprint Cup Reaches Halfway Point * Martinsville's NASCAR Roots Go Back More Than 60 Years * In The Loop: Kevin Harvick Can't Do Much More Chase For NASCAR Sprint Cup Reaches Halfway Point The 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint...

* Chase For NASCAR Sprint Cup Reaches Halfway Point
* Martinsville's NASCAR Roots Go Back More Than 60 Years
* In The Loop: Kevin Harvick Can't Do Much More

Chase For NASCAR Sprint Cup Reaches Halfway Point

The 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has reached its halfway point and what better place to start the stretch run for the series championship than Martinsville Speedway, recognized as one of NASCAR's most storied race tracks. In fact, the historic Virginia half-mile oval is the only track that was on the schedule in the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season (1949) that still hosts the series today.

At the midway point of the Chase heading into Sunday's running of the TUMS Fast Relief 500, here's what we know:

Four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) has a 41-point lead over Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) in his quest for a "drive for five" championships. Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) holds down the third position, 77 points out of first.

While 156 points out of the lead, Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) has had measurable success at Martinsville. The four-time series champion leads all active drivers with seven wins at this short track and his Martinsville Driver Rating (123.0) is second only to Johnson. And for those who think that Gordon can't overcome a 156-point deficit, consider the fact that in 2006, Johnson was 146 points out of first place with five races to go in the Chase and wound up winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title by season's end.

The top two in the point standings -- Johnson and Hamlin -- have been absolutely superb in their Martinsville performances of late. Dating back to this race in 2006, the two have combined to win the last eight races at Martinsville. Hamlin, a native of Chesterfield, Va., is the defending race winner.

Martinsville's unique configuration lends itself to some real unpredictability on the race track. The .526-mile layout, described most often as the shape of a "paperclip," offers some of the most exciting and close racing in the sport.

So, in other words -- tighten up your belts and get ready for a Sunday afternoon of tight, hard-fought, side-by-side racing at one of NASCAR's most capricious venues.

Martinsville Milestones

A win by Hendrick Motorsports will tie Petty Enterprises for the most victories all-time at Martinsville Speedway (19).

Should Jeff Gordon win the Coors Light Pole, he would tie Darrell Waltrip for the most poles all-time (eight) at Martinsville.

Kasey Kahne will be going for his 50th top five finish in the series.

Mark Martin will be going for his 50th career pole in the series.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be going for his 150th career top-10 finish.

Keep An Eye On This Trio Of Championship Contenders At Martinsville

When it comes to Martinsville Speedway, there have been three drivers that have been dominant over the past seven seasons. Since 2003, 13 of the 15 races at Martinsville have been won by Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin or Jeff Gordon. Gordon won four times from 2003-05, while Johnson and Hamlin have won eight straight since 2006. Hamlin has won the last two races at Martinsville.

The only two other drivers to win during this 15-race streak are Rusty Wallace in the spring of 2004 and Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) in the spring of 2006. Both are former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions.

Following his third-place showing at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Saturday night at the Bank of America 500, Johnson said he's relishing the prospect of racing again at Martinsville, particularly since his closest competitor is also a serious threat to win there.

"Martinsville is such a fun race track," said Johnson. "(Denny) Hamlin has been very good there and so have we. I think both teams are going to have speed and it's going to boil down to mistakes at this point. Those guys (the No. 11 team) are doing a great job; they are solid on pit road, solid on equipment and so on. I think it's going to boil down to mistakes."

Martinsville -- Close And Competitive Short-Track Racing

The margin of victory has been microscopic at Martinsville since the inception of electronic scoring in 1993. Some notes regarding those finishes:

In each of the last six races that have ended under a green flag, the margin of victory has been under a second.

Since 1993, 30 Martinsville races have ended under green flag conditions. Of those, 20 have had an MOV under green.

The smallest margin of victory: .065 seconds on April 1, 2007. That ending also happens to be one of the lasting memories of the Jimmie Johnson dynasty. In a fender bending finish, Johnson edged Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon for his third of six Martinsville wins.

Martinsville's NASCAR Roots Go Back More Than 60 Years

H. Clay Earles first opened Martinsville Speedway as a dirt track in the summer of 1947. A year later, NASCAR was formed and in 1949, Martinsville hosted the sixth race in the series that eventually became the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. NASCAR legend Red Byron was the race winner, driving an Oldsmobile for pioneer car owner Raymond Parks. Since that historic opener, Martinsville has been a staple on the NASCAR racing schedule.

While it may be the shortest track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit, it's one of the biggest when it comes to producing exciting racing action. The track has two 800-foot straight-aways hooked together by short, tight and almost flat turns with just 11 degrees of banking. The track has several iconic trademarks, including:

Founder H. Clay Earles decided more than 45 years ago that it was time for a unique type of trophy to be awarded to the race winner. Earles decided on a grandfather clock; specifically, a grandfather clock produced by a local furniture manufacturer. So, on Sept. 27, 1964, Earles awarded the first Ridgeway Clock trophy to Fred Lorenzen, the winner of the Old Dominion 500. NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty has collected the most grandfather clock trophies, winning 12 times at Martinsville, the first victory coming in 1967. Gordon leads all current drivers with seven wins and seven Ridgeway Clock grandfather clocks.

The Famous Martinsville Speedway Hot Dog is legendary in NASCAR racing circles. Wrapped in wax paper and sold in Martinsville's concession stands, this iconic hot dog features slaw, chili and onions (along with a few other "secret" ingredients). Drivers and fans alike consider the Famous Martinsville Speedway Hot Dog one of the "must have" items during race weekend.

In The Loop: Kevin Harvick Can't Do Much More

He led for 20 weeks during the 26-race regular season. He leads the series in top-10 finishes, with 21. He has scored top 10s in four of the five Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races, and top fives in two of the five. Yet, Kevin Harvick has lost ground to the leaders.

A future hiccup -- and it doesn't have to be a colossal one -- would likely knock Harvick out of contention. That's how competitive this Chase is.

But he shouldn't worry just yet. There's still plenty of time to make up the 77 points that separate he and points leader Jimmie Johnson.

Here's why: the next two races -- at Martinsville and Talladega -- gives fits to every championship contender, except Harvick. He loves those two tracks, each a so-called Wild-Card Race.

First up, Martinsville. In terms of victories, his short-track success comes up, well, short. Harvick has two short track wins in 58 tries. Neither of those two victories have come at Martinsville, either. In fact, in 18 starts, Harvick has yet to finish in the top five at Martinsville.

Still, this weekend could launch Harvick even further into the championship hunt.

While none of Harvick's Martinsville finishes set any records, he is solidly consistent. Prior to a spring run of 35th earlier this season, Harvick had finishes of 10th, 12th, seventh, 11th and 10th, respectively. Over those five races, in which he averaged a 10th-place finish, Harvick posted a Driver Rating of 96.7, an Average Running Position of 10.8, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus-32, 37 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 92%.

His Chase, like his regular season, has been strong. Over the first five races, Harvick has an average finish of 7.6, a Driver Rating of 97.4, an Average Running Position of 12.3 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 73.6%. His only problematic stat: an average start of 25.8, worst among Chase drivers. Still, it doesn't seem to be hurting him much.

NASCAR Hall Of Fame Announces Second Class Of Inductees

NASCAR announced Oct. 13 the second class of inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The newest five-member class includes:

Bobby Allison -- 1983 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and winner of 84 Sprint Cup victories, tied for third on the all-time list.

Ned Jarrett -- A two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion (1961 and 1965) with 50 premier series victories. After retiring in 1966, Jarrett helped grow the sport through his second career as a broadcaster.

Bud Moore -- A decorated World War II infantryman, he became a successful NASCAR Sprint Cup car owner and won back-to-back championships in 1962-63 with Joe Weatherly. In 1957, he served as crew chief for champion Buck Baker.

David Pearson -- A three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion (1966, '68-69), his career total of 105 victories ranks second on the all-time list.

Lee Petty -- Became the sport's first three-time series champion after winning titles in 1954, '58 and '59. He also won the first Daytona 500 in 1959. He was the founder of Petty Enterprises and as a owner, he had more than 2,000 starts and 268 wins.

On The Line: Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) was this week's guest on the NASCAR Video Teleconference on Tuesday. Following are some excerpts from the teleconference.

Q: You've had great success at Martinsville Speedway. Can you talk about your outlook heading there this weekend?

Hamlin: I'm looking forward to it, obviously. It's a track that we have won at the last couple of times we've been there, in three of the last four or something like that, three of the last five.

We've just had a lot of great success at Martinsville Speedway. The only bad finish we've ever had there was my rookie season, we had a DNF.

So we go there with a great outlook. We're actually going to be, you know, bringing out a car that's a new car for Joe Gibbs Racing. So we're a little bit nervous about that, but we are going out there expecting to lead the most laps and win the race.

Q: Are you comfortable? Is this where you would want to be at this point in the Chase?

Hamlin: I'm happy with it. I feel like I am within striking distance. Talladega is such a wildcard in the sense that it can go 100 points one way or the other, that of course we'd like to go into Talladega and have a cushion. But unless we go out there and lead the most laps and Jimmie has a struggle in Martinsville, that's probably not going to happen.

So we just hope to close the gap once we leave Martinsville, then I'm going to keep him right in front of me for the entire Talladega race. If I'm going to get in a wreck, I'm going to make sure he's in it as well. We've got to just make sure that we keep him in our sights.

As far as I'm concerned, when we go to Texas, we won there in the spring. We won Homestead last year, and we ran third in Phoenix last year, so I think we've got a great shot.

Q: You and Jimmie Johnson are the only two drivers who have won in the last eight Martinsville races. Is this sort of a mano a mano heavyweight title fight?

Hamlin: Well, people would think so, and I would think so. I'd think that he'd be one of the guys that I would have to beat. But really, honestly, the Childress cars were probably one of the best cars in the spring other than ourselves.

I knew the 48 said they were experimenting with some stuff in the spring, which I don't doubt that at all, so I'm sure they'll be back up towards the front like they usually are at that track.

I feel like if it is mano a mano, we've been in a lot of green and white checkers where we've been on the front row together, so it should be interesting.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc. ...

Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) won for the third time this season last Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway when he claimed the Bank of America 500. McMurray seems to be at his best for some of the series' biggest events, as evidenced by his victories at the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. Since the Chase began in 2004, a non-Chase driver has won 13 times, the last two instances by McMurray (at Charlotte and last fall at Talladega).

The two most likely candidates to serve as "spoilers" this Sunday at Martinsville could be Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) and Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet). Logano finished second at Martinsville last March and is coming off a solid seventh-place run at Charlotte. Newman owns one of the top Driver Ratings at Martinsville among the non-Chase drivers at 87.8.

To honor the dedicated crew members that play such a vital role in the success of the race teams, Sunday's race sponsor -- TUMS -- has designated all crew members as the Grand Marshals for the TUMS Relief 500. For the first time in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history, 43 crew members, one from each team, will represent their colleagues and collectively give the command "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines."

Each team pre-selected the crew member that they felt best represents and embodies the team spirit to provide the command to start the race. A complete listing will be available Sunday prior to the race.

Three of NASCAR's most popular drivers will appear at Martinsville Speedway's Fan Zone sponsored by AMP Energy on race day. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet), Mark Martin (No. 5 Chevrolet) and Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Ford) will be available for a fan question and answer session Sunday morning.

Tony Stewart is scheduled to make a special visit to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina this Thursday. The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will meet with service members during a private autograph session at the Camp's Office Depot ServMart and visit the Wounded Warrior Barracks.

"It's very humbling for me to visit Camp Lejeune and to spend time with the men and women who serve our country," said Stewart. "They make it possible for people like me to do what I love and for NASCAR fans to enjoy being at the race track every weekend. Service members and their families sacrifice a lot, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to thank them in person."

NASCAR announced last Saturday that beginning in 2011, its three national series will race with Sunoco Green E15 fuel -- a 15% ethanol blend using American-made ethanol from corn grown by American farmers. Sunoco Green E15 will be blended at Sunoco's fuel facility in Marcus Hook, Pa., which provides high-performance race fuel to NASCAR teams at no cost to them.

The American-grown and American-made corn ethanol will come in part from Sunoco's new ethanol plant in Fulton, N.Y. The new fuel will be pumped directly from tankers at the track, rather than from on-site underground storage tanks. NASCAR team engine builders have been testing Sunoco Green E15 for several months, and the reports have been very positive. Some teams have reported achieving more horsepower with Sunoco Green E15.

NASCAR extends its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway President Jeff Byrd, who passed away last Sunday at the age of 60. Byrd had served as president of BMS since 1996. Prior to that, he had served 23 years in the sports marketing department at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., departing as vice-president of business development. He began his career as a sportswriter at the Winston-Salem Journal. Funeral services for Byrd are scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 11 a.m. at Grace Fellowship Church in Johnson City, Tenn. A community appreciation service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 21 in the infield at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Up Next: Talladega

For the second week in a row, unpredictability reigns supreme in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, as the series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the running of the AMP Energy Juice 500 on Sunday, Oct. 31. Start time is 1 p.m. (ET) with ESPN televising nationally.

Talladega, always considered a "wild card" in the championship race, offers some of the most thrilling racing in NASCAR. At the Aaron's 499 last April, there was a NASCAR record 88 lead changes spread amongst 29 different leaders with Kevin Harvick taking the victory.

A year ago, Jamie McMurray came out from under the radar to win the AMP Energy 500 and further enhance his prowess as a restrictor plate driver. In a race that produced 58 lead changes among 25 different drivers, it was McMurray who came out on top. It's this kind of unpredictability that McMurray says has the power to completely change the face of the Chase.

"Talladega still has to be run," said McMurray. "Until you get through Talladega - everyone is still in it."

Fast Facts

The Race: TUMS Fast Relief 500
The Place: Martinsville Speedway; Ridgeway, Va. (.526-mile oval)

The Date: Sunday, Oct. 24
The Time: 1 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 263 miles / 500 laps

TV: ESPN2, 12 p.m. ET; ESPN, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/Sirius NASCAR Radio, Channel 128.

2009 Polesitter: Ryan Newman
2009 Winner: Denny Hamlin

Schedule Prior To Race Day: (Times local/ET)
Friday--Practice, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:10 p.m.
Saturday--Practice, 10-10:45 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Ned Jarrett , Richard Petty , Kasey Kahne , Bobby Allison , Denny Hamlin , Joey Logano , Mark Martin , David Pearson , Lee Petty , Fred Lorenzen
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing