NASCAR News & Notes: Martinsville

Whose Title Is it? Gordon, Johnson Battle For “Mr. Martinsville”

Together, they own seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles, but for Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) only one matters this weekend:

Mr Martinsville.

Johnson, the reigning and three-time series champion, and Gordon, the four-time series champion, both excel at the famed .526-mile short track. But even the word “excel” may be too bland.

They ace the place.

As such, Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 could be a duel for dominance.

Gordon and Johnson have combined to win nine of the last 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup events at Martinsville — the highlight their bumper-banging, one-two finish (Johnson first, Gordon second) in the spring 2007 event.
Johnson has won five of those nine races, Gordon four. They also rank one-two (Johnson first, Gordon second) in a crucial pre-race NASCAR Loop Data category, Driver Rating. Johnson leads at 124.7. Gordon is next at 124.0.

More crazy-good numbers for Johnson: He averages a top-10 finish at 10 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ 22 tracks. Martinsville ranks second on that list, with Johnson’s average finish there at 5.6. His best (5.5) is at Phoenix International Raceway. He also leads two other pre-race Loop Data categories for Martinsville — Average Running Position (6.4) and Laps in the Top 15 (3,579, or 89.3%).

Gordon leads all active drivers with seven wins and seven poles at Martinsville. He also has 20 top fives and 26 top 10s in 32 starts there. He’s finished in the top five in the last eight Martinsville events. His average finish there — 6.9 — is nearly two positions better than his second-best track, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (8.6).

Kyle Busch Seeks To Master Martinsville

After winning last week at Bristol Motor Speedway and climbing to fourth place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota) faces down one of his racing challenges this week at Martinsville Speedway.

The historic half-mile has held one of the series’ hottest drivers at bay, with Busch posting three top fives and four top 10s in eight series starts there. According to pre-race NASCAR Loop Data statistics for Martinsville, Busch has an Average Running Position of 14.9, with his best finishes a pair of fourths in 2007.

He finished 38th there last spring and 29th last fall, both due to brake problems.

“The first race locking up rear brakes and eventually breaking the rear gear, and then the second race overheating the front brakes and popping right-front beads,” Busch said. “We went and tested at Little Rock to try and get our brakes squared away and we found out how to pop right-front beads over and over.We fixed that problem.We used to pop them in 46 to 50 laps and now we can go 80 laps straight and not see a darn issue.”

Busch heads into this weekend at Martinsville with momentum, having won a national series race in each of the last four weeks. Last Sunday, it was the NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Bristol. Two weeks ago, he won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Atlanta. Three weeks ago, he won the NASCAR Sprint Cup event at his hometown track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and a month ago, he swept both the NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events at Auto Club Speedway.

Don’t Forget Denny: Defending Martinsville Winner On A Quiet Roll

With much focus given to the Jeff Gordon-Jimmie Johnson dominance at Martinsville Speedway, and Kyle Busch’s recent hot streak, Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota) has crept up the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings largely unnoticed.

He finished second to Busch, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, last Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, an effort that propelled him into the top 12 for the first time this season.

Now comes Martinsville, which wears a big bulls-eye on Hamlin’s schedule.

“This is a great track, with a ton of history and special style of racing,” he said.“I think it’s where I am at my best and I know the entire No. 11 FedEx team circles the Martinsville races on the calendar.”

Hamlin’s quiet climb has been a season-long effort.

Starting with a 26th-place in the Daytona 500, he moved to 15th after a sixth-place finish at Auto Club Speedway. A 22nd-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a 13th at Atlanta Motor Speedway moved him to 14th in the standings, before last week’s runner-up effort.

The Bristol finish vaulted Hamlin six spots, to eighth in the series standings. And now he anticipates Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500, of which he — a Virginia native — is the defending winner.

“The experience of winning a Cup race here, at a Virginia track where I raced Late Models a few years ago, and in front of great racing fans and in front of my family, was something I will never forget,” Hamlin said. “And to have a Martinsville clock sitting in my home that I see everyday – it reminds me of that day and also how much went into getting to that point.”

Hamlin ranks fifth in pre-race Driver Rating for Martinsville (101.3), per NASCAR Loop Data statistics.
His average finish of 8.9 ranks third best behind Johnson (5.6) and Gordon (6.9), respectively.

Gilliland, No. 71 Chevrolet In 35th As 2009 Car Owner Standings Take Effect At Martinsville

Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 marks the season’s first event where competitors who are not in the top 35 of the 2009 car owner standings must qualify for a starting position.

Prior to this week, the final 2008 car owner standings were used to “lock in” the top 35.

For the rest of the season, the top 35 in each week’s owner standings are guaranteed a starting spot. Everyone else must qualify on time.

Top-35 positioning is crucial to those teams hovering just above or below the “bubble”. The team occupying the 35th position this week is the No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet, driven by David Gilliland and owned by Kevin Buckler.

The No. 71 was 34th in owner points heading into last week’s event at Bristol. Gilliland managed to stay in the top 35 with a 36th-place finish there.

“Being 35th in owner points is like having the last seat in the last life boat on the Titanic,” Buckler said. “You breathe a sigh of relief, but you are still out in the freezing ocean waiting for a life line.”

Now comes Martinsville, with its tight confines and little room for error.

“We will be able to go to Martinsville and unload the car in race trim and run,” said Gilliland of the advantage for his team and crew chief Slugger Labbe. “Slugger and the guys will be able to work on it and get it a little closer to what we need in the race. It will definitely help us in our situation to be better on Sunday. I am excited to be able to work on the race setup when we unload.”

The No. 82 Team Red Bull Toyota driven by Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender Scott Speed and owned by Dietrich Mateschitz, is 36th, 21 points out of 35th.

The No. 8 Guitar Hero Chevrolet driven by Aric Almirola and owned by Chip Ganassi is 37th, also 21 points out of 35th; the No. 82 earns the 36th spot due to a tiebreaker. Both drivers have a season-best finish of 21st; Speed won the tiebreaker with a higher second-best finish to date, a 28th compared to Almirola’s 30th.

Close behind — by one point — is the No. 98 Energizer/Menards Ford driven by Paul Menard and owned by Max Jones. The 96 is 26 points out of 35th.

Above the “bubble,” the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet driven by another Raybestos Rookie contender, Joey Logano, and owned by Joe Gibbs, is 34th, 14 points ahead of Gilliland.

Further ahead, in 33rd, is the No. 34 Taco Bell Chevrolet driven by John Andretti and owned by Teresa Earnhardt. The No. 34 is 41 points ahead of the 35th-place No. 71 driven by Gilliland.

Loop Data Suggests Earnhardt Jr., Martin And Stewart Could Challenge At Martinsville

Statistically, the Jimmie Johnson-Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports tandem is the clear favorite this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

But Rick Hendrick’s other two drivers – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin – are no slouches at the Virginia short track either.

Of the two, Earnhardt owns the better recent statistics. He has scored top-10 finishes in three of the last four races there, and since the inception of Loop Data, ranks high in a number of key statistics.

Earnhardt has a Driver Rating of 102.4 (fourth-best), an Average Running Position of 10.4 (fourth), 311 Fastest Laps Run (fourth), a series-high 396 Green Flag Passes, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 76% (fourth) and 219 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), which is second-most.

Earnhardt has never won a Martinsville race, but has eight top fives in 18 career starts.

Martin, on the other hand, has two Martinsville wins, but has struggled there recently. His last win came in 2000. He also took the last four Martinsville races off when he switched to a partial schedule after the 2006 season.

Martin has finished out of the top 10 in his last three Martinsville races, with his last top five finish coming in the spring race of 2005.

Since 2005, he has a Driver Rating of 78.2, an Average Running Position of 17.0, 22 Fastest Laps Run, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 44.7% and a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of 13.

Though not a Hendrick Motorsports driver, Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet does use Hendrick engines. The statistics suggest Stewart may be a factor on Sunday.

He has a Driver Rating of 113.7 (third), an Average Running Position of 7.4 (third), 312 Fastest Laps Run (third) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 86.6% (third).

Stewart won there in 2006, breaking a staggering streak laid down by Gordon and Johnson. The two have paired for nine of the last 12 Martinsville wins. Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Rusty Wallace are the only other drivers to win since 2003.

Martinsville Milestone: 25th Anniversary Of Hendrick Motorsports’ First NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Win

With 25 years, 175 wins and eight NASCAR Sprint Cup titles in his rearview mirror, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick knows how to mark special occasions in the sport.

So how did he celebrate his first series win on April 29, 1984 at Martinsville Speedway?

Armed with toilet paper, Hendrick and some friends road-tripped that Sunday night to Pleasant Grove, N.C., where they redecorated driver Geoff Bodine’s front yard.

“He did that?” Bodine said. “I thought the neighbors did that. Now I know. They could have done anything that night — painted my house pink — and it wouldn’t have bothered me. We were so happy.”

While victory celebrations have evolved, Hendrick Motorsports’ transformation from fledging All-Star Racing, as it was known then, to its current powerhouse status began at one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks. On that April day in 1984, Bodine led 55 laps, passing then-defending series champion Bobby Allison with 48 laps remaining to take the lead and the win.

Hendrick, a Palmer Springs, Va., native, wasn’t even there. At church with his wife, Linda, he got the winning news via phone, delivered by then-general manager Jimmy Johnson.

“We missed Rick, but, you know, no one thought we were ready to win,” Bodine said. “It was only our eighth race together with a brand new race team. How do you do that? How do you win your eighth race out?”

Native Virginians In The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Garage

From the No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet: Car chief David Bryant (Farmville), mechanic Jim Jenkins (Hampton) and engineer Tom Stewart (Hampton).

From the No. 19 Stanley Tools Dodge: Driver Elliott Sadler (Emporia), engineer Kevin Kidd (Tazewell) and gas man Rodney Rhodes (Hickory).

From the No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet: Crew chief Darian Grubb (Floyd), mechanic Darrell Haskins (Danville) and shock specialist Adam Gravitt (South Boston).

From the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota: Front tire carrier Brad Donaghy (Orange County) and tire specialist Keith Eads (Arlington).

From the No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet: Tire specialist Charles Moles (Floyd) and transporter drivers Barry Sheppard (Stuart) and Mark Williams (Stuart).

From the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet: Driver Jeff Burton (South Boston), tire specialist Tracy Ramsey (Fredericksburg), mechanic Greg Meredith (Fancy Gap), engineer Jeff Curtis (Fairfax), gas man Curt Bowman (Meadows of Dan) and transporter drivers Franky Nester (Ridgeway) and James Nunn (Ararat).

From the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet: Gas man Caleb Hurd (Pulaski) and transporter driver Kirk George (Ararat).

From the No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg’s Chevrolet: Nos. 5 & 88 team manager Brian Whitesell (Stuarts Draft), front tire changer Kyle Turner (Yorktown) and spotter Jeremy Brickhouse (Chesapeake).

From the No. 8 Guitar Hero Chevrolet: Car chief Jefferson Hodges (Williamsburg), catch can man Mark Schmuck (Virginia Beach) and gas man Benjy Grubbs (Richmond).

Also: Ed Watkins (Dover) – No. 43 jack man; Anthony Cardamone (Bristol) – No. 55 jack man; Pete Wright (Martinsville) – No. 82 mechanic and No. 11 driver Denny Hamlin (Chesterfield).

What To Know: A Guide to Off-Track NASCAR Happenings

Small Track, Big Impact

Martinsville Speedway officials, plus local and state leaders, announced Tuesday that the historic track, which hosted the first official NASCAR Sprint Cup event in 1949, has an annual impact of $170 million on the local economy.

A study conducted by the Washington Economics Group produced the result. The study also determined that 2,824 permanent jobs for Virginia residents can be tied directly or indirectly to the track.

Martinsville Speedway president W. Clay Campbell was joined at Tuesday’s announcement by Chuck Yaros, associate economist for the Washington Economics Group, which did the study; Deborah Buchanan, Chairman, Henry County Board of Supervisors; Gene Teague, Martinsville City Councilman; Ward Armstrong, who represents the 10th district in the Virginia House of Delegates; Roscoe Reynolds, who represents the 20th district in the Virginia State Senate and Mark Heath, President and CEO of the Martinsville and Henry County Economic Development Corporation.

Sunday’s Honorary Officials

Country music superstar Trace Adkins will be busy during pre-race ceremonies for Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville.

He’ll serve as both Grand Marshal and Honorary Starter for the event, leading 500 local men, women and their families as honorary Grand Marshals. Goody’s Headache Powders and Martinsville officials selected 500 people from the Martinsville and Henry County, Va., area for the honor, and to salute hard workers everywhere.

Adkins, however, won’t sing the National Anthem. He and the rest of the crowd will enjoy the effort of the 29th Army Band from the Virginia National Guard.

Ambrose To Auction Off Special Helmet

Tasmania native Marcos Ambrose (No. 47 Little Debbie/Kingsford/Clorox Toyota) is doing a good deed during Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville, and he’d like NASCAR fans to help him out.

Recent deadly wildfires devastated southern Australia, and Sunday, he’ll wear a specially-painted helmet that will be auctioned off to benefit wildfire survivors and rescue workers.

The Martinsville event marks the second consecutive week Ambrose will wear the helmet painted by Nick Pastura, an American artist.

He wore it last week to an 11th-place finish at Bristol, and will wear it again next week at Texas Motor Speedway. The helmet will be auctioned off Monday, April 6, online at www.marcosambrose.com.

All proceeds will go the Yarra Glen Volunteer Fire Brigade, a unit of the Victorian Country Fire Authority in southern Australia. One of the Brigade’s members, Steve Teear, is an Ambrose fan who worked around the clock for nearly two weeks battling wildfires. He also visited Charlotte, N.C., last year on a tour of Australian race fans.

Ambrose hopes to raise $230,000, which would help Teear’s Brigade purchase a new 3,000-liter, four-wheel-drive water tanker.

For more information on the auction, please visit www.marcosambrose.com.

Up Next: Texas Motor Speedway

After consecutive short-track events, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stretches out a bit, traveling to Fort Worth, Texas for the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 5.

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) won both 2008 events at Texas, beating second-place finishers Jimmie Johnson in the spring event and Jeff Gordon in the fall.

Edwards also led the most laps in both events, 123 in the spring and 212 in the fall.

Next Sunday’s race will air on FOX starting at 1:30 p.m. ET. The green flag will drop at approximately 2 p.m.

Fast Facts

The Race: Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500
The Place: Martinsville Speedway (.526-mile concrete oval)
The Date: Sunday, March 29
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
Race Distance: 500 laps/263 miles
TV: FOX , 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN (Locally WZBB-FM 99.9) and Sirius Satellite.
2008 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon
2008 Winner: Denny Hamlin
Schedule: (All times local ET) Friday – Practice, 12-1:30 p.m., Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Saturday – Practice, 10:30-11:15 a.m., 11:50 a.m.-12:50 p.m.

2009 Top 12 Drivers

Rank Driver Points
1 Jeff Gordon 794
2 Kurt Busch 718
3 Clint Bowyer 715
4 Kyle Busch 709
5 Carl Edwards 665
6 Kasey Kahne 639
7 Tony Stewart 633
8 Denny Hamlin 631
9 Jimmie Johnson 627
10 Matt Kenseth 610
11 David Reutimann 607
12 Kevin Harvick 584