Photo: Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images

Up to Speed: Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville

By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor

After the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series made their final visit to a restrictor plate track last weekend at Talladega, the series kicks off the Round of 8 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by visiting one of the most historic tracks on the circuit, Martinsville Speedway.

Last weekend’s race featured the biggest and fastest track on the circuit at Talladega, but as we fast-forward to this weekend, the series rolls into Martinsville, which is the smallest on the circuit. Racing at the two tracks is a night and day difference, as 43 cars will be packed into a flat half-mile track that is best described as two drag strips with hairpin turns at the ends.

The track has basically one groove, meaning the only way to pass will be the move we all know and love: the bump and run. Of course, that type of racing leads to a lot of bent sheet metal and tempers flaring, so this weekend’s event should be highly entertaining, especially with a berth in the championship round at Homestead up for grabs.

To be successful at Martinsville, drivers have to have a special skill set that will let them be able to navigate the treacherous track and avoid trouble that is almost certain to happen around them at some point during the race. There are those who have taken to the track and excelled and those who have trouble each and every time they visit the track.

By the Numbers

Opened: 1947

Track Size: 0.526 mile oval (Turns banked 12 degrees, flat straightaways)

Pit Road Speed: 30 mph

Pace Car Speed: 35 mph

April 2016 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started seventh, 352 laps led)

October 2015 Race Winner: Jeff Gordon – No. 24 Chevrolet (Started fifth, 35 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (18.898 seconds, 100.201 mph – March 28, 2014)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Martinsville:

  • Jeff Gordon – No. 88 Chevrolet – 119.5
  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 117.8
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 108.1
  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 98.8
  • Tony Stewart – No. 14 Chevrolet – 96.0
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Chevrolet – 95.4
  • Clint Bowyer – No. 15 Chevrolet – 90.2
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 89.7
  • Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 89.1
  • Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 87.1

From the Driver’s Seat

“The thing about Martinsville is, no matter what happens, tire wear is still a factor. You have to be smart, you have to take care of your tires. That’s what I like about it now. Those tracks are becoming a minority of the tracks we go to. You don’t have to take care of your tires hardly at all any more at the majority of the tracks we go to. Martinsville is still one of those tracks where you still have to be smart and take care of your car,” said Tony Stewart.

Last Year’s Results

On a day when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was racing Mother Nature as much as each other around the tight confines of Martinsville, Jeff Gordon was able to outlast them all to score the win in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500.

Taking over the race lead as a result of a run-in between Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth on lap 454 that sent Logano into the outside wall courtesy of Kenseth’s front bumper, Gordon was able to show just how good he has been at Martinsville throughout his career, holding off a hard charging Jamie McMurray as darkness closed in to score his record ninth win at the shortest track on the circuit.

“We’re going to Homestead!” Gordon exclaimed after exiting his car in victory lane.

“This is the sweetest, most amazing feeling. I am so proud of this team. You want to talk about holding back emotions; right now man, wow, we’re going to Homestead!  I can’t believe it. What an incredible battle that was. We just stuck with it all day long and I was just trying to protect those rear tires and then that incident with the No. 22 (Joey Logano) and those other guys….”

“Those last couple of laps, I give a lot of credit to Jamie McMurray. He raced me hard and clean there. Oh, man, I’ll tell you it’s just never over. What a battle. What a team. People don’t give this team enough credit and we seized an opportunity right there. I don’t think this opportunity would present itself the next couple of weeks. We’re going to take advantage of this one and I don’t have to worry about that.”

Along with the win making Gordon the winningest driver at Martinsville, the victory also ensured that Gordon will be among the four drivers that will be competing for the championship at Homestead in the season finale.

Denny Hamlin came home third, followed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart to round out the remainder of the top-10.

Aside from Gordon winning and advancing to Homestead in his final race, the other highlight of the race came as a result of an on-track incident between Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano.

Kenseth, who was damaged from a previous crash, but still on track, got into Logano’s left-rear entering Turn 1 with about 45 laps to go and drove him into the outside wall, destroying Logano’s car and putting a major hurt on Logano’s Chase chances. Logano would finish the day 37th, 42 laps down.

Kenseth played off the contact, which drew cheers from the crowd afterwards and caused NASCAR to park him for the remainder of the race, but Logano was nearly speechless after making his way back to the garage afterwards.

“Well it’s a really disappointing day. I thought we were going to have a shot at the win there and they were jacking up the restart real bad to let each other in as teammates which is fine and I probably went in there and I got on the other side of Joey (Logano) and I was going to try to race him for the win and Brad (Keselowski) wiped me out for some reason. I’m not really sure why. And then we had so much damage on the right front I should have probably just put it in the garage and just got into (turn) 1 and couldn’t get it to turn and ran Joey over. So, disappointing ending for sure,” Kenseth said.

“I got wrecked.  I don’t know.  What am I supposed to say about it?  His race was over and he tried so hard to catch us the first time and he took out half the field, and he was successful the second time so I give that to him. It’s kind of a coward move.  Actually, a really coward move for a race car driver to do that, essentially someone as mature and an experienced race car driver that knows what this is all about.  For us, we’re just gonna go back out there and try to salvage a point or two if we can.  We’ll go to Texas and try to win.  We’re on a heckuva run.  We were still leading the race.  We’re not gonna let this take us down.  This is a strong team and he’ll have his,” said Logano.

As a result of the deliberate contact between Kenseth’s car that was laps down and Logano, who was the leader, NASCAR dropped the hammer on Kenseth after the race, suspending him from the next two races at Texas and Phoenix and placing him on probation for six months.

Who to Watch

  • Jeff Gordon – Making his final start of the season, and most likely his career, Gordon returns to the site of his last Cup Series win as he will be driving Dale Earnhardt, Jr’s No. 88 car this weekend. Gordon has been excellent at Martinsville throughout his career, and will likely be a contender once again this weekend. In his 46 Martinsville starts, Gordon has nine wins (1996, 1997, 1999, 2003 sweep, 2005 sweep, 2013, and 2015), as well as 29 top-five finishes, 37 top-10 finishes, seven poles, 3779 laps led, and an average finish of 6.8.
  • Jimmie Johnson – Gordon’s protégé, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, has followed right along in his footsteps at Martinsville and has excelled at the track as well. Johnson has stumbled at Martinsville as of late, leading zero laps in the last four races and finishing inside the top-10 only once, but never count out the No. 48 team at this track. In 29 starts, Johnson has eight wins (2004, 2006, 2007 sweep, 2008, 2009, 2012, and 2013), 18 top-five finishes, 23 top-10 finishes, three poles, 2746 laps led, and an average finish of 7.5.
  • Denny Hamlin – Hamlin just barely squeaked by to make it into the Round of 8 and he will have to prove that he was worthy of being able to move on in the Chase starting this weekend at Martinsville, a track where he has had a good bit of success over the years. Hamlin has five wins (2008, 2009, 2010 sweep, and 2015), 11 top-five finishes, 16 top-10 finishes, three poles, 1315 laps led, and an average finish of 9.5 in 21 starts.
  • Tony Stewart – Stewart will be making his final Martinsville start this weekend as his Sprint Cup career winds down, but that does not mean that the driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet will just be out there riding around. Stewart has run well at Martinsville and could very well pull off a win, just as Jeff Gordon did last season in what was supposed to be his final start. In 33 starts, Stewart has three wins (2000, 2006, and 2011), 10 top-five finishes, 17 top-10 finishes, three poles, 1234 laps led, and an average finish of 13.7.
  • Kyle Busch – Busch finally broke through for his first Martinsville win earlier this season and will be looking for the season sweep to clinch his place in the season finale at Homestead. Aside from his win this year, Busch has 10 top-five finishes, 11 top-10 finishes, one pole, 839 laps led, and an average finish of 14.5 in 22 starts.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, October 28

  • NSCS Practice (11:00 am to 12:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • NSCS Qualifying (4:40 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, October 29

  • NSCS Practice (9:00 am to 9:55 am – CNBC)
  • NSCS Final Practice (12:00 pm to 12:50 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, October 30

  • NSCS Goody’s Fast Relief 500 (1:00 pm – 500 laps, 263 miles – NBC Sports Network)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.

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