Photo credit: NASCARmedia.com/253806Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
NASCAR will get back on the track at Martinsville Speedway this Sunday (4/7) when the Sprint Cup series races the STP Gas Booster 500.
After having a week off for the Easter holiday, the top drivers in NASCAR will get back to racing in one of the most demanding races of the year. When the Sprint Cup series goes “short trackin’,” the drivers, cars and teams endure the most physically demanding hours of racing they can imagine.
The drivers are constantly using all they have to navigate the cars through the turns with little time to relax down the front and back stretches that are only 800 feet long and flat at Martinsville. The turns at Martinsville have banking of only 12 degrees which require the drivers focus, skill and physical strength to drive through quickly and safely.
The crews will also have to have the cars set-up near perfect for the STP Gas Booster 500. If the driver is fighting the car it will drain them physically and eventually cause a loss of focus which will end in the loss of control of the car on the track.
The Gen-6 cars will also need to be able to survive the beating they take at Martinsville Speedway Sunday afternoon. Drivers will be using the front and rear bumpers of their cars as they do all they can to pass on the short track. Through the entire 500 lap NASCAR race, the cars will have to endure the side-to-side beating as the cars “lean on each other” around the .526 mile track.
Over the past 16 races at Martinsville (2005-2012), five drivers have compiled the best finishes of all active Sprint Cup drivers to have the highest driver rating at the track. Jimmie Johnson has the highest rating and the most wins during that period. Jimmie’s five wins coupled with his average race finish at the track gives him a whopping 122.3 driver rating. Jeff Gordon’s two wins at Martinsville and average finish in the other races puts his driver rating at an impressive 120.9 just behind Jimmie for second.
The driver who sits in third place for driver ratings at Martinsville Speedway will not be in his car this Sunday afternoon. Denny Hamlin has won four of the past 16 races at Martinsville and his average finish gives him a 111.6 driver rating at the short track. The last lap crash in the Auto Club 400 when Denny and Joey Logano came together resulted in a back injury that will keep Denny out for five race starting this Sunday. Mark Martin will be driving the number 11 for Denny at Martinsville.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (the current Sprint Cup point leader) and Tony Stewart are the fourth and fifth place drivers at Martinsville based on driver rating. While Dale Jr. does not have a win in the past 16 races at the track, his average finishing position gives him a driver rating of 99.8. Tony comes in just behind that mark with two wins and average finishing positions that combine for a 99.7 driver rating.
These driver ratings don’t guarantee that one of the four drivers who hold them and race Sunday will win the STP Gas Booster 500. All it does is point to some drivers who may have a small edge over their competition. The bottom line is that when NASCAR goes “short trackin’,” anything is possible. The only thing fans and drivers can both count on is an exciting day of racing.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series gets back to action Sunday, April 7th with pre-race festivities beginning at 12 noon central time for the STP Gas Booster 500.
By: Buck Stevens
(Martinsville Speedway crash photo credit: NASCARmedia.com/253827Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)