Here are five drivers to watch as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Martinsville Speedway for the STP 500.
The NASCAR Cup Series is headed to Martinsville Speedway for the first short track race of the 2018 season. The last time NASCAR visited Martinsville Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin provided everyone with entertainment.
Last week from our five drivers to watch, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano all finished inside the top-five. Kevin Harvick, in his bid for four straight wins, and Ryan Newman didn’t fare as well.
Can Kevin Harvick rebound from California? Will Martin Truex Jr. use momentum from his win at California to finally score his first win at a short track? Will Chevrolet find victory lane for the first time since Daytona?
Here are five drivers to keep any eye on this weekend to see how they perform at Martinsville Speedway.
In the last three races at Martinsville Speedway, Brad Keselowski has the best average finish among all drivers. Keselowski’s average finish of 2.3 is a result of 1 win and three top-five finishes.
Keselowski’s success at Martinsville during the last three races and his start to the 2018 season, make him one of the drivers to keep an eye on this weekend. Keselowski was second fastest in final practice and with qualifying cancelled due to weather, he will start from the fourth position.
When talking about Martinsville Speedway you can’t mention Keselowski without mentioning Kyle Busch. Busch has the second best average finish among all drivers at in the last three races at Martinsville with a 2.7. Similar to Keselowski, Busch has had 1 win and three top-five finishes during that span.
“We’ve run well the last two years especially at Martinsville and we’re definitely pumped about getting back there,” said Busch in his pre-race advance. I’m hoping we can have a really good car there again this time around, like we did the last two years, especially. We led a lot of laps and we were really fast.
Busch has led 461 laps in his last three races at Martinsville, which is more than double the next closest driver who is Keselowski. It’s clear Busch knows the key to running well at the paper-clip shaped short track.
“It’s a tough racetrack and, any time you come in the pits and make an adjustment on your car, you certainly hope it goes the right way, or you make enough of it, or you don’t make too much of an adjustment,” said Busch.
“The last run can be tricky, too, because you can be coming off a 50-lap run on right-side tires and take four and you’ve only got 30 (laps) to go, or you could have 80 to go and you know you have to manage that run all the way to the end.”
Martin Truex Jr.
In his 16 career wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Martin Truex Jr. has yet to find victory lane at a short track. He’s hoping to turn change that this weekend and knows where to start.
“It’s all about that first pit stall at Martinsville,” Truex said in his pre-race advance. “Everybody wants that one – it’s a big advantage to qualify on the pole there. Hopefully we can do three (poles) in a row.”
With qualifying cancelled Truex will have the first pit stall, since he is first in the point standings, and will look to use that to his advantage. In his last three races at Martinsville, he has one top-5 and two top-10 finishes.
“We’ve been working on the techniques for the unique track the past couple of years,” Truex said. “We’re learning and have been close lately. We’ll continue to focus on the things we do well there and try to figure out the things we need to do better at.”
William Byron and Darrell Wallace Jr.
This will be the first visit to Martinsville Speedway in the NASCAR Cup Series for both William Byron and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. Martinsville can be a difficult track for veterans to get a hang of, let alone rookies.
It isn’t out of the ordinary for rookies to struggle in their first start at Martinsville, however, both Byron and Wallace Jr. have found success in the Truck Series at Martinsville.
Wallace won at Martinsville in 2013 in the Truck Series and Byron has finished third and seventh in his two races. Those results aren’t indicative of how these rookies will perform with 36 other drivers in their first 500-mile race at Martinsville. Byron and Bubba could be in for a long day.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.