Martinsville – The “Other” Wildcard

Stats are often used to determine which driver is a favorite heading into race weekend. Entering the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500, eight drivers remain in contention for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Among those eight drivers, no one has a record as impressive as Jeff Gordon at the half-mile paperclip shaped track nestled in the southern Virginia. At Martinsville, however, stats are only one factor.

Gordon’s record at Martinsville is stellar. In 43 starts, Gordon has eight wins, 27 top-fives and 34 top-10s. He has an average finish of seventh and has led a whopping 3593 laps. Stats like these would be envied by any driver.

In addition to the great stats, Gordon seems to have the all of the elements he needs to win a championship; a great crew chief, solid and consistent crew, an obvious desire to prove he can win number five, and most importantly, confidence in his ability. These factors coupled with his impressive record, definitely make him a favorite this weekend.

The only driver who has a comparable record at Martinsville is Gordon’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson. Johnson, however, who also has eight wins in just 25 starts, was eliminated from Chase contention last week at Talladega.

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Based on stats, Virginia native, Denny Hamlin, is Gordon’s closest competitor among Chase contenders. In 17 starts, Hamlin has four wins, 13 top-10s, and an average finish of 8.7. Hamlin, however, has been somewhat inconsistent this season. He has an average finish position of 15.1 and has only led 218 laps compared to Gordon’s 743.

Even with the fact that his season has been weaker than Gordon’s, he is still the most dangerous threat to Gordon this weekend. Hamlin loves Martinsville and the love of a track, often times, means more than stats. Additionally, this weekend is probably Hamlin’s best opportunity to win and advance, so expect him to be tough.

Keselowski and Logano may not have stats as strong as Gordon, but they have had the strongest overall season among the Chase drivers. Keselowski has the most wins with six, followed by Logano with five. Logano leads the top-10 category with 20, tied with Gordon. Logano also led in top-fives with 15, one better than Keselowski.

Keselowski seems to have a fire in his eye this season and his team seem to share that desire to win. The cohesiveness of the No. 2 team is evident every week.

Logano is in the midst of his best career season. He has something to prove after a lackluster series debut with Joe Gibbs Racing. The Penske racing duos are definitely threats to win this weekend.

Of course anything can happen at Martinsville. Stats and recent history only go so far. It is a rough and tumble track where drivers can beat and bang, suffer severe damage, and still compete for the win. It is also a track where paybacks often happens. We are only two weeks away from the Keselowski, Kenseth, Hamlin feud. Could this be the weekend when they take their revenge?

At a track like Martinsville, factors that are hard to quantify, determination, anger, desire and confidence, can play a very important part in deciding the winner.

Talladega is often referred to as the “wildcard” track in the Sprint Cup Series. Martinsville, however, is just as volatile. Tight, flat corners and the ease at which tempers can flare, are ingredients for a fantastic race day. Martinsville is the perfect place to kickoff the eliminator round.

The green will fall on the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at 1:30 local time.

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