The paperclip. Who would have thought that such an innocuous-sounding nickname could hide such a difficult personality?
Martinsville Speedway has been described many ways – most of those are not fit for print – but perhaps the best is that this track is two dragstrips connected by a pair of hairpin turns.
The shortest track on the circuit is also one of the most intense because there is very little room for error. The groove is typically at the very bottom of the corner and the only way to make a pass is to gouge a competitor out of the way.
Since the straightaways are short, traffic is an ever-present factor and once a driver pulls to the right to start a pass, he must be aware that someone might try and fill the gap to the left. Even for those brief moments when there is no traffic, a faster car is constantly trying to gain position on the track and can do so if he is able to brake harder.
It is not a matter of ‘if’ a driver is going to make contact, but rather ‘when’. How he responds can be the difference between winning and losing. Early in the race, drivers who are willing to give the competition the benefit of the doubt find out that nerves fray over the course of more than three hours. Former champion Darrell Waltrip was fond of saying this is a track where one has to leave their feelings in the garage.
Easier said than done.
Martinsville is a rhythm track. To have the best lap time, drivers must back up the corner, brake hard prior to entry, roll to the center, and nail the accelerator at the apex. Last year the races clocked in around 400 green flag laps on average, so drivers repeated this 800 times.
All tracks are unique and Martinsville may be more so than many. Still, there are comparatives that help determine driver handicaps. When ranking these two races, we look at the short, flat tracks of Richmond Raceway, Phoenix Raceway, and New Hampshire as well as the paved version of Bristol Motor Speedway because of similar challenges faced on that half-mile high banked bullring.
This has long been a Hendrick Motorsports course. Previous drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were masters. Their legacy is being carried on by Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. Alex Bowman rooted Denny Hamlin out of the lead last fall and took his first win; William Byron swept the top five.
It has also been a great track for Joe Gibbs Racing with Kyle Busch and Hamlin statistically atop the leaderboard for top-five finishes. Martin Truex Jr. has three wins.
Brad Keselowski also have double-digit top-fives and there is every reason to believe he will carry that success to his new ride.
When looking to place a wager on this course, be aware that rookies do not tend to fare well. It takes a while to train the body to ‘go slow in order to go fast’. Young Guns are inclined to charge every corner.
This is a track that drivers often describe as having a switch flip and suddenly one day they figure it out. As such, it is prone to streaks. The Fall 2021 Xfinity 500 was a disruptor that ended several long strings of top-fives and -10s, so the streak count below is not as impressive as it might otherwise appear. Those numbers are resetting and anyone who swept to top-10 in 2021 should be highly regarded in 2022.
April 9, Blue Emu 500
October 30, Xfinity 500 (Round of 8, Race 3)
5: Denny Hamlin
3: Martin Truex, Jr.
2: Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski
1: Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Joey Logano
17: Kyle Busch
16: Denny Hamlin
12: Brad Keselowski
9: Martin Truex Jr.
8: Joey Logano
5: Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott
4: Kurt Busch
3: William Byron
2: Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson
1: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola
Joey Logano: 5 top-10s, 8 lead lap finishes
Kyle Busch: 3 top-10s, 3 lead lap finishes
William Byron: 2 top-fives, 2 lead lap finishes
Ryan Blaney: 9 lead lap finishes
Chase Elliott: 4 lead lap finishes
Christopher Bell: 3 lead lap finishes
Cole Custer: 3 lead lap finishes
Denny Hamlin: 3 lead lap finishes
Kevin Harvick: 3 lead lap finishes
Chris Buescher: 2 lead lap finishes
Austin Dillon: 2 lead lap finishes
Tyler Reddick: 2 lead lap finishes
Ricky Stenhouse: 2 lead lap finishes
Martin Truex, Jr.: 2 lead lap finishes
Bubba Wallace: 2 lead lap finishes
April 10, Blue Emu 500:
1. Martin Truex Jr. (+475), 2. Chase Elliott (+625), 3. Denny Hamlin (+775), 4. William Byron (+2500), 5. Kyle Larson (+1200)
October 31 Xfinity 500 (Round of 8, Race 3):
1. Alex Bowman (+4000), 2. Kyle Busch (+900), 3. Brad Keselowski (+1000), 4. Martin Truex Jr. (+440), 5. William Byron (+1400)
Short, flat tracks: Richmond, Martinsville, Phoenix, and New Hampshire
Short tracks: Richmond, Martinsville, and Bristol
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