Leaving the sunny west coast, NASCAR returns to the east..to rain and snow! They start with the STP 500 at Martinsville, VA, the shortest track (and one of the oldest) on the circuit. Opened in 1947, the 0.526-mile paperclip-shaped track has been on NASCAR’s schedule since its inception, a feat no other track can claim. With 500 laps — not miles — to run, drivers will make 1000 left turns on Sunday; patience and endurance are key, two attributes that separate the winners from the losers.
Here’s what to look for:
–Martin Truex Jr. has started out front the previous two weeks. Qualifying was rained out earlier today, so the boys will line up based on 2018 Owner’s Points. By virtue, the #78 will start from the Pole once more. The fact that Truex led both Practices today prior to the rain-out is encouraging as well. Clean air, smooth sailing.
–Kyle Busch was quick on Saturday as well — 3rd and 4th in the two Practice sessions, respectively — and starts Outside, Row 1. He’s got two wins at Martinsville, the most recent of which came in the Fall. Rowdy placed 2nd in the 2017 Spring race, and now eyes his first win of this season.
–Clint Bowyer didn’t capture the flag at all in 2017, but he had some pretty good runs at Martinsville. 8th in the Spring, 5th in the Fall, and started from the Top 10 both times. He’ll start 9th tomorrow, looking to build off of this success, and turn it into a Top 5 or better.
–Brad Keselowski got his first Martinsville Grandfather Clock last year, “I don’t like to keep trophies at my house, but this one is going to my house.” The tradition started in 1964 when track founder Henry Clay Earles wanted to award something different to the winner than a standard trophy. 50 years later (and counting), the Martinsville Clock is one of the most sought after accolades in NASCAR, and a testament to one’s tenacity and wherewithal. Keselowski will start 4th on Sunday.
-For more Martinsville tradition, check out their hot dogs, two bucks a pop! Drama surrounded this famous food recently: for almost 70 years, Jesse Jones was the supplier, but cost-cutting issues moved them to another meat, Valleydale Foods. Some can tell the difference, but others are none the wiser. Synonymous with raceday in Virginia, you can bet that these dogs will be wolfed down, nose to tail, just as the drivers run on NASCAR’s version of a conveyor belt.
-7-time Champion Jimmie Johnson probably never thought he’d have to answer the question “when are you going to win again?,” but we’re getting to that point. He’s now in the midst of a 28-race losing streak, the longest of his career. Martinsville has been a place where Johnson seems to do exceedingly well: 9 wins and a 7.7 average finish. He didn’t do too hot last year though, a best of 17th in the Spring and an even worse 24th in the Fall. The rain-out didn’t help matters either; he’ll start 18th (and his practice ranks were further south than that). If he wants to break through, he’ll have to pass a lot of cars on Sunday, something easier said than done.
Coverage of the race starts on FS1 at 2:00pm, green flag scheduled for 2:13pm (weather permitting).