This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series head to Martinsville Speedway after the three week West Coast swing. Commonly referred to as “The Paper Clip,” Martinsville Speedway is NASCAR’s oldest track, hosting races since back in the 1950’s. The concrete corners and asphalt straightaways make for a physical 500 lap race around the shortest track on the NASCAR schedule.
The Truck Series has been off since Atlanta, but they were back in action this weekend at The Paper Clip. Joey Logano won the pole and ended up winning the race after a very entertaining green/white/checkered finish. It was his first career win in the NCWTS, believe it or not, in the No. 29 truck for Brad Keselowski Racing. After rookie Cole Custer in the No. 00 truck for JR Motorsports, their first start as a team in the series, muscled his way by Matt Crafton and Logano with four laps to go, he was spun out by the No. 88 of Crafton, setting up the dash to the finish. Logano dove to the inside of Crafton on the restart, cleared him coming off turn two and grabbed the checkered flag.
Continuing with the trend of talking about Logano, he swept the weekend qualifying sessions, nabbing the pole for Sunday’s STP 500 with a speed of 98.461 MPH. Ryan Newman will start second and Martin Truex Jr. will start behind the No. 31 car in the third position.
Kevin Harvick, who has finished in the top two in the past eight races, qualified 17th and will have some work to do when the green flag drops on Sunday afternoon from NASCAR’s famed half-mile But keep in mind that his worst starting position of the season was 18th at Las Vegas. He won that race.
This weekend also marks some firsts for the sport. This will be the first regular season race broadcasted on Fox Sports 1, and Chase Elliott, the 2014 Xfinity Series champion and replacement for legend Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 car for next season, will make his Sprint Cup debut in the No. 25 NAPA Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
Elliott will start 27th, Gordon will start fourth and Jimmie Johnson will start fifth. Gordon and Johnson, along with “The King,” Richard Petty, basically own Martinsville. Those three drivers have over 20 grandfather clocks in their collections (trophy when you win a race at Martinsville). So picking the No. 24 or No. 48 is a pretty safe bet come Sunday.
The defending race winner? Kurt Busch. Busch, who has been on fire ever since he was reinstated by NASCAR prior to the race at Phoenix, was fastest in basically everything last weekend in Fontana and was fastest in final practice this weekend at Martinsville. He should be a safe bet to contend for the win as well.
Something to keep an eye on in the next month or so is Tony Stewart. Smoke qualified sixth for Sunday’s race, but the question remains, can he keep his No. 14 car up front all day and have a solid finish? So far this year, he has yet to do so. Smoke usually heats up BIG time in the summer months. But ever since the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy, he visibly hasn’t been the same driver or person.
Kyle Larson will start seventh, but yesterday he was taken to a hospital after he suddenly collapsed during an autograph session. He was checked out and deemed okay by the hospital in Martinsville, but flew to Charlotte to be checked out by a neurologist as a precaution. He is still scheduled to race in his No. 42 car, though.
The Roush Fenway Racing drivers qualified in 23rd, 25th and 36th. That will be another storyline to watch, as Greg Biffle stated last week, they’re “dying a slow death.” Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Biffle and Trevor Bayne need to step it up and do so quickly. If not, we could be seeing large changes within that organization.
You can catch the race on Fox Sports 1 today around 1:00 pm. Pre-race coverage will start around 11:30 am from Martinsville Speedway, with the forecast looking pretty solid. 53 degrees and sunny, after it was rainy and in the 20’s earlier this weekend. That is not racing weather by any means.
As for what you should expect to see, the list can go on and on. Rubbin’, racin’, beatin’, bangin’, all those racing terms that you’ve heard of. Drivers aren’t afraid to use their bumpers and noses at this track, as 500 laps go quicker than you think.
While almost all of Spartan Nation will be watching Michigan State take on Louisville in the Elite Eight (as will I because I’m actually in Syracuse, New York watching the game), I’ll be paying close attention to the STP 500. As always, I have got you covered.