The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Martinsville Speedway for Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500. The event is the first of two Cup races there this season. Since 2004, when Martinsville was repaved, no track has featured more accidents than Martinsville with 154. The next highest is Charlotte with 108, then Bristol at 103. Bet on it at WagerWeb.com.
This could be the perfect track for Jeff Gordon to snap out of his slump. The four-time Sprint Cup Series champion is off to the worst start in his 20-year career. With five races completed so far this season, Gordon sits 25th in the point standings. He finished 40th in the Daytona 500 after suffering engine failure midway through the race. The 40-year-old driver has finished no better than 12th in the last three races.
But Gordon leads all active drivers with seven wins at the flat 0.526-mile track. Gordon has also posted 17 top-10 finishes in the last 18 races there. He placed 20th in the fall 2010 event.
In the previous 10 races at Martinsville, three drivers have separated themselves from the pack: Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. Those three all have an average finish of 5.1 or better in that time. No other driver has a mark better than 10th. If you look at pure speed, Gordon has been the fastest driver on the track most often. He’s run the fastest lap on 559 circuits over the 10 races. Johnson’s at 491, and Hamlin 420.
Since the fall of 2006, both Johnson and Denny had finished in the top 10 in every race at Martinsville. That streak was broken last spring when neither carded a top-10 finish. Hamlin won the second 2009 race at the track and swept the 2010 events. The Virginia driver won this year at Phoenix. Johnson has six Martinsville victories, winning five times in a six-race stretch from 2006-09. After getting crashed at Daytona, Johnson has been on a mission to get back into the top 10 in points, which he did last week at Auto Club. And Hamlin dominated and won at Phoenix to prove he should once more be favored on minimally banked tracks.
Last year in this race, Kevin Harvick raced to the second of his four 2011 victories, overcoming handling problems to charge to the front and pass Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The short tracks have the potential to be a wild card every time cars take to the track. Two weeks ago at Bristol, an early race accident eliminated several strong contenders including Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Marcos Ambrose. Close side-by-side racing cut a tire on another top-five contender’s car and sent Gordon spinning into the outside wall. The confines of Martinsville are tighter and the action is even more frenzied.
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