Thursday, October 24, 2013
Inside 48's dominance at Martinsville
By Tom McKean
Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsWith just four events to go in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson again finds himself at the front of the standings after surviving Talladega. He swapped places with Matt Kenseth after finishing 13th at the superspeedway and now paces Kenseth by a slim four-point margin.
Jimmie Johnson trails only Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip for the most Cup wins at Martinsville.
With the rest of the field at least 26 points adrift, it’s looking more like a two-driver battle for the championship.
Jimmie Johnson Dominates Martinsville
But Kenseth might have a tough time keeping pace with Johnson as the series travels to Martinsville, one of Johnson’s best tracks on the schedule. He’s won there eight times, tied with Dover for his most wins at any venue, and his 5.3 average finish there is best all-time among drivers with at least 10 starts.
In Johnson’s win there earlier this season, he led 346 laps including the final 138, and was the fastest in the field on any given lap over 21 percent of the time. There’s certainly the potential for him to reach similar marks again this weekend, which should be a scary prospect for the competition.
What’s more, Johnson enters Martinsville with significant momentum. He’s paced the field for 467 laps during the Chase, 182 more than any other driver, and hasn’t had an average running position worse than 7.6 in any Chase start this season (average of a driver's running position on each lap).
Historically, Johnson trails Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip for the most Cup wins at Martinsville, but he's arguably been the most impressive there. He has won over a third of his starts (35 percent), a much higher percentage than both Petty (22) and Waltrip (21), and his average finish is over five places better than either.
Matt Kenseth Has Uphill Battle
Even if Johnson doesn’t win, Kenseth could certainly find himself losing ground leaving Virginia, as he’s rarely finished well at Martinsville. Since 2009, his average finish is just 15th, with only two top 10s in that span. In those same nine starts, Johnson has a 4.9 average finish with seven top 10s.
Kenseth has never won at Martinsville in 27 starts, behind only Pocono (28) for his most starts at any Cup track without a victory. However, his exemplary season (series-high seven wins) proves there is still reason for optimism.