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Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Martinsville Preview: Three drivers dominate

By Mark Garrow

They are not the "three amigos" or the "three musketeers," which has me daydreaming about a candy bar, but Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon have stats at Martinsville Speedway the other drivers can only drool over. So in other words, picking out your "A" drivers this week in the ESPN Stock Car Challenge might just be like taking candy from a baby.

Between them -- Johnson at five and Hamlin at three, including the past two -- they have won the past eight Martinsville races. In the past five shootouts on the half-mile oval, Hamlin has been unconscious. The FedEx Toyota driver has collected three wins, a runner-up and fifth-place finish. Think about how also in the last three outings Hamlin has led 674 laps or 44 percent of the 1,509 laps run in those events. In 10 opportunities at Martinsville, he's failed to finish top-10 only once, and that was when he was wrecked in the spring of '06.

Johnson has also been on fire. There was a little stumble this spring when he finished ninth, but in the seven races prior the Lowes Chevy driver had four wins, a runner-up and a worst finish of fourth. Overall, he's got six wins and an average finish of 5.4 in 17 starts. The only time he hasn't been top-10 was his first Martinsville appearance back in 2002 when he had a DNF, finishing 35th.

That brings us to Jeff Gordon. In his past 15 trips to southern Virginia, he's knocked down four wins, 13 top-5 and 15 top-10 finishes. When you look at his entire career at Martinsville, you see that Gordon has captured seven victories, led 2,888 laps, and his average finish is a sporty 6.7.

Are there any other "A" drivers that should at least get a little thought? Sure. For instance, there's Jeff Burton, who led 140 laps at Martinsville in the spring and looked like he might have had Hamlin handled. Unfortunately, a flat tire in the closing laps dropped him to 20th. His teammate Clint Bowyer hasn't shown the muscle to win at Martinsville, but he was seventh in the spring and has five top-10 runs in his past six starts. Then, there's possibly Tony Stewart. He's won twice at Martinsville, the last time in spring 2006. He's also led 1,200 laps.

As easy as it might be to figure out the "A" drivers, it's going to be as difficult to line up the right two "B" boys.

I think you have to start with Ryan Newman, who, until crashing at Charlotte, had reeled off four consecutive top-10 finishes. The Purdue graduate has also scored the fourth-most points on the short tracks this year, with a big chunk coming via his fourth-place finish in March at Martinsville. Newman was a runner-up in this race in 2007 and has three straight top-10s on the Virginia track.

Everywhere we go from here until the end of the season, Charlotte winner Jamie McMurray needs to be on the radar screen. He and Newman are bringing their "A" game every week as they battle for 13th and the big-money bonus that goes with it. Among the most recent string of strong races for McMurray is a third place at New Hampshire that should translate pretty well to Martinsville. The 34-year-old was sixth in this race a year ago and has nine top-10s in 15 starts.

At least three others should also get some consideration. Mark Martin is a two-time winner at Martinsville and came home eighth a year ago. We also need to give a little love to Joey Logano, who surprised everyone with a runner-up run at Martinsville this past spring and he was fourth in the last short track race at Richmond. Then, there's Martin Truex Jr. He came home fifth in the last race at Martinsville and has scored the ninth-most points on the short tracks in 2010.

Scoring leaders and season statistics

Segment three

Only two of last week's top 10 in the ESPN Stock Car Challenge third segment standings were able to hold on after the Bank of America 500. One of those was leader vickie buie, who saw her 81-point advantage shrink to 24 after she was outscored by new second-place runner jdpstw, who cranked out 798 points in Saturday night's race. Ranked third and fourth, after breaking into those positions from outside the top-10, were nmbr 1 NASCARfan (-35) and mutuelbob (-57). Eighth a week ago, Nicky G Motorsports was the only other top-10 team from last week remain when the dust had settled at Charlotte. He's now 61 points out of first and just two ahead of football71421 and is just six up on evilangel d13. The rest of the top-10 are Carol momcj1015, tkubacki7986, and Warren CM48.

The high score last week was a near-perfect 856 and the average Charlotte score was 649.


He's still hanging on to first, but the challengers have begun to strike fear into the heart of Webbys nightmare. What was once was a gap of 238 points has been sliced to 69 by lonewolves, who has come out of nowhere to be the new No. 2. Our leader has had back to back races of 550 and 623 and the wheels have begun to come off with just five races left. Now, Coweyes remains third and he cut his deficit from 165 down to 125 points. Continuing to hold on to fourth 48Fan also made up some ground and is now 138 points back with payam711 still fifth.

Moving from 10th to seventh was Iron Lungs. Ratzo Racin is eighth and, falling from second to ninth, Muletrain with 24dupont48lowes now holding on to 10th.

"The Guru" took another hit last week even though three of my drivers ended up leading the race. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch paid off nicely but got burned big-time by Tony Stewart and my "B" drivers Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin helped me to score a paltry 625 points. So, out of 170,000 teams, I am now 3,607 after being 3,517 last week and at one time as high as 599th.

Jayski Junkies

For the third straight week 48Fan remains on top of my Jayski Junkies league and the lead has grown from 29 points following Fontana to 132 after Charlotte. D.Pelz held on to second and no wonder ground was lost with a 554 point effort in the Bank of America 500. Remaining third and fourth, respectively, are K. Estep and M. Ostrom. Jumping from seventh to fifth was B. Napieralski with c. stilwell up to sixth and newcomer J. Hodge seventh. The rest of the top-10 are J. Harris, S. Pendergrass, and T. Jessee.

I didn't score all that big (625) last week, but was able to move from 159th up to 142nd in our league of 1,300 teams.

In the other league I play, Virginia Connection, leader S. McCarthy went in the tank for only 453 points at Charlotte. Luckily, none of the closest challengers really made him pay. J. Harris (640) moved up from third to second and did slice the leader's advantage from 156 points down to 79. Going from second to third was T. Berley with j. hensely and T. Vest rounding out the top-5.

"The Guru" put on a mighty charge going from 21st to ... 20th.

Race for the Cup

B. Wilson and k. stagg remain tied for first place in the Race for the Cup with 38 correct answers out of the first 50 chances in the five Chase shootouts that have been run so far. Sitting third, only one behind, is M. Maddy with J. Lehman and B Faurote tied for fourth just two correct answers out of first place.

There are 15 tied for sixth after scoring 35 points to date. They are J. Moreland, E. Wall, F.B. Heasley, J. Wagner, E. Rivera, J. Rodriguez, l. boyne, A. Hunter, g. rose, Boykin, L. Snyder, Go Johnson, c. price and J. Claude Sambira.

Getting four right and six wrong last week at Charlotte, I am left no option but to call myself this week "The Goober" and not "The Guru". I'm hitting barely over .500 with 27 correct and 23 incorrect.

Charlotte race day chat

Even though he started 29th, I was smelling an upset win for Tony Stewart. Turns out it was my own bad breath because Tony sure left a sour taste. I moved Jamie McMurray up my race day rankings, but again refused to give him enough credit for the way he's come up big this year in big races. That meant I missed on him really, really big.

I did predict top-5 or better for Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin so that turned out alright. The rest of my top-10 picks last Saturday afternoon did not fare very well. In that group were Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Jeff Burton. I ranked Kevin Harvick and David Reutimann 13th and 14th respectively and they both managed top-10 positions. I also totally missed David Ragan finishing 10th.

NOTE: Our race day chat from Martinsville will go live at 9:30 eastern Sunday morning. Plus, you can get updated by following my "Twitters" at GuruGarrow!

Martinsville history

Whether you're looking for the drivers who have scored the most points at Martinsville in the last two, three, four, five or six races you'll find just one man's name; Denny Hamlin. Over the last three and a half seasons, his average points per race ranges from 177 to 195 points. Right behind him second or third in points scored from the last two to six races are Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Over that span, Johnson is averaging 156 to 175 points. Gordon has been good for 165 to 168 points every time he takes the green flag in the last half-dozen on the tight, half-mile track.

Over the past two or three races, some of the other names that stand out are Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, and Joey Logano.

Something else to think about

Even though the two races are run at Martinsville far apart, one in the spring and the other in the fall, there does seem to be a correlation from the first race to the second. In 2009 and 2008, six drivers finished top-10 in both races with the top-two the same (Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin) in both races, and Jeff Gordon was top-5 in both.

Then, if you compare from 2009 the finish to the fall race on the flat, one-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the late season encounter at the half mile Martinsville Speedway, you'll again find six drivers top-10 in both events.

2010 short track points (5 races)

In the five short track races run this year at Bristol (2), Richmond (2), and Martinsville, Kyle Busch has scored the most points at 795, which is an average of 159 per race and 67 more than Jeff Gordon (728), who's popping along at 146 per. Just 10 points behind Gordon is Carl Edwards (718) with four top-10s in those five events. Ryan Newman (702) is fourth and the only other driver to score over 700 points.

Jimmie Johnson (695) is fifth with Denny Hamlin (687) sixth, Jeff Burton (656) seventh, Matt Kenseth (643) eighth, Martin Truex, Jr. (642) ninth and tenth is Joey Logano (641).

Ranked 11 through 15 are Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, and Jamie McMurray. Rounding out the top-20 are Brad Keselowski, Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose, Tony Stewart , and David Reutimann.

Martinsville Pre-Race Top 30 Rankings

NOTE: The rankings are updated during the race day chats.
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Denny Hamlin
3. Jeff Gordon
4. Tony Stewart
5. Jeff Burton
6. Ryan Newman
7. Clint Bowyer
8. Kevin Harvick
9. Greg Biffle
10. Jamie McMurray
11. Joey Logano
12. Carl Edwards
13. Kyle Busch
14. Martin Truex, Jr.
15. Mark Martin
16. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
17. David Reutimann
18. Brad Keselowski
19. Juan Pablo Montoya
20. Matt Kenseth
21. Paul Menard
22. Kasey Kahne
23. Kurt Busch
24. Marcos Ambrose
25. A.J. Allmendinger
26. David Ragan
27. David Gilliland
28. Sam Hornish Jr.
29. Elliott Sadler
30. Travis Kvapil