The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Martinsville Speedway this week. NASCAR had their condensed race schedule for the first time this season. There were two practices Saturday and qualifying Saturday evening. Usually there are three practices sessions for this race so the higher funded teams should have the advantage with less track time for the teams to dial in their cars.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Martinsville…
Many of the drivers said this was the coldest they ever remember at a race track. The air temps were about 33 degrees. Many of the teams started off with slow lap times to get some heat into the engine and brakes before they ran it at 100%.
NASCAR teams received 3 sets of tires for the two practice sessions and one set to qualify and start the race on. None of the teams worked on their qualifying setup because they did not expect to qualify their cars due to the weather forecast.
This is an impound race. That means after qualifying the teams have to park the cars and start the race Sunday with the setup they have in it. They are not allowed to work on the cars except put fluids in it and tape on the grill. So what we saw in practice is what they will start the race with this week.
Chase Elliott: Usually it takes a young driver 3 to 4 years to find the rhythm to make fast laps at Martinsville. That was not the case with Elliott. He was probably the best driver at the track last year. Elliott started 2nd, led 20 laps and finished 3rd in the spring race. He qualified 3rd, led a series-high 123 laps and was winning the race when Denny Hamlin put him into the wall. Elliott should be good this week. Elliott made some long runs and reported the car was just as good as last year. The No. 9 team really likes their car this week.
Jimmie Johnson: No active driver comes anywhere close to the career stats that Johnson has at Martinsville. He has 9 wins, 19 finishes in the top 5, 24 finishes in the top 10 and 2,863 laps led. The problem is that Johnson two finishes in the top 10 in his last 7 races at the track. Has he lost his mojo at Martinsville? Johnson made a long run and he said, “It feels like four hockey pucks on ice out here.” Johnson was 20th fastest at the time. Chad Knaus told Johnson, “Our long run times are some of the best. I am not too worried about where we are on the single lap.” The No. 48 team quit final practice with 15 minutes left. I guess they are happy with their car.
Alex Bowman: Bowman has 4 career races in the MENCS at Martinsville. He has never finished better than 22nd. He will have a much better car this week, but it is more about the driver then the car at the tricky paperclip. I have Bowman finishing between 18th -22nd this week. Bowman liked his car. He said, “The forward bite is really good and it rolls into the corner the way I like it.”
William Byron: Byron has never competed in a MENCS car at Martinsville and that usually means he will struggle. Even the best drivers to compete in NASCAR top series have struggled in their 1st start at this track. Byron has 2 starts in the Camping World Truck Series at Martinsville. He finished 3rd and 8th. Byron made some long runs and said, “The brakes are too touchy. I barely hit the brake and it slams the front end into the track.” They worked on the car and Byron was really happy with the changes. He said, “Way better. It rotates a lot better now.”
Kyle Larson: Larson won the pole for this race last year and led 23 laps. That is about it for the highlights for Larson at Martinsville. He did have a 3rd place finish in the spring of 2016, but his average finishing position is 23.6 at the track. It looks like the “fast” Larson showed up this week. The No. 42 car had the best 15, 20 and 30-lap average speed in the morning practice. They were very happy with the car. Larson told MRN, “This is the best we have ever unloaded here.”
Jamie McMurray: McMurray has been hit or miss at Martinsville. He almost won this race in 2015 but he finished 29th and 38th last year. He enters the race this week without much momentum. McMurray needs something good to happen this week to kick start his season. McMurray made some long runs and said, “A little tight in the center. I need it to roll through a little better. I think we can fix that with an air pressure adjustment.” He went back out and jumped to 12th on the leaderboard.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick has been good but not great at Martinsville in his career. His does have a win at the track on his resume (2011), but his average finishing position in the last 3 seasons is 13th. Harvick should finish in the top 10, but he will need a career race to finish in the top 5. Harvick made a lot of long runs and the team worked on the brakes in practice. He said, “We are close. I feel like I will get beat into the corner but I can get to the throttle on the exit as well as anyone.” They worked on air-pressure adjustments to help Harvick turn the car. Tony Gibson is at the track for the first time this season. He is working with all of the Stewart-Haas teams and it seems to be helping.
Clint Bowyer: Martinsville is one of the best tracks for Bowyer. He was always one of the drivers to beat at the paperclip shaped track while he was with Michael Waltrip Racing. Last year he finished 3rd and 7th in his first races with Stewart-Haas Racing at Martinsville. I expect similar or better results from Bowyer this week. Crew Chief Mike B asked Clint, “So how is it out there?” Bowyer said, “Freaky Cold Man!!!! But the car is a hot rod this week. We just need minor adjustments. I will fill you when I get there.” Bowyer was happy with his car.
Kurt Busch: Busch as been running really well this season but he could be a risky pick this week. His average finishing position in the last 6 races at Martinsville is 23.6. He only has one finish in the top 10 in his last 24 races at this track. Ouch! Having Tony Gibson work with the team again this week may have helped. Busch started with the same setup as Bowyer. He was 5th fastest after his long run. Busch seemed happy with the car.
Aric Almirola: Almirola has been a driver who usually finishes between 15th – 20th at Martinsville. He will have the best car he has ever had at the track this week. Will it translate into a top 10 finish? I doubt it, but it should help him finish inside the top 15. Almirola made a long run and said, “I lose all grip when I get on the asphalt. It feels like I am driving on ice.” The team made a shock change and set the car up closer to what the No. 14 and No. 41 were running. That seemed to help.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski won this race last year and he has been the most dominate driver not named Kyle Busch at the track. Keselowski has a streak of 4 consecutive top-5 finishes at Martinsville. He led 100 laps in both races last year. He should be considered one of the drivers to beat Sunday. Keselowski made a long run and said, “I feel we are where we need to be. It is good all the way around. Maybe just work on the exit.”
Joey Logano: Logano is much better at qualifying then he is at racing at Martinsville. He has started 6 of the last 7 races on the front row but he only has a 13th place average finishing position to show for it (Mostly because Matt Kenseth wrecked him in 2015). Logano really liked his car. He said, “I think we hit on something this week. It takes a while to get up to speed but once it does it feels pretty fast.”
Ryan Blaney: Blaney has 4 career races in the MENCS at Martinsville. He finished 19th, 19th and 25th in his first 3 races but seemed to figure it out last October. Blaney qualified 4th and finished 8th. He should be a top 12 driver again this week. Blaney was just as good as his teammates in practice. The car rolled through the corners well and Blaney was top 10 on the speed chart for most of the practice.
Paul Menard: There is not a lot of positive things to write about Menard this week. He has 21 races at Martinsville on his MENCS resume and he only has one finish in the top 10. That is not very good. The No. 21 team was fighting a tight racecar in practice.
Kyle Busch: Busch is the driver to beat Sunday and it is not even close. He has led 813 laps at Martinsville over the last two seasons. That is 600 laps led more than any other driver in the field. Busch has not finished outside the top 5 at the paperclip since 2014. If you can use him this week, you must get him into your lineups. Busch wants his car perfect. He said, “It is too snug getting into the corner and the exit is too loose.” Adam Stevens responded, “You currently at the top of the leaderboard.” H
Erik Jones: Jones was average at Martinsville last year. He finished 12th in his first race and 26th in the October race. It takes a while to figure this track and I do not think Jones is there yet. He should finish just inside the top 15. Jones said his car was too tight but it is very good on the long runs.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been very good at his home track. He has 5 wins, 12 finishes in the top 5 and 18 finishes in the top 10 and led 1,394 laps at Martinsville. He was very good in both races last year. I expect Hamlin to be one of the drivers up front at the end of the race Sunday. Hamlin made a long run and he said, “It just won’t turn. I have no forward bite.” The team brought him into the garage and changed everything on the car. Hamlin was not happy with the car, but his team should get it fixed up.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez really struggled in his first race at Martinsville. He was in the way more than he was competing for position. He must have learned for his mistakes because he was able to finish 15th in his 2nd race. Suarez is a quick learner. I expect him to be near the top 15 again Sunday. Suarez made a long run and said, “The car is wheel hopping into the corners.” They worked on a shock change between practices.” Suarez went back out and he said, “The wheel hop is gone. Now it just needs a little better balance.”
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex Jr. has never won a race at a short track in the MENCS. Will that end Sunday? I doubt it. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin are too good for Truex to hold them off. Truex should finish near the top 5 though. The No. 78 team liked their car. Truex said, “Every adjustment brings the car to me more. We are definitely heading in the right directions.” The No. 78 car was the fastest in both practice sessions.
Ryan Newman: Newman is known as one of the hardest drivers in NASCAR to pass and Martinsville is one of the hardest tracks to make a pass. When you combine the two it makes Newman a good pick for the race Sunday. His average finishing position at the track is 14th. He should finish inside the top 12 this week. Newman said, “It is a little snug getting in and loose getting off.” He was 3rd fastest at the time. Newman said on TV, “We unloaded really good this week. We are just fine tuning it in practice.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon is my top sleeper pick this week. He has been running really well this season (he has an 11th place average finishing position). Dillon has finished 4th and 5th in his last two spring races at Martinsville. He made many long runs in practice and reported the car was loose. His crew chief liked their long run speed though. Dillon said, “It takes a while for the air pressures to come up but once they do it feels pretty good.”
Ty Dillon: Dillon is off to a horrible start this season. It looks like the loss of Bootie Barker on top the pit box really hurt this team. I doubt it will get much better this week. Dillon has two career starts at Martinsville and he finished 22nd and 30th. He has not been very good this year, but he was top 15 in most of the practice session.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne may be a sneaky good pick this week. This race is more about the driver then the car. Kahne has run inside the top 20 in most of the races at Martinsville. His price is cheap in salary cap games so if he can run inside the top 20 again this week he will be a great buy for your team. Kahne made a long run and they were having problems with too much brake in the car. They worked on the brakes and Kahne thought they fixed their problem.
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger is one of the best sleeper picks in the field this week. He has finished 7 of the last 9 races at Martinsville in the top 11. The two times he failed to finish in the top 11 were not his fault. Allmending is a great play in all games this week. Allmendinger made a long run and said, “I started off good but then I made a track bar adjustment and it went to too tight. I set it back and it is still too tight.” They brought him in for adjustments. Later Allmendinger went back out and said, “We are closer to where I need to be. If I can get a little more on exit, it will be very good.” At the end of practice Allmendinger said, “I really do not know what we can do to make it any better.”
Chris Buescher: Buescher said his teammate (AJ Allmendinger) taught him the rhythm to turn fast laps at Martinsville. It must have worked because he was able to finish 11th in this race last year. I would not be surprised if Buescher finished in the top 15 again this week. His car was a little loose in the corner but the team worked on air pressure adjustments to tighten him up. His lap times were around 20th for most of the practices.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Wallace has never competed in a MENCS race at Martinsville but he does have 4 races on his Camping World Truck Series resume and he was fantastic. Wallace won 2 of the 4 races and finished 2nd and 5th in the other two races. So how will this translate into results in the MENCS? I think at top 20 is the best Wallace can do this week. Wallace made some long runs and said, “It gets sideways going into the corner but it really has a lot of throttle on the exit.”
Trevor Bayne: Bayne has always been better on the shorter tracks then he has been in the intermediate tracks. Last year Bayne finished 6th and 13th in the two races at Martinsville. He is a good sleeper pick for your team this week. Bayne was only 25th in most of the practice sessions but this team never practices well. I expect them to have more speed once the race begins.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: If I asked you to name the drivers who finished in the top 10 in both races at Martinsville last year, Stenhouse Jr. would not be the first name on your list, but he fished 10th in both races last year. Before those two races his average finishing position was 28th. Stenhouse crashed his car in final practice. He will go to a backup car and start last Sunday.
David Ragan: Ragan has not been very good at Martinsville. His career average finishing position is 22nd and last year he finished 24th and 28th. In final practice Ragan said, “We hit on something. This car is really fast.” He was 13th fast after his 2nd long run. Ragan is a great Cheap Driver in DFS games this week.
Michael McDowell: McDowell has been OK in his career at Martinsville. He has 14 races in the MENCS at the track with a 21st average finishing position. The switch to Front Row Racing should drop him back a couple of spots this week. McDowell said, “I have absolutely no rear grip.” McDowell was 30th fastest at the time.
Matt Dibenedetto: This is the worst track for Dibenedetto. His average finishing position in his 6 career races is 33rd. Last year he finished 35th and 39th. Dibenedetto should finish in the 30s again this week. He said, “It slides into the corner and way too loose on the exit.” He was 34th of the 35 cars that were on the track.
Cars that looked good in practice: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Chase Elliot and Clint Bowyer
Good Sleeper Picks: Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, Jamie McMurray, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Ty Dillon
Click here for Saturday Morning Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
Best 15-Lap Average Speed
- Martin Truex Jr. 20.06
- Kyle Busch 20.07
- Clint Bowyer 20.12
- Aric Almirola 20.14
- Ryan Neman 20.15
- Austin Dillon 20.16
- Daniel Suarez 20.17
- Brad Keselowski 20.18
- Chase Elliott 20.18
- Paul Menard 20.20
- Joey Logano 20.21
- Jamie McMurray 20.22
- Kyle Larson 20.22
- Kevin Harvick 20.24
- Ryan Blaney 20.25
- Jimmie Johnson 20.26
- Erik Jones 20.26
- William Byron 20.27
Best 20-Lap Average Speeds
- Kyle Busch 20.14
- Ryan Newman 20.18
- Clint Bowyer 20.18
- Aric Almirola 20.19
- Austin Dillon 20.21
- Martin Truex Jr. 20.21
- Chase Elliott 20.22
- Jamie McMurray 20.23
- Kevin Harvick 20.24
- Brad Keselowski 20.24
- Daniel Suarez 20.24
- Paul Menard 20.25
- Joey Logano 20.26
- Kyle Larson 20.27
- Ryan Blaney 20.28
- Jimmie Johnson 20.28
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