Short track racing returns to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this week at Martinsville Speedway. Famous for hotdogs and tight racing, this little track usually puts on a great show. The STP 500 can be seen at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
Goodyear brought the same combination of tires that were used since 2016 at Martinsville. The Trucks Series will also use the same tire compound so the drivers who compete in both races should have an idea of how the tires will wear in the race. These drivers include: Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace and Ross Chastain.
The pit road speed limit at Martinsville is 30 MPH. Last year there were more speeding penalties at the paper-clip shaped track than any other track. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon led the series in pit road penalties in 2018.
The tempature in the first practice Saturday morning was about 42 degrees. The temperature for the race Sunday is forecasted to be in the mid 60s, so most teams just worked on their ride heights, brake adjustments and pit road speed in the first practice. The final practice will be closer to race conditions so we want to use the 10-lap, 20-lap speeds from that practice for our picks Sunday.
Chase Elliott: Elliott struggled at Martinsville to begin his career but he is starting to find his rhythm. Elliott finished 9th in the spring and 7th in the fall last year. Elliott was happy with his car. He said, “We I am not in traffic it is really good, but in traffic I have to ride the brakes a little too long. It we free it up a tick we should be fine.” Elliott had the fastest speed in final practice.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson leads every stat category at Martinsville. He has 9 wins, 2,863 laps led and finished 70% of his races in the top 10. Last year he finished 12th and 15th. The No. 48 team is running better this season. Johnson made some long runs and said, “Entry and exit are good. Just need to help the balance in the center.” After his final run Johnson said, “We just need more grip.”
Alex Bowman: Bowman had some success at Martinsville in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports. He finished 7th in the spring and 17th in the fall. Bowman made some long runs and said, “I added some rear brake to it and that seems to help. It is still really tight though.” After his final run Bowman said, “It is getting better. Still tight but not as bad.”
William Byron: Rookies always struggle at Martinsville and it was no different for Byron. He finished 20th in the spring and 39th in the fall. His crew chief (Chad Knaus) has 9 wins at the track so his car should be fast this week. Byron had a tire go down in the morning practice and he hit the wall. The team worked to fix the damage. Byron got back on the track in final practice and said the car was good in qualifying trim but too tight in race trim. The team sent Byron out to follow the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) to help him learn the angles to take into the corners.
Kyle Larson: Martinsville is the worst track for Larson and it is not even close. His average starting position is 13.3 and his average finishing position is 24.2. Last year Larson finished 16th and 37th in the two races. Larson made some long runs and said, “If we can get the front to cut better, we would be bad ass.” After his final run Larson said, “It still needs help in the center but it is better than it was. Also we need to work on the dash lights. They keep blinking for no reason and it is totally distracting. Also I have no tack so I have no clue what my pit road speed is.””
Kurt Busch: Busch is off to a hot start in 2019. He has finished all of the race since Daytona in the top 7. Busch won at Martinsville in 2014. Last year he finished 11th in the spring and 6th in the fall. Busch made some long runs and said, “The fuel-pressure light is blinking. We need to check that out. It seems like I am using more brake than I should. If we can get it to rotate through the center that will help.” After his final run Busch said, “It is building loose and after 25 laps is does some crazy hopping shit… I just don’t know.”
Kevin Harvick: Martinsville ranks as the 19th-best track for Harvick. He has run well recently but not great. Harvick finished 5th and 10th at Martinsville last year but he has not led a lap in the last 5 races at the track. The team told Harvick, “Kyle Busch has 8 laps more on his tires and he is running the same speed as us on fresh tires. We will work to get some better takeoff speed.” With 13 minutes left in practice Rodney Childers told Harvick, “If you feel it is OK, just bring it in.” Harvick responded, “We’re good.” He was 8th fastest at the time.
Clint Bowyer: Martinsville is one of the best tracks for Bowyer. He won this race last year. Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, Bowyer has finished 7th, 3rd, 1st and 21st in his four races at the track. Bowyer liked his car at the beginning of practice. He said, “It starts tight and builds loose. After 10 laps it is 8/10 to the good and after 20 laps it really good.” Bowyer posted the fastest speed in the first practice. Bowyer told his team, “We are not the quickest car but for how you need to race it, I think we are really good.”
Daniel Suarez: Suarez was decent at Martinsville last year. He finished 18th in the spring and 9th in the fall. Suarez said in an interview in the morning practice, “I am really happy with the car. We unloaded with a lot of speed. Our team knows what it takes to win here so we just need to hit our marks and avoid mistakes and we should be good.”
Aric Almirola: Martinsville ranks as the 14th-best track for Almirola. In his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola finished 14th in the spring and 11th in the fall at Martinsville. The team told Almirola after his runs, “Just keep doing what you are doing. No one gets off of 2 as well as you.”
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has been the 2nd best driver at Martinsville since 2015 (behind Kyle Busch). In the last six races at the track, Keselowski has a 4.5 average finishing position, led 409 laps and has the 2nd-best 114.9 driver ranking. Keselowski has also finished 3 of the last 4 races this season in the top 3. The No. 18 team told Kyle Busch, “The No. 2 car (Keselowski) is making a big apex on his entry and he is destroying the field. I think we need to work on his (Keselowski) line.”
Joey Logano: Logano dominated the last race at Martinsville. He led 309 of the 500 laps on his way to Victory Lane. Logano has led laps in 9 of the last 10 races at Martinsville. He has been the 2nd-best driver at the track since the start of 2017. The team told Logano, “Your speed is really good. If you want to back it up a bit and cut the corner more it may help the rotation.” Logano tried that line and he said, “Not bad.”
Ryan Blaney: Blaney has been hit or miss at Martinsville. He has finished 2 races in the top 8 and 3 races 19th or worse. Last year Blaney qualified 5th, led 145 laps and finished 3rd in this race. Blaney was complaining about not having any rear grip in practice. The team used the same setup at the No. 2 car at the end of practice.
Paul Menard: Menard has not been very good at Martinsville. He only has one finish inside the top 10 in his 23 races at the track. Last year Menard finished 13th in the spring and 22nd in the fall. Menard was complaining the car had no rear grip and was sliding the nose.
Kyle Busch: Busch has not finished outside the top 5 at Martinsville since 2014 (7 races). His average finishing position at the track in the last 7 races is 2.8 with 937 laps led and a 127.3 driver rating. He also has a 2.6 average finishing position in 2019. To say he is the favorite is an understatement. Busch usually complains a lot in practice but today he said, “The balance is good. I am not overheating the brakes. I think we just need to fine-tune it more than anything.”
Erik Jones: Martinsville ranks as the 20th –best track for Jones this season. He has competed in four races at the track and he finished 26th, 17th, 26th and 12th. Jones made some long runs and said, “The car has a lot of aggressive turn in it. I barely touch the wheel and it aggressively turns through the corner. Like it is cutting too much.”
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been pretty good at his home track. He has 5 wins, 1,536 laps led and finished 74% of his races at the track in the top 10. Hamlin is also off to a hot start in 2019. He has finished every race this season in the top 11. Hamlin told his team, “The car is a little on the splitter and tight off the corner.” They worked on the car and Hamlin said, “That was a big change. It feels better now.” He was 4th fastest at the time. After his final run he said, “This is a f******g joke! Every time you touch it, the car gets worst. I can barely turn it now.” It sounds bad but I am sure Joe Gibbs Racing will fix Hamlin up.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex returns to the scene of the crime this week. He was winning the race at Martinsville last year with a few laps left when he was dumped by Joey Logano. Truex has been really good recently at the track. He finished 2nd, 4th and 3rd in his last three races at Martinsville. Truex did not give too much info about his car. He just said, “I think we ran enough laps. I am happy with it so if you want to work on it, I will bring it in.” He was 6th fastest at the time. At the end of practice Truex said, “We are fast enough to win… we just need to keep up with the track adjustments.” Truex made one last long run and said, “This is the best car we have ever had here.”
Matt DiBendetto: DiBenedetto has not had any success at Martinsville. His best ever finish is 29th and his average finishing position is 33rd. Having Joe Gibbs Racing as an alliance should help but he needs a miracle to finish in the top 10. DiBenedetto needed some adjustments on his car. He said, “It feels too heavy on the front. I need more rear brake to keep the nose from diving into the track.” After his final run DiBenedetto said, “It is still really hard on the splitter.”
Daniel Hemric: Martinsville is a tough track for rookies. Hemric has never competed in a MENCS car at the track and the Xfinity Series does not race at Martinsville. Hemric does have 5 races in the Truck Series on his resume. His average finishing position in the Truck Series is 17.4 (not good).
Austin Dillon: Dillon has been running well this season but that could come to an end Sunday. Dillon finished 30th in both races at Martinsville last year. His average finishing position at the paper-clip shaped track is 18.5. He will get some extra track time this week since he will be running the Truck Series race. Dillon was pleased with his car. He said, “The balance is good.” Dillon was 15th fastest at the time.
Ty Dillon: Martinsville ranks as the 10th-best track for Dillon. Last year he finished 22nd in the spring race and 15th in the fall race at the track. Dillon was happy with his car in practice. He said, “This is the best balance we have ever had here. The entry and exit is right where it needs to be.” Dillon was 16th fastest at the time.
Ryan Preece: Preece competed in the MENCS race at Martinsville in 2015. He qualified 37th and finished dead last. At least he has some track experience. Preece also has a win in the modified series at Martinsville. The team told Preece, “Just work on hitting your marks. We will add speed to it later.” Preece made some long runs and said, “It really takes off on exit but it slides the nose on entry.” He was 19th fastest at the time.
Chris Buescher: Martinsville ranks as the 4th best track for Buescher. Last year he finished 23rd in the spring race and 13th in the fall race. Buescher is off to his best start in the MENCS so his success could continue Sunday. Buescher was happy with his car. He said, “I feel like I am competitive. I am not sure where we are compared to others but I can cut through traffic pretty good.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse has shown some improvement this season. His average starting position is 9.2 and his average finishing position is 12.8. Stenhouse struggled at Martinsville last year but he finished both races in the top 10 in 2017. He has the ability to run well at this track if the car is right. Stenhouse was not happy with his car. He said, “It has no speed. Absolutely no speed.” He was 29th fastest at the time. Stenhouse made some more runs and said, “Whenever I push it, the tires chatter.”
Ryan Newman: Martinsville ranks as the 5th best track for Newman. Last year he finished 19th in the spring and 8th in the fall. Newman was not happy with his car. He said, “Tight, tight, tight.” He was 24th fastest at the time. In final practice Newman said, “It is better than it was this morning but still have some work to do.”
Corey LaJoie: LaJoie hit the wall in morning practice so he will go to a backup car. He will start from the back Sunday.
Cody Ware: Ware crashed his car at the end of final practice. He will use his backup car and start from the rear.
Cars that looked good in practice: Martin Truex Jr. , Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano
Good Sleeper Picks: Aric Almirola, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Chris Buescher
Click here for Saturday Morning Practice
Final Practice Speeds
Best 10-Lap Average Speed
Best 20 and 30-Consecutive Lap Average Speed
Follow me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR