For the second time in as many weeks, the Sprint Cup Series will be running on a short track -- this time, the .526-mile paper clip Martinsville Speedway. The oldest track on the circuit, Martinsville is also the smallest, and a fan favorite. Though its flat corners don't allow for the same speeds we saw last week at Bristol, the tight grooves will all but guarantee a lot of bumping, rubbing and side-by-side action -- the sort of thing NASCAR fans love.
When looking for someone to win, it helps to look at the usual suspects. Virginia native Denny Hamlin will be a threat -- he won the Goody's Cool Orange 500 last year -- as will Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Gordon has seven career wins at Martinsville, while Johnson has owned the track in recent years. Of his five career wins at Martinsville, four have come in the last six races at the track.
Mark Martin and Tony Stewart are the only other active drivers to have more than one win at Martinsville; they each have two checkered flags. Martin could possibly take the momentum from his top-10 effort at Bristol last week and propel himself to another good finish on Sunday, and look for Stewart to continue his early-season consistency.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the most laps in the March race last season, but he faded late and finished fifth -- it would become a pattern the No. 88 would experience again and again last season, and considering the start that team has gotten off to this season, don't be surprised if Junior isn't a factor this week.
What of Kyle Busch? He's never won at Martinsville, and his best finish of fourth came in both races in 2006. In eight career starts at the track, Busch has four top-10 finishes ... but he also has three finishes of 29th or worse. If he can keep himself out of trouble, Busch will be a factor on Sunday, but he's still shown a propensity for putting himself into questionable situations on occasion.
Martinsville thrives on questionable situations.
Expect a lot of cautions in this race -- much like the Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday, weather permitting -- which could really throw a monkey wrench into things. Thought Martinsville has become predictable in recent years in terms of who visits Victory Lane, being at the wrong place at the wrong time can spell potential doom. This track is still somewhat of a wild card on the Sprint Cup circuit, and that's why the fans love it.
That and the world famous Martinsville hot dogs. Two bucks apiece and so good crews and drivers eat them for breakfast, no trip to the paper clip is complete without having a few. I'll be there this weekend, enjoying the racing action -- and I'll be sure to have a few hot dogs while I'm at it.
I'll also be taking a lot of pictures. They'll be in my next post.