STP 500 Preview

I’m an idiot for scrapping half a paragraph on Martin Truex and ultimately excluding him from last week’s picks. Nailing 4 of the top-5 for the second week in a row looked completely foolish in that context, especially when everyone in the race was trailing by at least six seconds during the closing laps. The #78 ran the table with the pole, both stage wins, and the race victory – all in dominant fashion. Had Harvick stayed in contention, I’m not sure they would’ve had anything for the win anyway. Such is life, and we all move forward. This week, our attention turns to the first official short track on the schedule, so get ready to beat in those fenders. After all folks, rubbin’ is racin’.

Speaking of Rubbin’s Racin’, Round 2 of the league I run spans from Charlotte (race #13) – Bristol (race #24). We run our season in three separate, 12-race sections, and would love to welcome new contenders. Stay tuned…


Every season, there are a few races I bookmark on my calendar by default, and the two events at Martinsville are always part of those gems. Affectionately nicknamed “the paperclip” because of its shape, Martinsville is a .526 mile short track that consists of two narrow straightaways, linked together by extremely tight, flat-banked turns. With only 12 degrees of banking to help navigate the shortest turning radii on any of the oval tracks, drivers will use a tremendous amount of brake on corner entry to setup turn initiation. This relentless abuse generates so much heat over time, the brake rotors on the cars will literally glow red hot. Track position is incredibly important for several reasons. First, on-track passing is an extremely methodical process. Most cars who cannot hook the bottom will fall victim to a freight train effect, losing up to 10 spots at a time if they get hung out to dry on a restart. Secondly, pit road is pure chaos here. Clean entry and exits from pit stalls are rare, which puts a premium on qualifying for pit stall selection, as well as running up front and being one of the first cars onto pit road. Lastly, the track length of .526 miles means the leader will be catching the tail end of the lead lap after about 30 circuits. Drivers running outside the top-20 on a long green flag run are in significant danger of going a lap down quickly. The winning car will be one of the rare few to keep pace and/or pass on the high side.


This section is less about prognostication, and more about highlighting drivers catching my eye at a given moment. We all play in different formats and have different strategies, but hopefully this adds some value to your results. Good luck!

THE DOWNFORCE (start ’em)

Wins: 40%
Top-5: 58%
Top-10: 81%
Avg Finish: 7.3
Avg Points: 39.8

Kyle Busch (Pit Stall Rating 458.21, 1st) – In 2015, something clicked with Kyle Busch at this track, and the M&Ms #18 is my favorite to visit victory lane this weekend. The last five races have seen Kyle finish 5th, 1st, 5th, 2nd, and 1st. The history alone should be enough, but Kyle is currently running 2nd in momentum this season, and if the #18 team can avoid the late-race pit mistakes, the driver can do the rest at this track. Drivers skills make a noteworthy difference at Martinsville.

Brad Keselowski (Pit Stall Rating 133.52, 2nd) – Likewise, Brad Keselowski also had the proverbial light bulb go off in 2015. Since then, he has delivered 4 straight top-5 finishes, including a victory in this race last season. Brad is a tremendous short track driver, and this team excels at delivering contrarian strategy calls if and when the car isn’t delivering track position. One way or another, the #2 team will find a way to the front.

Martin Truex Jr. (Pit Stall Rating 103.47, 3rd) – My favorite question from new NASCAR fans is “Martin Truex. Is he from France?” Nope, Jersey. I don’t know why, but New Jersey seems like the furthest place from France, and it makes me smile every time I get to answer the question. For a variety of dumb reasons, I deleted a write-up on the #78 last weekend, but I’ll elaborate this time around. This is not Martin’s strongest track, and neither was Auto Club (yet we all saw what happened there). I believe #78 can be started anywhere, and he’s a given assumption to me each week. Martinsville is not my ideal pick for a Truex usage, but like everywhere else, he’s becoming a formidable driver here.

Jimmie Johnson (Pit Stall Rating 103.06, 4th) – Richard Petty has 15 Martinsville wins. Darrell Waltrip has 11 wins. Jeff Gordon has 9 wins. For those who do not know, each win equates to a beautifully carved grandfather clock as the trophy. Jimmie Johnson has 9 of those clocks collecting dust somewhere, and I couldn’t sleep at night if I excluded the #48 from a Martinsville preview. Calling all haters – the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet gets their swan song season started here. Mr. Martinsville is primed for a top finish (please God do well Jimmie).

Denny Hamlin (Pit Stall Rating 52.50, 12th) – In general, betting against Denny Hamlin in his home state of Virginia has been a losing proposition over the years, and I’m not about to start now. However, in full disclosure, Denny has laid a couple eggs across his last 5 starts. In the spring ’16 race he finished 39th, then 30th in the spring ’17 race. Despite those outliers, he still needs to be considered a top option this weekend. In 24 starts, Denny has 5 wins at this track, a 50% career top-5 percentage, and a 75% career top-10 percentage. Find someone else to shade those kinds of numbers.

THE DRAFT (dark horse)

Clint Bowyer (Pit Stall Rating 32.83, 28th) – Clint is still in a period of resurgence from a multi-year gap between leaving Richard Childress Racing and joining Stewart-Haas. Nothing against Michael Waltrip Racing, but let’s be honest – Clint was not nearly as successful as his ceiling would permit. Back in the day, Clint was a must-start at short tracks like Martinsville and Bristol, and I feel there’s enough data underneath the #14 now to support a claim here. Clint finished 7th in this race last season in his first race with SHR, and improved to 3rd in the fall. He has five top-5s in his 24 career starts at Martinsville, and a career top-10 percentage of 58%. I don’t see any reason he can’t deliver a top-10 this weekend.

THE DRAG (avoid ’em)

Kurt Busch (Pit Stall Rating 29.41, 20th) – Kurt’s best finish across the last 5 Martinsville races is 13th, and that sadly stands out among his four other sub-20th finishes. A deeper dive under the hood shows Martinsville is a historic coin flip for Kurt to finish in the top-20, which isn’t the kind of data we’re looking for. The only track worse in this category for Kurt is Las Vegas. Pass.


4.2, #18 Kyle Busch
8.8, #2 Brad Keselowski
9.8, #78 Martin Truex Jr.
9.8, #48 Jimmie Johnson
11.0, #31 Ryan Newman


128.3, #18 Kyle Busch
117.5, #2 Brad Keselowski
102.5, #22 Joey Logano
101.4, #78 Martin Truex Jr.
101.0, #48 Jimmie Johnson

MOMENTUM (last 5 overall races)

43.2, #78 Martin Truex Jr.
40.2, #18 Kyle Busch
37.6, #22 Joey Logano
36.6, #2 Brad Keselowski
36.2, #4 Kevin Harvick

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