Geoffrey Miller's five things to watch at Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville is Jeff Gordon’s ticket to Homestead
Jeff Gordon is driving a brand new Hendrick Motorsports chassis this weekend at Martinsville, but his old fortune at the track may be his best weapon in advancing to the Chase for the Sprint Cup’s final round.
Gordon has won at the other two tracks comprising the Chase’s semifinal round, but his success at Martinsville has been incredibly more frequent. The defending fall race winner, Gordon has eight wins at the hal-mile trak and a top-5 rate in 43 races of 62.8 percent. More astonishing, he’s never failed to finish.
Those numbers translate into opportunity for Gordon – and also into security. Gordon can play the role that Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski once had in this Chase by taking a round’s first checkered flag and earning immunity from other problems that can crop up at Texas and Phoenix.
Stewart-Haas Racing plans crew swap for Nos. 10, 41 teams
Kurt Busch sealed his spot in the Chase in the spring at Martinsville, but didn’t see much success beyond that in his maiden Stewart-Haas Racing season. The No. 41 was among the four drivers first eliminated from the Chase.
That pronounced lack of success – Busch has only earned the 23rd most point in the series this year – has led to hand-wringing and now change at the team. Busch’s current crew chief, Daniel Knost, and his accompanying at-track road crew will begin work on Danica Patrick’s No. 10 starting next week at Texas, while Patrick’s crew – including recently re-signed crew chief Tony Gibson – will move to Busch’s No. 41.
The move is to last into 2015, though the team news release stopped well short of confirming Knost as Patrick’s crew chief in 2015.
Gibson, with three career wins to his name, will bring an old-school feel to Busch’s team and provides an interesting departure from Busch’s raucous personality. As for Patrick, the move comes at a point when she was trending in a positive direction in terms of performance.
Can Hamlin re-discover Martinsville mojo?
There was a time when Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin were titans of Martinsville – each battling one another for the crown. Hamlin scored four wins in that period from 2008-10.
But since then, Hamlin’s domination of Martinsville has disappeared. He has one top-5 finish – a fifth in 2011 – since and has led substantially fewer laps. His performance reached a new low in the spring when he didn’t lead a single lap and finished 19th.
Now back with much more on the line, Hamlin knows the gravity of returning to Martinsville greatness.
“No win would be bigger than what this one is, if we were to get it this weekend at Martinsville,” Hamlin said in a team release.
A win would also put Hamlin in prime position for a championship. Hamlin, in nine starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, has two wins and four top-5 finishes.
Edwards happy with Roush performance despite looming departure
Carl Edwards didn’t want to talk about his move in 2015 to Joe Gibbs Racing when it became official in July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He said then he was concerned with distraction from the job – and team – at hand.
But even with that focus, the story of a team with a lame duck driver seeing a performance fall off toward the end of a season isn’t a new one. Edwards even expected it while preparing to leave Roush Fenway Racing.
“It’s been great and it’s surprised me at how much hasn’t changed since I announced that I was leaving,” Edwards said Friday at Martinsville. “Robbie Reiser, Steve Newmark, Jack Roush, they’ll joke around a little bit about it, but there’s really nothing but hard work and dedication by all those guys to get this 99 team a championship.”
Edwards is in the group of eight drivers still eligible in the Chase thanks to consistency in the Chase. That performance is likely a product of RFR not shutting down Edwards’ access to information and meetings before his departure to JGR.
“Someone asked me the other day, ‘So, have they been keeping you out of meetings or withholding anything?’ I don’t know if they have been,” Edwards said. “I asked Steve Newmark about it and he laughed and said, ‘No.’
“He said, ‘We actually had a talk about that. We thought it would be pretty silly to not go 100 percent at this championship.’”
For Edwards and Roush, the formula seems to be working.
Fowler goes from Talladega tent to Martinsville driver’s seat
In May, Kyle Fowler posted a photo of a pickup truck and a two-person tent pitched in the Talladega Superspeedway infield. He captioned the Facebook post telling of how we was meeting with NASCAR teams that weekend in a bid to get a ride.
The work paid off.
Fowler, 22, will make his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start Sunday at Martinsville Speedway in the No. 32 Ford sponsored by CorvetteParts.com. prepared by Go Green Racing. It’s his second NASCAR series start of 2014 – he raced in the Nationwide Series at Charlotte in May – and 16th overall.
In another Facebook post, he said Sunday’s race will be his first trip ever to Martinsville and that he’s trying to “make all the laps and stay out of trouble.” He was the slowest driver during Friday’s first Cup practice.
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Photo by Action Sports, Inc.