Weekly Preview: Blu-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500

Weekly Preview: Blu-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

The NASCAR Cup Series continues their revamped schedule this week as the series pulls into the small town of Martinsville, Virginia for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.  This Martinsville event marks the second short track race in the last three events.  Martinsville Speedway is very flat track with only 12 degrees of banking in the turns and is truly flat on the long straight-aways.  We just witnessed tire preservation and issues with tire wear at both Bristol and Atlanta.  We will see a similar game played at the Martinsville oval.  Brake preservation is the name of the game in Martinsville, because you essentially have two long drag strips with hairpin corners on either end.  The oval looks very much like a paperclip when viewed from above, thus the nickname "the paperclip" has taken hold over the years.  Taking care of your brakes for the full 500 laps becomes as important as passing on this tricky short track.  Like any bull ring in the Cup Series, not only is equipment preservation important but getting and maintaining good track position is of the utmost importance.  If you get stuck in the back of the field here, you can find yourself a lap down in a matter of minutes from the start or any restart, so teams must place high priority on getting and keeping good track position.  You won't be able to race your way through traffic and back toward the front as easily here as last week at Atlanta Motor

The NASCAR Cup Series continues their revamped schedule this week as the series pulls into the small town of Martinsville, Virginia for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.  This Martinsville event marks the second short track race in the last three events.  Martinsville Speedway is very flat track with only 12 degrees of banking in the turns and is truly flat on the long straight-aways.  We just witnessed tire preservation and issues with tire wear at both Bristol and Atlanta.  We will see a similar game played at the Martinsville oval.  Brake preservation is the name of the game in Martinsville, because you essentially have two long drag strips with hairpin corners on either end.  The oval looks very much like a paperclip when viewed from above, thus the nickname "the paperclip" has taken hold over the years.  Taking care of your brakes for the full 500 laps becomes as important as passing on this tricky short track.  Like any bull ring in the Cup Series, not only is equipment preservation important but getting and maintaining good track position is of the utmost importance.  If you get stuck in the back of the field here, you can find yourself a lap down in a matter of minutes from the start or any restart, so teams must place high priority on getting and keeping good track position.  You won't be able to race your way through traffic and back toward the front as easily here as last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  Track position will become so important over the course of the race that you will see teams chose either not to pit certain cautions, or to take on two tires in order to grab valuable track position on pit road.  All these factors make any Martinsville race a battle of survival and often times the best equipment preservation and pit strategy wins. 

Since Martinsville Speedway is like no other track on the NASCAR Cup circuit, we'll have to pay close attention to the loop stats this week.  Recent historical statistics at Martinsville will be one of the biggest considerations in our weekly projections.  Hot streaks go out the window to a certain extent when we visit this facility, so it's these recent numbers that require close scrutiny.  The loop stats in the table below span the last 15 years or 30 races at Martinsville Speedway. 

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Jimmie Johnson9.39571,1432,69112,073109.8
Denny Hamlin9.49779591,56611,593107.2
Kyle Busch12.19198611,42411,528104.1
Brad Keselowski10.96925908837,35499.7
Joey Logano13.26613928307,62594.7
Ryan Blaney12.91541011452,71194.2
Kevin Harvick13.889254048110,65694.2
Clint Bowyer14.38625085729,52891.6
Matt Kenseth13.66773286027,93187.9
Chase Elliott17.11902411922,72087.4
Ryan Newman14.27792041388,22384.3
Martin Truex Jr.17.45864277267,78982.2
Kurt Busch19.97302271588,22680.6
Austin Dillon18.22256862,31271.7
Daniel Suarez19.21252601,29270.9
William Byron20.82651054070.7
Aric Almirola21.6436168564,03570.5
Erik Jones21.88221098468.9
Alex Bowman24.07138076158.0
Ty Dillon21.03619040856.1

In this event one year ago we saw Brad Keselowski outlast Chase Elliott and grab his second-career victory at this facility.  That has been more the trend of late.  With the retirement of so many veteran drivers the last few seasons, we're seeing a new set of drivers rise to dominance at this half-mile oval.  We could be in store for another first or second-time Martinsville winner this Wednesday evening.  Many of the young drivers will be battling fender-to-fender with the short track veterans like Denny Hamlin, Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.  It should make for an interesting mix of rising stars and established veterans, vying for the win.  One thing is almost certain this weekend…  with the parity that we currently have in NASCAR's top division we're more likely to be surprised by the outcome and eventual winner this Wednesday evening.  We'll take a look at the track stats and hot streaks and give you the drivers you need to dominate your fantasy racing leagues at Martinsville Speedway.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski has seen dramatic improvement in his Martinsville resume in recent seasons.  The Penske Racing star has tons of success at the other short tracks of the Cup Series, but success has been slow to come at Martinsville Speedway.  That all started to change in the 2015 season.  Keselowski nabbed a runner-up finish at this half-mile oval in this event five years ago, and in the nine races since he's claimed two victories, another runner-up finish and seven Top 5's.  It would seem that the veteran driver has paid his dues at this oval, and now contends for the win each time we visit this historic short track.  With his recent hot streak, Keselowski has boosted his Martinsville Top-5 rate to an eye-popping 45-percent. 

Kyle Busch – With two victories, two runner-up finishes and eight Top-5 finishes in his last nine Martinsville starts, Busch has become one of the top drivers to beat each time we visit this small oval.  His start at the half-mile paperclip in this event one year ago saw the No. 18 Toyota race from 13th on the starting grid to a brilliant third-place finish at the Virginia short track.  He's led over 900 laps in just his last eight starts at this oval, and he has only finished outside the Top 5 once in his last nine starts.  Busch's five-season hot streak has bolstered his career Top-5 rate at Martinsville to an astounding 55-percent rate.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star has always been a short track ace, and he's finally become one at Martinsville Speedway.      

Chase Elliott – Elliott only has nine-career starts at this half-mile oval, and while he's not been overly impressive to this point, we have seen incremental improvement with each start. In this event one year ago the Hendrick Motorsports youngster came from seventh on the starting grid to finish runner-up after 500 laps.  It was his second Top 5 at the oval and career-best Martinsville finish.  That gives the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet three Top-10 finishes in his last four starts at the Martinsville short track.  Elliott's Camaro was incredibly fast at the Bristol short track a couple races ago, and it's hard to forget that blazing speed.  If he can eliminate the mistakes, he should crack the Top 5 again and challenge for the win at Martinsville Speedway. 

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin is usually one of the drivers to beat each time we visit Martinsville Speedway.  The driver of the No. 11 Toyota is a five-time winner at the Martinsville oval and he sports a stellar 75-percent Top-10 rate here.  With over 1,500-career laps led and 15 Top-5 finishes, Hamlin's excellence at this bull ring is quite clear.  He's won here as recently as this event in 2015, and he's finished inside the Top 10 in four of his last five Martinsville starts.  The veteran driver is off to a great start this season, and he led 131 laps at the Bristol short track a couple races ago.  Hamlin should be hungry for a run at the checkers and a sixth grandfather clock trophy this Wednesday night.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Joey Logano – The Penske Racing ace has had a lot of up-and-down performances at the Virginia short track over the years, but of late showed signs of dramatic improvement.  His last six seasons of racing at Martinsville has yielded well over 800 laps led, an amazing five pole positions, one victory and eight Top-10 finishes.  Logano finally put it all together here two seasons ago and claimed his first win at the half-mile short track.  From the looks of it, that won't be his last.  The driver of the No. 22 Ford has finally discovered the secret to victory at Martinsville Speedway.  He stands the best-equipped to challenge the top contenders this Wednesday night.  With an average finish of 8.5 across his last four Martinsville Speedway starts, we're confident he'll race with the leaders and finish inside the Top 10 in Wednesday's 500-lap battle. 

Kevin Harvick – We always think highly of Harvick when it comes to short track racing and his Martinsville resume is pretty strong outside of the top contenders here.  Harvick won this event in 2011 for his first career victory at Martinsville Speedway.  He's also carries a five-race Top-10 streak at the paperclip into this Wednesday night's action.  Harvick has led over 600- career laps at the Southern Virginia short track, so he has no shortage of experience here.  The Stewart Haas Racing star doesn't have the trophies at this oval that he does at others, but he's capable of turning in a good performance.  The No. 4 Ford team has been pretty consistent this season, so Harvick brings a lot of upside into this Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. 

Ryan Blaney – If you feel like gambling a bit, Blaney could be the biggest risk that pays the biggest rewards this week at Martinsville Speedway.  He's made eight-career starts at this oval, but has been improving dramatically over the last two seasons.  Those get fixated on the historical numbers could be turned off on the No. 12 team this week for this very reason.  However, it's worth noting that all four of his Top 10's at the half-mile paperclip have come in the last five starts.  In this event one year ago, the driver of the No. 12 Ford finished fourth-place in that installment of the STP 500.  It was one of his best performances at the Virginia speedway.  Blaney returned last fall and claimed another impressive fifth-place finish in the First Data 500.  This driver and team have figured this short track out.    

Martin Truex Jr. – The paperclip has not been a venue of much success for Truex over his career.  However, his last two seasons of racing at this historic short track have seen a dramatic shift.  Truex carries a five-race Top-10 streak at Martinsville Speedway into this Wednesday night's action, including one pole position, 486 laps led and four Top-5 finishes across that span.  In his last visit to the Virginia foothills, Truex piloted the team's Toyota Camry to a dominant victory in the First Data 500.  If the No. 19 Toyota team can make good adjustments and execute good pit strategy, there's good reason to believe that Truex can race with the lead pack and possibly challenge for the win this Wednesday evening. 

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Martinsville & solid upside

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer has been wildly inconsistent early this season, but that should make him very eager to visit one of his better short tracks in the series this Wednesday night.  His Martinsville stats are pretty spotless despite some inconsistency a couple seasons ago.  16 of his 28-career starts at Martinsville Speedway have netted Top-10 finishes.  That works out to a very dependable 57-percent rate.  Bowyer and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz engineered a solid seventh-place in this event one year ago.  The veteran driver now has four Top 10's in his last six Martinsville starts.  Given the current state of things in the No. 14 Ford team, short tracks are a welcome sight.  Bowyer has the skill at this oval to register a steady Top-10 finish in the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.     

Kurt Busch With his good performance at the short track of Bristol two races ago, Busch saw his stock rise a little more coming to Martinsville Speedway this week.  The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has been racing well since NASCAR resumed action a few weeks ago.  The good news is that we're coming to an oval where Busch is a two-time winner.  The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has been turning around some career-long struggles at this oval with two Top-10 and four Top-15 finishes in his last four starts at Martinsville Speedway.  We believe he's starting to put his inconsistency issues at this historic short track behind him.  His start here last October netted a solid sixth-place finish in the First Data 500.  The hot veteran driver is trending in the right direction at this short track.

Jimmie Johnson – The No. 48 team has been pretty impressive to resume the season, and that is good news coming to one of Johnson's more successful short tracks.  With nine-career wins at the Martinsville oval, Johnson is positioned to be one of the most reliable drivers in this Wednesday night's Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.  He peddled to a hard-fought third-place finish two weeks ago at the small Bristol oval, so there's hope for another good performance this Wednesday night.  Johnson is no longer the major threat to win at Martinsville like he used to be, but he generally cracks the Top 15 and challenges the Top 10 most of the time.  The NASCAR legend has fallen from top dog status at this oval, to simply a steady fantasy racing play.   

William Byron – The inconsistent season showed a glimmer of turning the corner at Bristol two races ago.  The pilot of the No. 24 Chevrolet slugged it out with 39 other drivers that day to capture a strong eighth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway.  Go back to last October, the last time the Cup Series visited central Virginia.  Byron turned in an incredible performance and finished runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. in the First Data 500.  It was easily the young driver's career-best Martinsville performance and a pretty big leap from prior starts.  Byron has just begun to write his NASCAR resume at Martinsville Speedway with just four starts to this point.  However, based on current trends and his last start at the Paperclip, the future looks very bright.   

Ryan Newman – 2020 has been a strange season for this veteran driver.  The Daytona crash that sidelined him and the Coronavirus break have kept Newman from getting into his usual groove.  He comes to Virginia 26th in the driver standings and looking to build some momentum after decent Bristol and Atlanta performances.  Newman recently registered a respectable 15th-place finish at Bristol, so we're encouraged for his chances at Martinsville this week.  The small oval in Virginia has held lots of success for the driver of the No. 6 Ford over the years.  Newman owns three pole positions, one win and 17 Top-10 finishes in 36 starts at this facility.  That works out to a respectable 14.8 average finish and 47-percent Top-10 rate.  The veteran driver nabbed a 10th-place finish in his last start here last October in the First Data 500, and there's ample reason to believe he can do it again.   

Austin Dillon – The No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team is off to a great start this season.  The reuniting of crew chief Justin Alexander and Dillon has paid off big.  They're generally racing inside the Top 10 or Top 15 each week, no matter where NASCAR is visiting.  Dillon's recent Martinsville data is very respectable.  He has one Top-5 and three Top-15 finishes in his last six starts at the historic short track.  In this event one year ago, he piloted the No. 3 Chevy Camaro to a solid 11th-place finish in the STP 500.  Given that Dillon just turned in a great sixth-place finish at the Bristol short track a couple races ago, the No. 3 team seems pretty dialed-in on the short tracks right now. 

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Aric Almirola – Almirola's struggles at Bristol a couple races ago is likely a preview of what to expect at Martinsville Speedway this Wednesday night.  The Stewart Haas Racing veteran is better suited for starts on superspeedways and intermediate ovals.  In 22-career starts at the Virginia short track, Almirola has only come away with four Top-10 finishes (18-percent rate) and only one of those have come in the last 12 visits.  His last start here in October's First Data 500 led to a crash and DNF in the half-mile track.  With an average finish for his career that checks in around 21.6, there are better ovals in this driver's resume.  The crash and DNF at Bristol two races ago does little to help improve our opinion of his chances this Wednesday. 

Alex Bowman – Bowman is another driver who's is better suited for the larger ovals and cookie cutter tracks.  The Hendrick Motorsports driver had a terrible time at the Bristol short track two races ago.  Bowman drove right into a multi-car pileup at mid-race and wound up in the garage for the day with the 37th-place finish and DNF.  Martinsville Speedway has held little success for this driver in eight-career starts.  Bowman has only managed one Top-10 finish in those efforts and a very subpar 24.0 average finish.  While a middle-teens finish is not out of the question if Bowman stays out of trouble, that's far below fantasy-worthy performance for using a start of this driver and team in weekly lineup leagues.              

Matt DiBenedetto – Normally DiBenedetto is on the other side of our weekly preview articles, but not this week.  The Wood Brothers Racing veteran was a bit off his game in the recent Bristol race, and that's likely a good litmus test for potential at the Paperclip in Virginia.  DiBenedetto has 10-career starts at this speedway, and has yet to forge a Top-15 finish.  He's come close, with a 16th-place effort in last October's First Data 500.  Otherwise, it's been a long list of finishes outside the Top 20.  The career history doesn't look very good and his recent start at Bristol is not very encouraging.  We know the driver of the No. 21 Ford carves up intermediate ovals and superspeedways, so it's probably a better idea to bench DiBenedetto at Martinsville Speedway.    

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – The JTG Daugherty Racing veteran has really only had one good start since NASCAR resumed racing after the Coronavirus stoppage.  His brilliant Top-5 finish in the second-half of the Charlotte doubleheader has really been an outlier of his performance since we resumed action.  Stenhouse's crash and DNF at Bristol has really been emblematic of what the veteran driver has accomplished with some fast cars this season.  Martinsville Speedway has been nothing short of a career-long puzzle for this veteran driver.  Only two of Stenhouse's 14-career starts have netted Top 10's at this oval.  In fact, Top 15's have been just as difficult to come by.  With an average finish that checks in at 27.0, Stenhouse looks like a very risky fantasy racing option this Wednesday night. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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