SHELBYVILLE, IL. —
If you have a grudge with someone entering this race, there is a pretty good chance you will find that driver at some point during this weekends 500 mile race. Martinsville is the shortest track on the circuit at .526 miles and they run the shortest oval race of the year at 263 miles long.
One person you won’t find this weekend is Denny Hamlin. Hamlin has won at Martinsville four times and one of his best races. Hitting the wall hard on the final lap at California, Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his lower back. Hamlin is expected to miss five races, but has said, he hopes to be back by Richmond, VA, two races early. This will give him a much better chance at making the top 20 in points and possibly sneaking into the chase as a Wildcard by winning races. Hamlin would have to finish in the top 20 and be one of the top two drivers in wins to secure that spot.
Mark Martin will take the wheel in the Fed Ex machine for Hamlin this weekend. It will be the only race that Martin will fill in. After that Brian Vickers will fill in. Rumors have flown, first it was reported that Elliott Sadler would get the ride, then Martin, but reports are saying that Michael Waltrip Racing opposed Martin running multiple races.
Joey Logano is one driver you will find driving around this weekend, and a few other drivers may be looking for. Logano has wished Hamlin a speedy recovery, but Hamlin still isn’t happy with the way he has been raced lately. Tony Stewart has also warned Logano that his time is coming.
So who wins this weekend? With the exception of Kasey Kahne, Hendrick cars have been dominate. Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon each have seven wins at the track, the most by any active drivers. Richard Petty won at Martinsville 15 times. In 22 starts, Johnson has only finished outside the top 20 once and has 15 top 5’s. Gordon has 25 top 5’s in 40 starts, and 3 finishes outside the top 20. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also runs well here. Earnhardt is fifth among active drivers with an average 13th place finish.
It’s hard to pick again Hendrick cars this weekend, so I am going with the favorite Jimmie Johnson to win the race. Want a long shot that may not be on your radar this weekend. Look no further than Brian Vickers who jumps in the #55 car for Michael Waltrip Racing again this weekend. Another long shot would be Aric Armirola driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. The #43 car used to dominate Martinsville, so you know this track is special for the team. Armirola is off to a solid start and I would think a top ten finish may be in cards this weekend.
Next week, the series heads to Texas for their first night race on Saturday night.