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Race Preview: STP 500 at Martinsville

STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway NASCARMedia.com

NASCAR

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Martinsville Speedway for the first true short track race of the season, the STP 500. Martinsville is a tight half-mile oval, with long straights and tight turns. Nicknamed “The Paperclip” for its distinct shape, track position and aggressiveness will be key on Sunday.

Joe Gibbs Racing Seeks its First Victory

It’s been a rough start to the season for Joe Gibbs Racing, and the team appears to be searching for some speed. Martinsville is a great racetrack for them to regain some mojo and grab their first victory of the season. Denny Hamlin is historically exceptional at this race track and although Kyle Busch’s career numbers aren’t spectacular, since 2013 he’s been a fixture in the top 5. In fact, Busch won this race a year ago, his breakthrough victory at this facility. Even Matt Kenseth has shown speed at Martinsville since transitioning to JGR from Roush Fenway Racing. Look for the Gibbs cars to be up front in the STP 500 at Martinsville on Sunday.

Can Jimmie Johnson Make a Statement?

Jimmie Johnson bristled at questions regarding his #48 team’s performance thus far in 2017. Martinsville is a great opportunity for him to silence those questions. Johnson has a stellar record at Martinsville Speedway, and this weekends STP 500 should be no different. Short tracks are different from larger venues in that they are not as dependent on aerodynamics, and more based on setup and driver ability. Therefore, the struggles Johnson has experienced with the new race package should be diminished, and his ability at this speedway can certainly help elevate the team’s performance.

Young Guns may be Silenced

Martinsville Speedway may be the facility that cools the red-hot performance of NASCAR’s youth movement. Chase Elliot and Kyle Larson have run exceptionally well thus far, but their Martinsville results don’t exactly reflect an ability to run well here. Add Ryan Blaney to that list as well, although his pseudo-teammates at Team Penske tend to run very well here. Expect struggles from Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez as well, despite their meteoric rises to the MENCS. It may be a small track, but the learning curve at Martinsville is as steep as any track on the circuit. It would be surprising and impressive if any of these drivers are fixtures in the top-10 on Sunday.

Pit Strategy

Martinsville’s tight confines make it a race that is all about track position. Pit strategy will be a major player in the STP 500, where cars will take just 2 tires, or even stay out in hopes of improving their final results. There will likely be multiple major shuffles in the running order throughout the day. This can make this race rather chaotic, with faster cars often behind slower ones. In addition, the preferred lane is on the bottom, so expect to see some gamesmanship on pit exit as well. Spotters will be counting cars to try and get their driver in the preferred lane, which tends to result in chaos and damage.

STP 500 Fantasy Insider

Much of this has already been covered above, but the major players will be largely the same as past races. Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano are safe bets. Kevin Harvick is historically fast as well, but his final results trend lower than his average running position. Take that for what it’s worth, because he could just as easily break through on Sunday. Choose experience over youth this weekend. Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex Jr are much safer bets than their younger teammates. Dale Earnhardt Jr also runs well here, and will be chomping at the bit after missing the fall race here. Chase Elliott has shown improvement in each return here, so he could be good for a top-1o this weekend.

In all, the STP 500 looks to provide a lot of opportunity for drivers having rough starts to 2017. Expect tire management, brake management, pit strategy, and aggressive racing to make up the day’s storylines.

The STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway will begin coverage at 2:00PM EDT on Fox Sports 1.