What to Watch For: STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway

What to Watch For: STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway

MARTINSVILLE, VA – Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway marks the first short-track race of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. The STP 500 will provide fans with plenty of excitement as drivers will battle for 500 laps around the historic ‘paperclip’.

Young drivers at Martinsville:

On Friday, Kyle Larson discussed his feelings towards Martinsville Speedway and was not shy in saying that early in his career, Martinsville has not been his favorite track because he “sucked” here. Larson will start on the pole, per the NASCAR rulebook with the cancellation of qualifying on Friday.

The STP 500 will be the first opportunity for rookie drivers to race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway including; Ty Dillon, Erik Jones, and Daniel Suárez. Jones rolls off in the 15th position, Suárez in 19th (will start in the rear in a backup car), and Dillon in 20th.

Martinsville will present these rookies with a unique variety of challenges, as it can be hard on equipment, hard on the drivers, and test one’s patience over the course of 500 laps.

Friday was especially interesting for Suárez who had a mishap midway through first practice that resulted in him crashing his primary car in turn 3. According to Suárez, his car wheel-hopped entering the turn and he was unable to save it from contact with the wall.

Erik Jones was the fastest of the rookies in Saturday’s Happy Hour practice, finishing 7th, while Suárez and Dillon were 25th and 26th respectively.

The debut of stage racing at a short track:

When NASCAR unveiled their plans for stage racing in three upper-tiers of the touring, it was met with skepticism as to how it would impact races. Five races into the season and there seems to be an added excitement to each event, with the incentives to finishing well in each stage.

It will be interesting to see what kind of element is added to the race at Martinsville with this new format being used at a short-track for the first time.

Cautions are traditionally fluent at Martinsville, but there always seems to be at least one long green-flag run. If this is the case on Sunday, drivers will be looking forward the stage breaks to make adjustments to their cars.

Restarts:

At a race track like Martinsville, space can be tight when everyone is fighting for the same real estate, especially on a restart.

It’s no secret that the low line at Martinsville is the preferred groove to make passes and is incredibly important on restarts. In past races, drivers that restart on the outside line can lose multiple positions on the restart if they are unable to get to bottom of the track.

We have seen drivers employ strategies for assisting competitors on the outside, especially their teammates. Team Penske and Joe Gibbs are two teams that have executed this strategy well previously, but with the reward also comes the risk.

While this can help a fellow teammate out, it can also result in less than desirable outcomes, as seen in the fall race in 2015.  One has to wonder at what point in the race will this strategy become obsolete?

Staff Picks:

Greg Atkins – Denny Hamlin – I think Denny Hamlin will be the driver that scores the victory today. Martinsville Speedway is his stomping grounds and I think he and the No. 11 FedEx team bring home a sixth grandfather clock.

Tyler Painter – Brad Keselowski – The No. 2 crew and driver Brad Keselowski have been quick all weekend at Martinsville, finishing fourth in the final practice session of the weekend. The Penske cars have been fast in recent years at Martinsville and I look for Sunday to be the day they return to Victory Lane at the half-mile track.