Is Martinsville the track that's the best barometer for Brad Keselowski's Chase chances?
Yes, he's the points leader, and no one is doubting the legitimacy of Keselowski's Chase bid. But his two closest pursuers are pretty good at Martinsville.
Scratch that. Really damn good.
Jimmie Johnson is seven points back of Keselowski after drawing even with him at Kansas, damaged race car and all. In 21 Martinsville starts, Johnson has six wins, 14 top fives and 18 top 10s. Yes, he's only finished outside the top 10 three times. His average finish is an astounding 5.8, and he's led over 17 percent of the laps he's completed at Martinsville.
Denny Hamlin isn't far behind Johnson. Hamlin has four wins in 14 starts and has finished in the top 10 in all but two Martinsville races. And he's led over 16 percent of the laps he's completed. Hamlin's average finish is 6.4.
While not in the same stratosphere as Johnson and Hamlin, Keselowski hasn't been too bad at Martinsville in his five starts, with an average finish of 13.4 and two top 10s. Problem is, if the averages hold on Sunday, Johnson would be tied with Keselowski atop the standings.
That's why Sunday may be our best indicator of how the final three races will play out. If Keselowski can keep or maintain his seven point edge over Johnson, he's got the favorite status and the mental boost that comes from stagnating the five-time champion at his favorite track. If Johnson and/or Hamlin can close in or draw even with Keselowski, then we've got no favorite anymore.
Here's a look at how the other Chasers perform at Martinsville.
Jeff Gordon: Four-time is the third best driver at Martinsville, and was in position to either win or finish second to Johnson in the spring until the late race restart and ensuing chaos. Gordon's average finish is 7.1 and he has 31 top 10s in 39 starts.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior's never won at Martinsville but has 14 top 10s in 25 starts and has an average finish of 12.6. How crazy would it be if his first Martinsville win came after sitting out these last two races?
Tony Stewart: This just in: many of the best drivers in the sport are the best drivers at Martinsville. Smoke has three wins in 27 starts and 15 top 10s. His average finish is 13.2, and he won this race last year on the way to the title.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer's most memorable Martinsville moment may be that aforementioned chaos in the spring, that saw him go spinning along with Gordon and Johnson. In 13 starts, Bowyer has seven top 10s and an average finish of 14.7.
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has eight top 10s in 25 Martinsville starts, so no, this isn't Flatline's best track, even though you would think with a name like Flatline he would be better on flat tracks. (Bad joke, I know.) His average finish is 16.0.
Kevin Harvick: Cupcake's only Martinsville win came last year in the spring when he ran down and passed Junior for the win. His average finish in 22 Martinsville starts is also 16.0. Random fact: Carl Edwards' average finish is also 16.0.
Martin Truex Jr.: Here's where the separation begins, and Truex heads the list of the three Chasers who have average finishes outside the top 20. In 13 starts, Truex has two top fives and four top 10s. Average finish? 21.4
Kasey Kahne: Kahne's last (and second) top 10 at Martinsville came in the fall of 2006. Seriously. Since then, his best finish was a 14th place one in the fall race of 2010. It hasn't been pretty. His average finish in 19 races is 21.7, though he qualified on the pole for the spring. He ended up finishing that race in 28th because of a blown engine.
Greg Biffle: Bringing up the rear is the Biff, who should go out and win the race just to screw with the averages. His average finish is 21.9 and he has no top fives and two top 10s in 19 Martinsville starts.
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