News & Media

From the notebook: Struggle near the cutoff

March 31, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Martinsville crucial in 2011 owners' points fray; TRG, Sadler team for race

Martinsville's a key venue this weekend for car and truck owners who are angling to either stay inside the critical cutoff marks for guaranteed starting spots in the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series, or those trying to get there.

The difference between being a locked in starter, as the top 35 owners are in the Cup Series and the top 25 owners in Trucks, has been well-documented. And so is the necessity of getting off to a good start in a new season.

For the Cup Series, Martinsville is the first race in which 2011 owners' points are used to set the locked in positions. For the first time this season, TRG Motorsports' No. 71 Chevrolet and Front Row Motorsports' No. 37 Ford will have to start -- or go home -- based on their qualifying speeds.

The stark reality is this: Only one team that was outside the top 35 in owners' points at this race last season ended the season inside the top 35; that's Robby Gordon Motorsports. And RGM is near the cut line again this season, as its 34th in owners' points and only eight points clear of 36th position after averaging a 30th-place finish to start the season.

In truth, only seven Cup cars are currently in contention for the top 35, and their relative positions in the standings are a perfect reflection of their performances to this point.

The best achievements have been by FAS Lane Racing's No. 32, which missed one race and is still 33rd in owners' points, 16 points ahead of 36th, with an average finish of 25th. Germain Racing's No. 13 missed the Daytona 500 but has a 27th-place average since then and is 35th, with a six-point edge on 36th.

The three teams struggling to get back into the top 35 have a tough assignment. Tommy Baldwin Racing is 36th, with an average finish of 32.8. TRG Motorsports is 37th, averaging a 32nd-place finish. Front Row didn't plan to race its No. 37 full time and it sits in 38th, nine points out of 35th with an average finish of 32.4. Front Row's No. 38 did plan a full schedule, but after miserable luck it is in 39th place, 12 points out of 35th with an average finish of 33rd.

The most telling aspect of these teams' chase to get back into the top 35 is that they seldom beat the teams they have to finish ahead of to gain ground. Taking the 60 opportunities they've had so far, which is three cars times five races times the four chasers, the four trailers have only succeeded 20 times. If you eliminate the eight automatics created by the two DNQs, the ratio is even worse.

The picture in the Truck Series is quite a bit more frantic. Martinsville is the final race in which 2010 points are being used to set the locked in starters. Currently, there are 10 teams between 21st and 30th in the owners' standings, all within nine points of each other.

* Owner Standings: Cup Series | Truck Series

Hometown guy Sadler gets TRG ride for Martinsville

As part of its fight to get back into the top 35, TRG Motorsports has replaced Cup rookie Andy Lally in its No. 71 Chevrolet for Martinsville with Emporia, Va., native Hermie Sadler.

Sadler drove the No. 71 at Martinsville this past October and finished 26th. The car's best finish this season is 31st, at Phoenix.

"It's always fun to get back behind the wheel and it's an added bonus to do it at Martinsville Speedway, a track that's close to home," said Sadler, who will make his 11th Cup start at the .526-mile short track. "It means so much to me to be able to race at one of my favorite tracks in front of my hometown fans. I am truly appreciative of the opportunity."

Missing the race won't adversely affect Lally's rookie run, given that only a driver's 17 best races count toward the rookie standings. Lally and Brian Keselowski, who hasn't raced since the Daytona 500, are the only declared rookie of the year candidates in the Cup Series this year. Keselowski recently underwent emergency surgery to remove his gall bladder.

Will Martinsville continue variety skein?

For the first time since 2005, the Cup Series has had five different winners in the first five races of the season: Trevor Bayne (Daytona), Jeff Gordon (Phoenix), Carl Edwards (Las Vegas), Kyle Busch (Bristol) and Kevin Harvick (Auto Club).

Since either Denny Hamlin, who's going for his fourth consecutive Martinsville win, or Jimmie Johnson has won the past nine Martinsville races, and Tony Stewart won at Martinsville 10 races ago, in 2006, it seems likely the 6-for-6 skein will continue.

It's only part of the competitive variety that will be on display at the Virginia half-mile. In the manufacturers' standings Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota are deadlocked at 31 points apiece. And the top four drivers in the standings represent all four of the series manufacturers, and all are within 11 points of the lead: 1. Carl Edwards (Ford), 2. Ryan Newman (Chevrolet), 3. Kurt Busch (Dodge), 4. Kyle Busch (Toyota).

KHI streaking in Martinsville trucks

If one of the two Kevin Harvick Inc. trucks entered at Martinsville can win, it will be the third consecutive victory there by the two-time championship organization. Team co-owner Kevin Harvick is the defending race winner and four-time series champion Ron Hornaday won at Martinsville this past fall.

There will be a Truck Series driver autograph session Saturday morning at 9 a.m. across from Martinsville's main office. And Truck Series fans are in for a treat, because about half the field will be there signing autographs, including former Martinsville winners Timothy Peters and David Starr, Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Brendan Gaughan, Johanna Long, Max Papis, James Buescher, Cole Whitt, Craig Goess, Jason White, Justin Marks, Miguel Paludo, Dusty Davis and Justin Johnson.

The autograph session is scheduled for an hour, and fans must have a wristband to get an autograph. Wristbands will be distributed beginning at 8:30 a.m. Friday at the autograph location.

Stremme, Lane set for reunion

If anyone was wondering why Samuel "Miles" Stanley appeared on Robby Gordon's entry as his crew chief for this weekend's Martinsville race, the question was answered Wednesday when David Stremme announced his plans to return to the Cup Series with a new team, Inception Motorsports, later this spring at Richmond.

Stremme's announcement said his Chevrolets would be tuned by crew chief Steven Lane, who started this season at the head of Gordon's No. 7 Dodge program. More important for Stremme, though, was the two years he spent at Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006-07 with Lane leading his No. 40 Dodge team.

Raikkonen's journey continues

Former Formula One ace Juan Montoya had to be smiling on Wednesday when news broke that 2007 F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen was approved by NASCAR to make his Truck Series debut as early as the May 20 event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The news was posted on the ICE 1 Racing Facebook page. ICE 1 is the team currently running Raikkonen in a partial schedule in the World Rally Championship, which he's done for the past two seasons since leaving F1 after the 2009 season.

It follows a report that broke in Raikkonen's native Finland earlier this week that tied ICE 1's NASCAR venture to a partnership with former Richard Petty Motorsports and Gillett Evernham Motorsports executive Foster Gillett.

Attempts to reach Gillett this week to clarify his involvement were unsuccessful. No other details about Raikkonen's Truck Series plans have been revealed, including a shop location, manufacturer or crew chief.

Montoya, who teamed with Raikkonen in 2005 and part of '06 while racing for McLaren -- when they won 10 of 19 races between them in '05 -- told Autosport he would look forward to seeing Raikkonen in NASCAR. But barring extremely quick developments, it seems that would not occur before some time this summer.

Roush sets off rookie drivers

Roush Fenway Racing is struggling to find sponsorship for its Nationwide Series programs -- not only that of former series champion Carl Edwards but also those of his young teammates Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the current series point leader, and Trevor Bayne.

The two youngsters are under a microscope each week at the race track, where their every competitive move is viewed and analyzed. But RFR has taken that scrutiny to a new level, albeit a light-hearted one, by launching, a site that "promises to provide not only an inside glimpse of their two youngest wheel men, but a behind the scenes look at the competitive nature that drives their racing success on the track."

Part of the site is a weekly "1 on 1 challenge," where fans can suggest different competitions in which the two drivers can square off.

"This is something that Ricky and Trevor really encouraged us to do," Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark said. "What you have to understand is that this is the way these guys are. Even if we weren't shooting it and posting it online, this is stuff they'd be doing anyway. This is their life, 24/7.

"The world's going to see not only how competitive Ricky and Trevor are, but that they are really down-to-earth, well-spoken young guys who have a terrific future in this sport."