Top 10 drivers without a Martinsville victory
It's the smallest and oldest track on NASCAR's premier circuit, a layout that's been a part of the sport for as long as there's been a sport. Its concession stand hot dogs, grandfather clock trophies and obstinate inside curb have all woven their way into lore. Martinsville Speedway is as much a monument as it is a race track, as immovable a part of the region's scenery as the New River or the southwestern Virginia highlands.
No wonder, given that founder H. Clay Earles carved it out of the soil in 1947, a year before Big Bill France organized a gathering of race promoters at a hotel in Daytona Beach. It's the only track from NASCAR's inaugural "strictly stock" campaign of 1949 still on the schedule today. The 130 premier series events it's hosted to date is more than that of any other track save Daytona International Speedway, whose total of 134 is inflated by the fact that Daytona 500 qualifying races counted as points events through 1971.
So for generations of drivers, Martinsville has been a mainstay, offering two chances to win on the half-mile every season since 1950. No matter the era, nobody gets shorted on opportunities to take home a Ridgeway grandfather clock. And yet, some of the best drivers in NASCAR -- including a few in the Hall of Fame, or on their way there -- have still managed to go 0-for the paperclip. This in a sport where so many get their start wheeling late model cars on flat short tracks, very much like the facility whose grandstands rise into view as you drive into Martinsville on Highway 220.
Richard Petty holds the record with 15 Martinsville victories, while Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon pace active drivers with eight wins apiece. But this list is about the opposite end of the spectrum, and those drivers who don't have a grandfather clock unless they bought one themselves. With NASCAR heading back to one of its oldest and most frequently visited tracks this weekend, here are the top 10 drivers without a Martinsville victory.
10. Greg Biffle
Some drivers excel at Martinsville, and just haven't won there due to a combination of circumstances or bad luck. Others simply never get the hang of the place, and Greg Biffle would seem to fall into that latter category. The Roush Fenway Racing driver has 19 career victories at NASCAR's top level, none of them at Martinsville, where he's never even cracked the top five in 22 career starts. His best finish there was seventh in the fall of 2007, and he's led laps in just three races there -- the most in a single event being all of nine. Biffle has finished every race he's ever started at Martinsville, just mostly in the middle of the pack.
9. Carl Edwards
Biffle's teammate at RFR can relate. With 22 victories at the Sprint Cup level and a couple of championship near-misses, Carl Edwards has certainly asserted himself as an elite driver -- except when it comes to a certain short track. In 19 starts at Martinsville, Edwards has a single top-five finish, that coming when he placed third in the fall of 2008. Perhaps his best run there came in late 2011, when he absolutely needed a strong run at Martinsville to keep pace with championship rival and race winner Tony Stewart, and he led 28 laps en route to an eighth-place result. But still, no victories to date.
By all accounts, Dale Earnhardt Jr. should have a room full of grandfather clocks. He came up on late model half-milers not unlike Martinsville, has scored victories at Bristol and Richmond, has short-track racing in his blood. And he's led a ton of laps there -- 868 to be exact, more than David Pearson or Fireball Roberts or Lee Petty. And yet he hasn't been able to break through, despite leading over 100 laps in four different races, and twice finishing second. His best Martinsville race might have been in the spring of 2009, when Earnhardt led 195 laps and wound up third at the end. But still, no clock of his own -- at least, not yet.
7. Kyle Busch
Another head-scratcher, given that Kyle Busch started out racing on short tracks and excels on the half-mile layout in Bristol. But flat Martinsville is a different animal altogether, as Busch's efforts there will attest. In 18 career starts, Busch has posted eight top-five finishes, with a best result of second in the fall of 2012. He's led more than 100 laps three times at Martinsville, and paced 151 in the spring of 2011 before winding up third. Busch is more often than not in contention at Martinsville, which is half the battle, but for now his family's only race victory there belongs to his older brother Kurt.
6. Benny Parsons
The 1973 champion of NASCAR's premier series won at a number of different short tracks over the course of his career in the sport's top division, but Martinsville was never among them. Benny Parsons made 29 starts at Martinsville and finished second four times, including both races in 1977. In the spring event that season he led 83 laps, the most he ever paced in a single race on the flat half-mile layout. But Parsons was often plagued by mechanical issues at Martinsville, failing to finish 11 races -- six of them because of engine failures -- and never claiming a grandfather clock of his own.
5. Matt Kenseth
Given that he came up on the late model tracks in and around his native Wisconsin, you'd think Matt Kenseth would take to Martinsville like a sturgeon to Lake Superior. But for much of his career, that hasn't been the case. In 28 starts at Martinsville the 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion has just four top-fives, and he'd never led more than 26 laps in a single race there until this past fall. But in his first season at Joe Gibbs Racing, with a little help from teammate and Martinsville ace Denny Hamlin, Kenseth led 202 laps there last October in a runner-up performance he absolutely needed to keep pace with Jimmie Johnson in the title race.
4. Ned Jarrett
Columbia, Spartanburg, Birmingham, Myrtle Beach, Richmond -- you name the short track, and Ned Jarrett likely won there over the course of a career that netted premier series championships in 1961 and 1965. Martinsville, though, was another story. Perhaps because he had such a relatively brief career as a full-time driver, the NASCAR Hall of Famer made just 15 starts at Martinsville, leading laps in only three of them. His best finish there was third, in the fall of 1962. Like Parsons, he was no stranger to breakdowns at Martinsville, and it would take until son Dale's win there in 2001 before the Jarrett family finally took home a grandfather clock.
3. Bill Elliott
When it came to Martinsville, Awesome Bill could be strikingly ordinary. Short tracks were never Bill Elliott's strong suit, his only victories on layouts smaller than a mile coming at Bristol in 1988 and Richmond in 1992. Elliott and his race teams often placed more emphasis on the superspeedways where he was at his best, likely one reason he managed just three top-fives in 45 starts at Martinsville. He came close twice, posting runner-up finishes in 1984 and 1994, but led laps in just five races. Martinsville simply wasn't a priority for the 1988 champion of NASCAR's top division, who built his legacy on tracks more suited for speed.
You'd think a guy nicknamed "The Iceman" would feel right at home on an often-frustrating short track that puts a premium on cool, but that was never quite the case for Terry Labonte. The two-time NASCAR champion made 53 starts at Martinsville, and though he still occasionally competes in the sport's top series, he hasn't raced there since 2004. No wonder -- Labonte managed only 12 top-fives, finishing second three times but never breaking through. In the fall of 1987, he led 119 laps and finished third. In the fall of 1995, he led 164 and finished second. Labonte won at several other short tracks, but Martinsville always evaded him.
1. Bobby Allison
Runner-up finishes six times, including five in a span of six races. Led 218 laps in 1966. Led 266 laps in 1984. Led 379 laps in 1969. Led an unbelievable 432 laps in 1972 -- and still didn't win. Looking at Bobby Allison's statistics at Martinsville, you'd be convinced the guy should own the whole Ridgeway clock factory, much less have a few at home. But no. The 1983 series champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer is eighth all-time in laps led at Martinsville (2,192) and somehow went winless there. He dominated the place in the 1970s, but finished second again and again and again, doing everything at Martinsville except reach Victory Lane. At the very least, give the man a hot dog.