Chase Watch Martinsville: Who will win and get in?
In the 10-year history of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, no season has started with six different winners in the first six races of the season.
A quick glance at the last six winners at Martinsville makes 2014 look like the year the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series goes 6-for-6. Kevin Harvick is the only driver in that group to visit Victory Lane this year. The other five are Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson (twice), Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart.
If Newman wins, Richard Childress Racing would become the sixth different organization to grab a Chase-clinching victory in six races, joining Hendrick Motorsports (Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona), Joe Gibbs Racing (Kyle Busch at Auto Club), Roush Fenway Racing (Carl Edwards at Bristol), Stewart-Haas Racing (Harvick at Phoenix) and Team Penske (Brad Keselowski at Las Vegas).
Here are the stats for those five former Martinsville winners to watch this weekend:
Among active drivers, Gordon is tied with Jimmie Johnson for the most wins (8), leads all active drivers in top-five finishes (27), top 10s (34) and laps led (3,593). He has the most lead-lap finishes (33) and fewest DNFs (0) all time at the Virginia bullring. As disappointed as he was leaving Auto Club Speedway with a 13th-place finish that snapped a string of four consecutive top 10s to start the season, keep an eye on this Martinsville master.
Speaking of eyes and Martinsville masters, Hamlin has been cleared to race after missing last Sunday's Auto Club 400 with a piece of metal in his eye. The Virginia native set the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series track qualifying record last fall, turning NASCAR's smallest circuit in 19.013 seconds at a 99.595 mph clip. Hamlin has four victories at the .526-mile facility, including three in a row from the 2009 fall race through a 2010 sweep. He has nine top-fives, 13 top-10s and an average finish of 8.1 in 16 races.
Tied with Gordon with eight wins, Johnson has 17 top-five, 21 top-10s and the best average finish among active drivers at 5.3. Johnson has the best Driver Rating (124.0) and a series-high 8,333 laps run in the top 15. He's second to Gordon in laps led among active drivers (2,450). The defending winner of this race, Johnson has at least one win at the short track in seven of the last 10 seasons.
Seeking his first victory for RCR and the organization's second Martinsville win since 1995, Newman won the spring race two years ago and has seven top-fives, 11 top-10s and a 15.3 average finish in 24 starts at the track. Sitting eighth in points, one spot ahead of RCR teammate Austin Dillon, Newman could muscle his way to a second grandfather clock in three spring races.
The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has three wins at Martinsville, most recently in the fall of 2011 in a performance that helped him clinch that third title. Stewart has nine top-fives and 15 top-10s in 29 starts and the fifth-best Driver Rating (98.5) at the track. Two consecutive top-five finishes at Bristol Motor Speedway and Auto Club have moved him up to 17th in points and give him momentum heading to the second short-track race of the year.
Go deeper: Check out NASCAR's Martinsville Statistical Analysis for more stats and notes for Sunday's STP 500.
Heading into the sixth race of NASCAR's regular season, here is how the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings look:
|2.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Winner: Daytona|
||Winner: Las Vegas
||Winner: Auto Club
||3rd in points|
||5th in points|
||6th in points|
||8th in points|
||9th in points|
||10th in points|
||11th in points|
||12th in points|
||13th in points|
||14th in points|
|16.||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
||15th in points|