The dust has barely settled after the wild ending at NASCAR’s biggest track, Talladega Superspeedway, last week. Now the series prepares to race on its shortest track the .526 paperclip oval, Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. The speeds will be less than half what they were last week, but the tempers can still be just as evident. Four drivers were eliminated last week and the next round of three, the Eliminator Round kicks off this week. After the third race only four will be left to settle it all in one race, all of nothing. That’s what makes Martinsville so important; a win here will guarantee a championship contending spot in that final race. While eight drivers are vying for the title, there are at least 35 others who will battle for the win and nothing more. Two of those are among our favorites this week. Here are the odds, current as of Thursday morning, for your NASCAR betting or your fantasy racing leagues as the NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Martinsville Speedway. The Driver Ratings, a stat that combines other stats to determine the top drivers, was compiled from 2005-2015 races (21 total) among active drivers at Martinsville.
Jimmie Johnson (6-1) is tied among five other drivers atop the odds. Johnson is tied with Jeff Gordon for the most career wins here (8) but has struggled the last two races here. He started seventh last October, but mechanical issues and contact on the track put him back to 32nd. In the race here this past spring, mechanical issues and damage from being caught up in several of the days accidents left him with a 35th place finish 32 laps down. Johnson however still has the highest driver rating among the field, 119.4, and is looking for redemption.
Denny Hamlin (6-1) is not among the Chase drivers and appears to have the best shot at being a winning non-Chase driver. He held off Brad Keselowski here in March for his fifth career win here. He has the third highest driver rating, 111.4, and was eighth in the race last year. After a couple of relatively quiet weeks don’t be surprised to see Hamlin make some noise this week.
Jeff Gordon (6-1) could be poised to come alive. After grinding his way through the Chase to this point, this could be Gordon’s week. He is tied with Johnson for the most wins among active drivers here, has the second best driver rating, 119.1, was ninth here in the spring and second in this race last year. With one final shot at a title, this could be Gordon’s best chance to secure his spot in the final Chase race at Homestead.
Kevin Harvick (6-1) will be looking to silence those critical of his performance last week at Talladega that left several drivers fuming after a controversial finish. Harvick is in the Chase and is personally looking to rebound. He has never won here, has the eighth best driver rating93.6, but was eighth in the spring, and will be looking to overcome his gremlins of the past few weeks and score his first win in this year’s Chase.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12-1) is actually our favorite this week. He was eliminated from the Chase last week by less than a fender and once that realization set it, he seemed more relaxed and ready to simply go out and win. He the fourth best driver rating, 99.5, but scored his first career win in this race last year and will be looking to defend that win. Unless mechanical issues or a crash slows him, look for Earnhardt in victory lane Sunday.
Others: Joey Logano (6-1) swept all three races in the last round, but the slate is clean and Logano could be looking to do it again. He has the ninth best driver rating here, 88.0, has never won, but was third here in the spring. Kurt Busch (20-1) has two wins here but has struggled the last two races, finishing 14th here in the spring and 36th in this race last year. His driver rating, 79.5, is 15th best, but he has been somewhat of a sleeper lately showing signs that he could be getting ready to come to the front of the Chase field. He could be a surprise Sunday.
Qualifying is set for Friday afternoon, important since the pole is the most proficient starting spot in the field at Martinsville producing more wins (21) than any other starting position. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500, gets the green flag just after 1:15 p.m. ET Sunday, November 1 with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.