Shaped like a paperclip, Martinsville Speedway is among the oldest and most unique tracks on the circuit. The flat straightaways and sharp turns have led to extreme braking conditions, as drivers come screaming into the corners. Patience and timing are the keys to making passes at Martinsville. Drivers who can set someone up and out-brake their rivals going through the turns will find it easiest to get to the front. Those relying on straightaway speed alone will lose their handles and give back their positions in the turns more often than not.
Practice sessions: Friday, April 5, at 12 p.m. EDT; Saturday, April 6, at 10:30 a.m. EDT, 11:45 a.m. EDT
Qualifying: Friday, April 5, at 3:40 p.m. EDT
Race: Sunday, April, 7 at 1 p.m. ET
Location: Ridgeway, Va.
Length: 0.526 miles
Turns 1-4: 12 degrees
Straightaways: 0 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Since moving to Hendrick in 2008, Earnhardt has tallied seven results inside the top 10 at Martinsville while scoring three podium finishes through 10 starts. During that time his average running position has been worse than 12th on only one occasion. Five races into the current season and now first in points, Earnhardt has yet to finish worse than seventh this year, with a pair of runner-up performances.
Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Ford | Penske Championship Racing
Edwards: not a top choice
Last year's series champion has finished 12th or better in four of his six career starts at Martinsville, but really put it together in 2012. In the spring race Keselowski held an average running position of sixth and finished ninth as one of four drivers to spend every lap in the top 15.
Keselowski overcame qualifying 32nd for the fall race to finish sixth. The Blue Deuce started the season with four straight inside the top five until running into overheating issues at Auto Club Speedway.
Clint Bowyer | No. 15 RK Motors Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
After years of successful performances at Martinsville, Bowyer produced a pair of terrific runs last year. Bowyer recorded a career-best average running position of fourth in each paperclip trip, finishing 10th and fifth, respectively. Coming off an engine failure that spoiled a good run at Fontana, Bowyer has recorded an average running position of 12th or better in four of the five contests of 2013.
Aric Almirola | No. 43 Jani-King/STP Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports
Almirola is still seeking his first top-10 finish of the year, but has finished 16th or better four times and might be five of five if not for an early crash at Bristol Motor Speedway. Last year, Almirola set new career-best finishes at Martinsville with an eighth-place finish in the spring and fourth in the fall. Granted, Almirola has a limited ceiling, but he could be a worthy value depending on the format.
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Gordon has led more than 35 laps in 13 straight Martinsville starts with an average of 113.4 circuits paced in each race. Since 2003 he's finished outside the top 10 only once at Martinsville with 15 top-fives in 20 starts. Gordon has been inconsistent so far this season but can never do wrong at Martinsville. If anything, this uneven start could make Gordon a bit of a value this week.
Ryan Newman | No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Since loop data was introduced in 2008, Newman's average running position of 14.5 at Martinsville ranks ninth among all drivers. During that time, Newman collected half a dozen finishes of 11th or better and won this event last year, taking advantage of the leaders colliding on a late restart. Newman has already registered a pair of DNFs this year, but notched top-10s in the other three races.
Bobby Labonte | No. 47 Bush's Beans Toyota | JTG Daugherty Racing
Among lower-tier drivers, Labonte is worth a look based on what he did at Martinsville last year. Even though he spent 72 percent of the race running in the top 15, Labonte slide a bit to finish 17th in the spring race. In the fall he notched his first top-10 at Martinsville since 2006. Labonte is looking for his first top-20 of the year since the Daytona 500 and could make it happen if he looks good in practice.
Brian Vickers | No. 55 Jet Edge Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
In last year's Chase race at Martinsville, Vickers qualified on the outside pole, held an average running position of fifth and finished eighth. Vickers was a successful part-time driver last year and has picked up where he left off. At Bristol, his lone start of 2012, Vickers qualified fourth and finished eighth, but had to earn the free pass on two occasions.
Temper your expectations
Carl Edwards | No. 99 Fastenal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Edwards won on the first flat track of the season, Phoenix International Raceway, and owns three top-fives in the last four races. The momentum could, however, slow down at Martinsville, where Edwards has been a mediocre option among the top drivers. His career average running position of 16.1 at the site ranks just 13th. In four starts at Martinsville since 2011, Edwards has qualified outside the top 20 three times.
Kurt Busch | No. 78 Furniture Row/Serta Chevrolet | Furniture Row Racing
You have to go back to 2005 to find the last top-10 finish at Martinsville for Busch. In the 14 starts since, he's landed just four top-15s, although two have come in the last three. Busch has scored top-five finishes in two straight races this season, but looks unlikely to challenge for a third this week.
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts.