NASCAR Chase 2012: Top Contenders to Drive off with Victory at Martinsville

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2012

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 17:  Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-Hour Energy Benefitting Avon Foundation for Women Toyota, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the Lowe's Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota, and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, talk during NASCAR testing at Kansas Speedway on October 17, 2012 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We've reached that point in the NASCAR season where we are faced with the final short track race of the season.

Hello Martinsville Speedway.

Sprint Cup Series points leader Brad Keselowski had a disappointing qualifying round and is starting the race from 32nd position, well behind those still in contention for the Cup.

With a number of drivers well within striking distance of Keselowski, the action promises to be fast and furious as the field takes to the oval with a chance to totally rearrange the top of the leaderboard.

Let's take a look at the favorites—and a sleeper pick—when the TUMS Fast Relief 500 gets underway on Sunday afternoon.



Jimmie Johnson: 2nd Place, 2,243 points, Seven behind Keselowski

Jimmie Johnson is sitting pretty heading into Sunday afternoon's race.

He's got the pole position, he's got the front stall on pit road—one that comes equipped with a clear path back onto the track—and he's had success here before. The five-time Sprint Cup champion has won six times at Martinsville, the last checkered flag coming in 2009.

It's true that Johnson finished 12th here earlier this season after starting the race 22nd, but he has finished third or better in 11 of his 21 career races at Martinsville. His 5.7 average finish at the track is the best among all drivers in the Chase.

That experience, coupled with him winning the pole, puts him in a perfect spot to make his move in the Chase on Sunday.


Denny Hamiln: 3rd Place, 2,230 points, 20 behind Keselowski

Like Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin has a career's worth of success at Martinsville to take into Sunday's race.

Since 2006, Hamilin has finished no worse than sixth in 11-of-12 races held here, a streak that includes seven top-three finishes—with four wins among them.

With the second-best average finish (6.4) at the track among the field, you've got to like Hamlin's chances of winding up in Victory Lane when the race is over.


Martin Truex Jr.: 6th Place, 2,207 points, 43 behind Keselowski

This is a definite sleeper pick, but hey, this would be kind of boring if I didn't give you something other than the obvious picks, right?

Martin Truex Jr. has never finished higher than fifth at Martinsville, and he's got three top-10 finishes in his 13 career races at the track, giving him a relatively unimpressive average finish of 21.4.

He hasn't picked up a Cup win since 2007, but he finished fifth here in the spring and eighth at last year's Chase race.

Last week saw him pick up a second-place finish at Kansas, and he's got some momentum going. Truex Jr. could be poised to shock everyone and pull off what would be a major upset.