With the wild-card race of Talladega in our rear-view mirror, we move to the paperclip track of Martinsville Speedway—the shortest track on the NASCAR circuit—for the Tums Fast Relief 500.
Since Martinsville is so short, the track is one of the most difficult for drivers to race on. The one-mile track makes passing difficult; it's easy for a driver to block someone to keep them from gaining position. With the tight racing, though, it is just as easy to knock a blocking driver out of the way.
There are 23 tracks on the NASCAR circuit. Twenty of these tracks have asphalt surfaces, with concrete surfaces at Bristol and Dover.
Martinsville, on the other hand, has both concrete and asphalt surfaces. The concrete, on the straight-aways, and asphalt, in the turns, make for some tricky racing. Asphalt heats up during a race, causing rubber to stick to the hot surface. But the track temperature is much cooler on the concrete, which means that the rubber builds up on the track.
There are a few drivers who know how to master the Martinsville paperclip. Statistically, the best drivers on the speedway are Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. Johnson has six wins on the track, along with 17 top-10 finishes. He is currently seventh place in the standings. Hamlin has four wins, 10 top-10 finishes, and is 50 points behind the leader. Yet, Hamlin is sitting in 11th place and is realistically no longer eligible for the championship.
Jeff Gordon is another driver you can't count out at Martinsville. Gordon has seven wins at the track and a whopping 30 top-10 finishes. After a disappointing finish at Talladega (27th), Gordon is now 10th in standings, 82 points behind the leader.
Realistically, I don't see him making up that much ground with just four races left in the season, but I also don't see him going down without a fight. Look for Gordon to be charging to the front at Martinsville, trying to gain ground in the battle for points.
Other drivers to keep your eye on are Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.
Harvick has one win at this track and is currently fifth in points. Busch has never won at this track, but he does have eight short track wins in his career and finished in third place earlier this season at Martinsville. He is currently sixth place in standings, 40 points behind the leader. It seems as though Keselowski finishes well, regardless of what type of track he's on.
Keselowski has never won at Martinsville before, which might be a good enough reason for him to win this weekend. He is third place in points, just 18 points behind the leader.
Tune into ESPN on Sunday to find out who will master the paper-clip and take home the coveted grandfather clock trophy!