The sixth race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes place on Sunday in Martinsvlle, VA (12:30 PM ET, Fox)and for TheSportsNotebook that meant it was time to call resident NASCAR junkie, my brother Bill and get some insight on what to expect, as Greg Biffle looks to keep his seven-point lead in the standings on Kevin Harvick.
“Martinsville is the shortest track in the series,” Bill told me. It’s flat and shaped like a paper clip. Position is everything.” Bill refers to the pole positions that will be settled on Saturday at 11:30 AM EST, and the track’s configuration make it one of the “revenge tracks” that he’s told me about previously, where the tight parameters make it possible—a cynic might even say likely—for drivers to create bumps with other drivers they may have a grudge against, and get away with it because the closeness of the action prevents anything from seeming obvious.
Tony Stewart has won two of the first five races, the only driver with multiple wins under his belt, but the defending Cup Series champ is still fourth in the standings, 18 points off of Biffle, due to the fact that Stewart has been outside the Top 10 in the other three races. Contrast that with Biffle’s performance. The leader has yet to win a race, but he’s been in the Top 10 four times and three times in the Top 5.
I posed the question to Bill that perhaps Biffle is getting lucky, that you can only ride throughout without getting caught up in a crash for so long, and that to stay atop the leader board without winning a race wouldn’t be possible much longer. “It’s never about luck,” Bill told me in the sort of mildly annoyed tone that a football coach would drop on ESPN field announcer on his way to the locker room. “It’s about skill, running strong and keeping yourself out of trouble.” He went to point out that prior to rules NASCAR instituted for last season it was possible to go an entire season, all the way into November, without winning a race and still win a championship. The new scoring methods might make that a tall order, but apparently I jumped the gun in thinking Biffle needed to start getting some wins when we’re only at the sixth race of the season.
If you’re looking at recent history for some answers, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson have had the most success at this track lately. Martinsville hosts two races per year and over a five-year period starting in 2007, and encompassing ten races, Hamlin and Johnson each have four wins. The flip to that argument is that 2011 is the year that produced the two other winners, Stewart and Jamie MacMurray. Hamlin is within shouting distance of Biffle right now, in seventh place and 24 points back, while Johnson is into the Top 10 and in solid position for the rest of the season now that his points penalty was lifted last week.