Martinsville Story Lines
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on October 27, 2013 | 7:30 A.M. EST
Jimmie Johnson has won the past two races at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)
One of the games drivers play with each other is how big an advantage the leader builds.
Admittedly, there doesn’t seem to be much of a trick with that. Just go out and build as large a lead as possible.
Denny Hamlin says there’s more to that. Play the game right and it could help a driver win today’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered by Kroger at Martinsville Speedway.
Let Hamlin, who starts on the pole and has four wins at this track, explain.
“When you lead, you almost don’t like to lead too big because it makes the other guys go to work on their car,’’ he said. “You almost like to lead by a few car lengths. It lets the second-place guy think, “Man, we’re just one adjustment (away) or just leave it (alone) and maybe I can beat them on a restart.’’
There’s another philosophy. It’s one that Hamlin says he’ll employ.
“We’re not going to worry about playing those games,’’ he said. “We’re going to go out there and try to run as hard and as fast as we can.’’
Even that can be a part of such games. If the leader pulls too far away, it forces others to make bigger changes.
“A lot of times when you go work on your car, you can make them a lot worse,’’ Hamlin said.
Hamlin notes that Johnson is very good at using such tactics at Martinsville. It’s helped Johnson win eight times at this track.
“He would run as fast as he needed to to win, but not as fast as he could,’’ Hamlin said.
That’s just among the stories with today’s race.
KENSETH VS. JOHNSON
Jimmie Johnson enters with a four-point lead on Matt Kenseth. Many expect Johnson to build his advantage because he’s so good at Martinsville (eight wins and 16 top-five finishes in 23 starts), and Kenseth does not have as good a track record (no wins and three top-fives in 27 starts).
"I don't know why it's always been such a struggle, although I do feel like the last couple years on average it's been much better,’’ said Kenseth, who finished 14th in the spring after leading 96 laps. “This spring at least the first half of the race we were really good and really competitive and really, really helped me be better because we had the car good.’’
Johnson says that his past success “doesn’t guarantee anything. At most, it’s flattering, but we’ve got to go out there and get to work.’’
Pit road is challenging. It’s narrow and it’s easy to make contact or get trapped and lose several spots. Denny Hamlin has the advantage of having the stall closest to pit exit. That can make a difference. It has for others. The other key is to not get caught speeding on pit road. Speed limit is 30 mph. Any driver that has to serve a pass-through penalty for speeding during a green-flag pit stop likely will lose two laps.
Non-Chase drivers have won the past two races with Brad Keselowski scoring the victory at Charlotte and Jamie McMurray winning last week at Talladega Superspeedway. Non-Chase drivers have never won three in a row during the Chase.
Among those who could continue that streak are pole-sitter Denny Hamlin, Keselowski, who finished sixth in the spring, and McMurray, who placed seventh in the spring. Will there be a three-peat for Non-Chase drivers?
Four of the last five Martinsville winners took the lead with less than 15 laps left in the race. Will history repeat?