Weekend Preview: STP Gas Booster 500

by Blake Smith and Moon Mullins

                After a weekend off for the Easter holiday, teams return to the track for this weekend’s race at Martinsville. The Virginia track, known as “the paper clip” is the smallest track on the Sprint Cup Series circuit. It is best described as two drag strips connected by 2 turns and the series has been racing at the track since 1949.

Not all drivers took a week long vacation from the track. Juan Montoya, Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola turned laps on Monday and Tuesday at Richmond International Raceway for the race there later this month. This was the first time the new Gen6 car has been on America’s premier short track. Almirola told the media on Monday,  "The track is extremely fast. When we rolled out on the track at 9:00 this morning, it was still kinda cool and the track had a lot of grip. We were running lap times close to the pole speed in race trim. Really surprised at how fast the track was and how fast our cars were." Drivers also participated in a test at Texas Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Nationwide Series cars.

by Kevork Djansezian\Getty Images

Danica Patrick, pictured left NOT racing, told Fox News this weekend’s race could be, “a great day or it could be a complete disaster. Is that a likelihood? It is a challenging track. Current points leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr. says Martinsville is a track that has taken him awhile to learn to pace. Junior told Fox, “You just want to get in there and gouge every corner but there’s just not enough room for race cars to do that for 500 miles”.  Martinsville’s defending champion Ryan Newman knows it is the feud and the fights between drivers that presents a big challenge. You have to, “Watch out for what’s going on, whether it’s something that has carried over from the past few weeks or something that has happened that day”.

I reported last week that it was announced that Mark Martin would be the relief driver for Denny Hamlin while he heals from his compression fracture. Even though Joe Gibbs Racing made that announcement, evidently it was not agreed upon by officials and sponsors at Michael Waltrip Racing. It was later announced that Martin would be in the #11 for this weekend’s race at Martinsville but will return to his duties in the #55 while Brian Vickers will fill the seat in the 11 car until Denny returns. Hamlin plans to be at the track on Sunday atop the pitbox of his #11 team and hopes to return to driving duties at Richmond.

Forty-four teams are entered for this weekend’s STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville including Mark Martin in the #11, Brian Vickers in the #55, Scott Riggs in the #44, Ken Schrader in the #32, Regan Smith returns to the #51 ride and Mike Bliss in the #19 car. Bliss will have to qualify his way in on speed during Friday’s qualifying session.

Weather looks promising for this weekend’s racing at Martinsville. Today’s forecast:  sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60’s for the Camping World Truck Series and final practice for the Sprint Cup Series. Tomorrow’s  forecast is for sunny skies and a little warmer with high temperature forecasted to be in the mid 70’s.

All four  Hendrick teams are set to unload new chassis for this weekend’s race at Martinsville, the aforementioned Ms. Patrick and the #10 team will be utilizing a car which debuted for Tony Stewart in April of 2009. Greg Biffle and the #16 team will be bringing a chassis they debuted in the Chase last season with a 9th place finish at Richmond. Clint Bowyer will be bringing a new chassis to the track this weekend. After a strong showing in both races at Martinsville last year and veteran crew chief, Brian Pattie on the pit box, my pick for this weekend is the #15 Toyota of Clint Bowyer.

As mentioned last week, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be welcoming a familiar last name to it’s series this weekend. Seventeen-Year Old Chase Elliott will be attempting to make his first start this weekend at Martinsville. Chase is the son of NASCAR Champion, Bill Elliott.
"I'm pumped," Elliott said. "This is the biggest thing I've ever done. A Truck (Series) race in this day and age is a big deal. You see a lot of guys coming up who have good opportunities in the Truck Series right now. We have everything right where it needs to be and I think we're going to have fast trucks.   Elliott will be driving the #94 Aaron’s/Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet in Saturday’s Kroger 250 which can be heard beginning at 12PM on our sister station, AM 1490 WOMI and www.1490.womi.com.

NASCAR has a new sponsor: Gander Mountain. It will sponsor Clint Boyer’s car at the NRA 500 in Texas next week. The words “With rights come responsibility – secure your firearms” painted across the car.

Join us tomorrow for MRN’s coverage of the STP Gas Booster 500 beginning at 11AM on WBKR and WBKR.com. Don’t forget