Martinsville favors Johnson over Kenseth in points battle
If there is one race remaining that favors Jimmie Johnson over Matt Kenseth in their battle for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, it is Sunday’s Goody’s 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Johnson, who leads Kenseth by four points, is one of the best of this generation of drivers at the .526-mile track that is historically one of Kenseth’s worst.
Johnson’s stellar record in 23 Martinsville starts includes eight victories (the most by an active driver), 16 top-five finishes, 20 top-10 finishes, 22 finishes in the top 12 and an average finish of 5.3. And he will be shooting to win from the pole for the third straight time, pulling off the feat last October in the Chase and last April, when he thoroughly dominated, leading 348 of the 500 laps.
Kenseth, on the other hand, has struggled at Martinsville for much of his career, managing just an average finish of 15.8, with no wins and just three top-five finishes in 22 starts.
He did lead 96 laps in April as part of his first Martinsville outing for Joe Gibbs Racing but wound up finishing 14th.
Johnson, who begins his quest for another sweep in qualifying today at 3:30 p.m., is taking nothing for granted.
“Martinsville has been good to us in the past,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to go there and race. There is going to be a lot of strong competition. We will make sure we get buttoned up and ready to go for this weekend’s race and go up there to that paperclip and see what we can do.”
Johnson moved into the points lead by finish seven spots ahead of Kenseth last Sunday at Talladega. A win at Martinsville won’t automatically mean that five-time champ Johnson has a clear path to the title. Last year, he followed the win with one at Texas, then stumbled at Phoenix and lost the points lead to Brad Keselowski, who won the championship.
“You know, I feel that the races looking forward, now, are up to where the competitors go earn it,” Johnson said. “You don’t have this luck issue that can take place at (restrictor) plate tracks (such as Talladega).”
Also on the Martinsville schedule this weekend is a 200-lap NASCAR Truck race on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Qualifying for that event will follow Cup qualifying today.
Matt Crafton is in firm control in the race for the Truck championship, enjoying a cushion of 57 points (more than the amount that can be earned in one race) over second-place Ty Dillon.
Denny Hamlin, who has four Cup wins at Martinsville, will be among the drivers to watch in the Truck race. He is the event’s defending champions and will be driving an entry from Kyle Busch Motorsports.
NASCAR announced Thursday that beginning next year it will require drivers to undergo neurocognitive baseline testing before the season starts as part of a concussion management program. . .Caraway Speedway will be in action on Saturday with a program that features a 100-lap race in the Southeast Limited Late Model Series. Races for the track’s Late Model Truck, Street Stock, Legends Car, Hornet and U-Car divisions are also scheduled. . .311 Speedway near Pine Hall will have swap meets and racing today and Saturday, and a swap meet and car show on Sunday. Racing tonight features an Enduro and a demolition derby, with a Super Late Model race headlining Saturday’s program.