The Round of 8 begins this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. Here are five drivers to watch.
The six-time Cup champion enters new territory as he makes his first appearance in the Round of 8 under the current Chase format. But he’s always a threat at Martinsville, where he’s scored eight wins and finished in the top 10 almost 80 percent of the time (23 top 10s in 29 starts). A finish in that range would put him in good position for next weekend at Texas — where he’s won the last four Chase races.
He’s posted the best average finish across this year’s short track events (7.0). That’s even with a 17th-place finish in April at Martinsville. Harvick led 72 laps in that race but fell back on a late restart after being stuck on the dreaded outside lane. While Harvick is a past winner at Martinsville (Spring 2011), his best chances to win in the Round of 8 and advance to the championship are still to come. Like with Johnson, a top-10 finish would be a solid start for him.
If the Cubs’ No. 1 fan is going to make it to Miami, he’s got to survive Martinsville. He’s a two-time winner at this track, but his most recent victory in Spring 2014 is his only top-10 result there since 2006. So far in the Chase, he has been able to hold steady with a 9.7 average finish and no finishes worse than 15th. But it’s time to turn up the wick.
The defending Sprint Cup champion has led more laps than anyone on the short tracks this year (686), but the outcomes have varied. Good: He led 352 laps in route to his first Martinsville win in April. Bad: Later that month at Richmond, he was bumped out of the way by teammate Carl Edwards for the win. Ugly: He crashed out of both Bristol races.
He makes his final start in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr. this weekend at the track where he scored one of the biggest wins of his career last fall. The results haven’t been especially great for Gordon in the 88 car (best finish: 10th at Dover earlier this month), but his feedback has no doubt helped Hendrick Motorsports’ resurgence. And as we know very well, you can never count him the nine-time Martinsville winner.