Does karma happen?
One of the new commercial spots produced prior to this season was a fairly standard advertisement for Hooters and driver Chase Elliott. It was a good enough ad the first 3,258 times it played during Fox’s broadcasts, but one shot in the ad stood out among all the rest.
This references an incident that occurred between Elliott and Denny Hamlin at last fall’s race at Martinsville Speedway, the site of this weekend’s NASCAR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
The clip of the Martinsville crowd going haywire when Elliott goes after Hamlin is still amazing. If you’ve never been to Martinsville, know that it’s Hamlin’s track. For years, only Dale Earnhardt Jr. and occasionally Mark Martin have beaten him when it came to cheers during driver introductions. It speaks volumes to Hamlin’s actions and Elliott’s likability that the crowd turned on the Toyota driver.
So is there going to be more karma on Sunday? Last November, Elliott put Hamlin into the wall at ISM Raceway in his fight to stay in the playoffs. There hasn’t been any more run-ins this season between the two.
“Oh, well, I’m going to race guys how they race me and keep a smile on my face regardless,” Elliott said after that Phoenix incident last year. “I’m happy to race guys how they choose to race me, and that’s the way I see it.”
If Elliott is going to get more payback on Hamlin, or if Hamlin wants to retaliate, this is the track for it. Martinsville is notorious for being a place for settling scores; just ask Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano.
Who looks to be the favorite to win a grandfather clock?
Statistically speaking, Kyle Busch is the favorite to win this weekend. The Las Vegas native struggled at Martinsville for years despite being dominant at the other two short tracks on the calendar, but has finished in the top five the past five races at the Paperclip, including two wins.
Last week’s winner, Martin Truex Jr., though more famous for his dominating performances on mile-and-a-half racetracks, has also built up a solid short track program. In the six short track races ran last year, only Busch scored more points than Truex. Truex has never won at Martinsville, but he did finish second there in the midst of the Elliott-Hamlin insanity.
Jimmie Johnson has the pedigree to win at Martinsville with his nine wins there in the past. But he hasn’t finished in the top 10 there since his last win in 2016, and he hasn’t shown that much speed to begin 2018.
Finally, there’s Brad Keselowski. He has been excellent at Martinsville, being the defending race winner and with five top fives to his name in the past six Martinsville races. He’ll be the best bet for Ford.
Will the competition finally catch up with Mercedes in Melbourne?
When Lewis Hamilton jumped ship from McLaren to Mercedes following 2012, it seemed to some to be a bit of a head-scratching move. After all, McLaren had scored over 230 more points in constructor standings and won seven out of 20 races that year, compared to the lone Mercedes win.
After a slow year one, Mercedes adapted to the new V6 engine format miles ahead of any other engine manufacturer and has largely dominated the sport ever since. Mercedes has won a staggering 63 of 79 races since the beginning of 2014, with Hamilton accounting for 40 of them. Hamilton has also won the world driver’s championship in every year but 2016, where then-teammate Nico Rosberg took home his lone world championship before retiring.
In 2017, Ferrari started to show signs of being able to compete with Mercedes, with Sebastian Vettel leading the points for the majority of the season before Hamilton took the lead after race 13 and never looked back. But Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing has stayed right on pace with both Vettel and Hamilton in pre-season testing, and the young team of drivers only seem to be getting better and better with experience.
One thing seems likely, however. McLaren’s new partnership with Renault, one that was supposed to produce speed and reliability, has been a mess in pre-season testing. As great as Fernando Alonso is, chances are he isn’t going to lift them back into contention this season.
Will Noah Gragson repeat in the Camping World Truck Series?
Noah Gragson enters this season as the only full-time driver for Kyle Busch Motorsports and is going to need to step up in a major way if the team wants to contend for a driver’s championship. He looked strong in a runner-up effort at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but dropped to 12th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Martinsville was Gragson’s best track last season, finishing fourth in the spring race and grabbing his first career win in the fall.
Theoretically, it should be Gragson’s race to lose; no Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch on the entry list to dominate and defending race winner Chase Elliott also sits on the sidelines. That leaves points leader Johnny Sauter and Brett Moffitt, who finished sixth in the spring race last season and has been particularly fast to begin the year.
Martinsville, Iowa Speedway and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park might represent Gragson’s best chances at winning this season before the playoffs begin. He’ll probably need to win at least two out of three to clinch a spot in the notoriously hard-to-get-into eight-truck playoff.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.
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