RIDGEWAY, Va. — As NASCAR continues its third "win and you’re in" season for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, six currently winless short-track standouts will attempt to make their first visit to Victory Lane this year in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway (noon on FS1) – Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards and Joey Logano.
Kyle Busch has logged a top-four finish in four of five races this season. He boasts nine career wins on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ three short tracks (Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond), but has never won at Martinsville.
Like his younger brother, Kurt claims nine short-track wins as well. He has two wins at Martinsville, most recently in spring of 2014. However, his 2014 victory is his only top-10 finish at the .526-mile track in his last 20 starts there.
Kenseth has produced six short-track victories in his career, but has never won at Martinsville. The No. 20 Chevrolet driver could be due for his first grandfather clock though. He has placed sixth or better in his last four Martinsville starts.
A five-time winner at short tracks, Dale Earnhardt Jr. notched his first, and only, Martinsville victory in fall of 2014. Although he has just one win at "NASCAR’s Wrigley Field," he claims the third-best average finish (11.9) and driver rating (99.4) among active drivers there.
Edwards has been strong this year with three top fives and four top 10s in the first five races. He has captured four career checkered flags at short tracks, but has never won at Martinsville. The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing driver has always struggled at the home of NASCAR’s most famous hot dog with just one top-five finish in 23 starts there.
A winner of three career short-track races, Logano looked like he would clinch his first Martinsville victory last fall, but was wrecked out of the contest after leading his race-high 207th lap. The 25-year-old Connecticut native finished in the top five in his three Martinsville starts going into last fall’s race.
Johnson attempts to reclaim winning ways
Fresh off his 77th career victory (Auto Club), which vaulted him past Dale Earnhardt for sole possession of seventh on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins list, Jimmie Johnson heads to Martinsville Speedway where history suggests he’s one of the favorites to notch his 78th career win.
The No. 48 Chevrolet driver ranks first among active drivers at Martinsville in wins (8), top fives (18), top 10s (22), average finish (6.9), average running position (8.0), driver rating (118.4), average green flag speed (91.629 mph) and laps led (2,746). His last win at the Virginia short track came in spring of 2013 – five races ago.
Johnson can continue to climb the all-time wins list at a quick pace. The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion trails sixth-place Cale Yarbrough (83 wins) by a mere six wins, and fourth-place Bobby Allison (84) and Darrell Waltrip (84) by only seven wins.
Hamlin seeks another spring Martinsville win
Denny Hamlin overcame an early pit road penalty by rallying from the 22nd position to pass teammate Matt Kenseth for the lead with 28 laps to go to win last year’s Martinsville spring race.
The victory marked the 25th of Hamlin’s career, allowing the Virginia native to tie NASCAR Hall of Famer Joe Weatherly as the all-time winningest driver from The Cavalier State.
Hamlin will go for his second straight spring Martinsville checkered flag in Sunday’s STP 500. In 20 starts at the Virginia short track, he claims five wins (second-most among active drivers), 11 top fives and 16 top 10s. Additionally, he ranks second-best among active drivers at Martinsville in average finish (8.0), average running position (8.9) and driver rating (110.6).
The 2016 Daytona 500 champion placed third in the last two races (Phoenix and Fontana).
Close finishes normal Sprint Cup Series
A number of interesting numbers highlight the first five races of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, capped by the 51 green flag passes for the lead at Auto Club Speedway, a high at the two-mile track since the inception of loop data in 2005.
It marked the second time in the first five races this season a track record for green flag passes for the lead was set (Atlanta, 44 green flag passes for the lead).
"It’s great," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said about the lower-downforce aero package implemented in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. "Every week has been fun, fun, fun. The cars are fun to drive, slipping and sliding. It’s a good challenge and I’m enjoying it."
Additionally, the seventh-closest margin of victory since the implementation of electronic timing and scoring 1993 (.010 seconds) has been recorded twice in the first five races – at Daytona and Phoenix.
Through the first five races, the average margin of victory is 0.367 seconds – the closest through five races since the inception of electronic timing and scoring in 1993.
"The new rules package today I thought was tremendous," Brad Keselowski said after the Las Vegas race. "I think you saw, because of the rules package, where the cars fell off a lot at the end of the run and you really had to drive them sideways. Took a lot of balance as a driver, a lot of precise footwork and accuracy with where you put your car, how you place it, which is exactly what we want."
The NSCS has also showcased parity through the first five races. Four different drivers, four separate organizations and all three manufacturers have won a race.