Jacksonville Sports Day

NASCAR NOTES: Penske Has History at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway.

The championship three-car Team Penske organization already owns two wins through the opening five races of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and has quite a strong recent history at this week’s stop, Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway.

Already, Brad Keselowski has a victory at Atlanta and Joey Logano at Las Vegas. Their young teammate, 25-year old Ryan Blaney, posted his best effort of the season two weeks ago – third place – at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway and answered with another top-10 on Sunday in California.

The reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Logano is ranked second in the points standings – 15 points behind two-race winner Kyle Busch – heading into Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Keselowski is fifth in the standings and Blaney is 10th.

Logano, who drives the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang, has four top 10s in five races this season – including the Vegas win and a runner-up to Busch last weekend in California. Keselowski, the 2012 series champion and driver of the famed No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang, has three top-three showings including his win at Atlanta, a runner-up at Las Vegas and a third-place finish last weekend in California.

Blaney, who drives the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang, is coming off back-to-back top-five finishes at Phoenix and California. His recent work at Martinsville has been similar. He has two top-10 finishes in the last three races at the track, including a third place in this race last year after leading 145 laps.

Logano has been especially good at Martinsville, picking up his bid to the Championship 4 round of the Playoffs last October in a thrilling last lap victory at the half-miler – memorable for an especially aggressive run to the finish with 2017 champion Martin Truex Jr.

And overall, Logano has won three times at Martinsville and has four poles – earning three straight poles from 2015-16. He’s finished in the top-10 in four of the last five races and led laps in four of the last five races as well. His 309 laps out front last October were the most laps led since Kyle Busch paced the field for 352 laps in March, 2016.

Keselowski also has a victory at Martinsville (Spring 2017) and boasts a current string of six consecutive top 10s – five top-fives – in the last six races there. He’s led 266 laps at the track in just the last four races.

Busch goes for national series win No. 201

With the 200th NASCAR national series combined victory now checked off the milestone list, Sunday’s Auto Club Speedway winner Kyle Busch shows no obvious signs of slowing down in his quest to add to that big number. The 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion already has two Cup wins, two Xfinity Series wins and two Gander Outdoors Truck Series victories through 11 total starts among all three national series this season.

In all, Busch, who drives the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has finished top-three in four of the five Monster Energy Series races. He is the only driver in the series to have top-10 finishes in every race and his combined 361 laps out front tops all competitors as well.

Martinsville could well be the venue to put him past the historic 200 national series win mark. He has two previous Cup victories at the track – both coming in the last three years. He has two wins, two runner-up showings and led 937 laps (66 percent of his career total at Martinsville) in the last seven races held at the track.

His 352 laps led in the 2016 race at Martinsville is the most laps led by anyone in the past 10 races there.

Busch’s most recent victories in the last two weeks of the season have been not only historic, but strong statements about his and his team’s competitiveness. He beat Logano by 2.35-seconds for the win in California last weekend and he beat his new teammate Martin Truex Jr. by a 1.2-seconds for the win at Phoenix two weeks ago.

He justifiably feels optimistic about this week’s short track challenge too.

“We’ve run well there, the last two years especially at Martinsville and we’re definitely pumped about getting back there,’’ Busch said. “I’m hoping we can have a really good car there again this time around, like we did the last several years.

Bowyer returns to defend his win

The defending winner of Sunday’s STP 500, Clint Bowyer, could use a dose of that positive vibe again this weekend. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has vacillated between great promise and disappointment in 2019. He has three top-15 finishes and two DNFs through the season’s opening five races. His best effort is a fifth at Atlanta four weeks ago. He suffered one of his DNFs this past Sunday in California when his No. 14 Ford had an overheating issue.

Last year’s Martinsville showing gives him reason to be optimistic this week. He led a race-high 215 laps en route to a solid 1.14-second win over Kyle Busch – Bowyer’s first victory since joining the SHR team in 2017. The win was especially satisfying considering how competitive the race was – three drivers (also Ryan Blaney, 145 laps and Denny Hamlin, 111 laps) led at least 100 laps on the afternoon.

Bowyer has 15 top-10 finishes in 26 starts at the track, including three in the last four years.

Jimmie Johnson has set the bar high

As is the case at so many NASCAR tracks, seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and 83-race winner Jimmie Johnson holds the distinction for winning the most races (nine) at Martinsville Speedway among active drivers.

And history shows that once he gets on a hot streak at the historic half-miler, he has plenty of reason to celebrate thereafter. Johnson won three straight races here in the 2006-07 seasons and twice won back-to-back races (2008-09 and 2012-13). He won five out of six races between 2006-09 with Denny Hamlin winning the one race (Spring, 2008) he did not hoist a trophy in that time.

Johnson has 19 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes in 34 starts and he’s led at least 100 laps in 13 different Martinsville races. He’s led 200 laps four times and twice led at least 300 laps – in 2008 he led 339 laps and in 2013 he led 346 laps (both times from the pole position).

Johnson’s 2,862 total laps led at Martinsville is most in the field this weekend – 1,000 laps more than Hamlin’s second-most laps led at 1,536. If Johnson were to lead 138 laps or more at Martinsville Speedway this weekend, he would become just the fifth driver in series history to lead 3,000 or more laps at multiple tracks; joining NASCAR Hall of Famers Cale Yarbrough (five tracks with 3,000 or more laps led), Richard Petty (four tracks), Rusty Wallace (three tracks) and Darrell Waltrip (two tracks).


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