NASCAR

Keselowski faces heat at Martinsville

Is Brad Keselowski's points lead in danger this weekend?
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Jeff Hammond

Jeff Hammond is a former NASCAR crew chief who led Darrell Waltrip to two of his three Sprint Cup championships. The duo also teamed up to win the 1989 Daytona 500. Prior to that, Hammond was the jackman for Cale Yarborough for all three of his Cup championships. He has 43 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief. Follow him on Twitter.

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NASCAR Sprint Cup teams are taking on the final short-track race of the season this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

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THAT'S THE WAY!

Keselowski's back in charge after JJ's setback. NASCAR Power Rankings

With the points as up in the air as they are, we’re going to find out who can rise to the task. I feel like it’s a make-or-break race for our points leader, Brad Keselowski, because I think this is truly a huge challenge in whether or not they can get by this race.

We talk a lot about the race at Kansas Speedway, we talk a lot about the race at Talladega Superspeedway as being ones that change the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but look at this weekend. Brad Keselowski has not had the results from a short track that he needs right now.

I don’t want somebody saying, “Whoa, Whoa, Hammond, you don’t know what you’re talking about, he won Bristol” – Bristol is not Martinsville. What it takes to win at Bristol is totally different from what it takes to win at Martinsville. I’m not saying Brad Keselowski can’t, but I think he’s going to have a huge test in his maturity as a driver and his team will have a test in how they respond this weekend.

It’s going to start today with qualifying. Keselowski and his team have struggled in qualifying a lot this year. We’ve got a lot of race tracks where if you don’t qualify well, you can recover. Normally, if you don’t qualify well at Martinsville, it’s an uphill battle from the drop of the green flag. It’s hard to pass, it’s hard to gain ground on pit road and it’s just a challenge.

Any driver who wants to win or have a top-five finish will tell you that if you get a good qualifying spot, all those things are a lot more attainable with a certain amount of ease. If you’ve got a decent car and a good crew, you can get some good results off your qualifying.

As far as the Chase contenders are concerned, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin have a golden opportunity to gain some points as well as go to Victory Lane this weekend. Those are my big three picks for the weekend – I think they’re going to be guys you have to worry about.

Who are the wild cards? I think there’s three of them. You’ve got to look at Clint Bowyer, you’ve got to look at Dale Earnhardt Jr. and you’ve also got to look at Tony Stewart as being guys that can stick their nose in there and take points off the board. And that doesn’t even get into the non-Chasers that can be factors.

That’s what I’m trying to say when it comes to Brad Keselowski. There are so many good short-track racers that consistently run in the top 10, and he hasn’t been one of them.

He’s got the points lead right now, but he could leave Martinsville without the points lead. This weekend, there’s enough intensity and frustration, enough “it’s time to get it done” that it will show on those who can’t handle it. That’s going to be another part of this weekend.

We come out of last weekend’s race at Kansas with a lot of guys frustrated. We know about the comments that have been made by Kyle Busch about the potential for retaliation after his incident with Ryan Newman. We know what kind of response Ryan Newman could have and, once again, we’re going to a short track with a lot of guys agitated at each other here toward the end of the Chase.

This thing could be a powder keg by the time everything’s said and done this weekend.
 

Tagged: Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski

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