Matt Kenseth goes into Martinsville knowing that Jimmie Johnson has won eight times there and Matt, at best, only has eight top-10 finishes there. Matt though has to be encouraged by how he ran in the spring Martinsville race this year.
You have to believe a lot of that came from the help he received from Joe Gibbs Racing, and especially teammate Denny Hamlin’s success there. Even though Denny didn’t race there in the spring due to his back injury, you know he shared information that must have helped Matt.
Obviously, Denny is back in the No. 11 car and will be in Martinsville, so that too is another positive in Matt’s favor. Don’t forget that Kyle Busch also runs well there. Kyle made some gains at Talladega. He and Kevin Harvick are right there, tied for third spot, 26 points back of new leader Johnson.
We know if you are going to win this race Sunday at Martinsville that you are going to have to beat the No. 48. That’s a given assuming something bizarre doesn’t happen to Jimmie’s car. So I look for Denny to play a role in helping both his teammates this weekend.
I always tell you that despite the fact this is a 500-lap race Sunday, the race really starts Friday in qualifying. You really want to qualify well there. Pit selection at Martinsville is as important there as anywhere we go. Pit road there is so tight and so narrow. It’s really easy to get into trouble on pit road in Martinsville.
If you are fortunate enough to win the pole Friday, that No. 1 pit box at Martinsville is easily worth two or three spots every single time you come to pit road. So we are down to these four races starting Sunday in Martinsville. We all realize it is a two-man race between Jimmie and Matt.
Jeff Gordon is now in fifth and unfortunately is getting further and further away from the front. He’s now 36 points back, which is almost a full race behind. Plus, just look at who he would have to leapfrog over to get to the front. He’d have to do all that in only four races. That’s a really tall order.
When the race is over Sunday, we know the championship picture will be a lot clearer. We know strategy Sunday will be all over the place. Really and truly, your strategy pretty much gets dictated Sunday by where you qualify and start this race. If you qualify 20th or worse, you simply can’t be on the same strategy as the guy who qualified in the top 10. If you do what they do, then nothing really will change.
I expect to see our fair share of cautions, but at the same time I fully expect to see a long green-flag run with a cycle or two of green flag pit stops.
I think if Jimmie and Matt can maintain their gap back to Kyle and Kevin after Sunday’s race, then it really clears up the picture that the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is going to be settled by Jimmie and Matt.