The way the Chase has been laid out for scheduling is always to make the challenging races happen close together. Last week, NASCAR was at the biggest track, with the most consistently fast speeds, and the biggest risk. This week, practically the opposite.
The track is not 2.66-miles in length, but instead is less than one-fourth that size. Speeds aren't as fast, in fact they are just over interstate speed in the corners. Last week, one touch of the sheet metal would send a driver spinning out of control, likely to take out many others in the field. Here, a touch of sheet metal will only do damage, and instead just make the competitors angry.
Welcome to the shortest track on the circuit, where hot dogs are infamous and the trophy is rather large.
The Martinsville Speedway has hosted NASCAR since 1947, and it has provided a lot of moments where bumping and banging are not only required, but enjoyed. No car leaves this track looking clean, but rather carrying battle scars on all corners, and in the case of the winner, a very big grandfather clock.
So who's the one to choose to win? That was the writer's task this week, as the later the Chase gets, the harder it gets to pick to win, especially with no picks being used twice. Here's who they decided will win the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500:
Misan Akuya: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr has went from 13th in points at Chicgloand to sixth in points entering Martinsville. Just imagine how things would be if he hadn't blown his engine. Junior has yet to win at paperclip. But he has had some success here and usually runs well.
This could be the race that the great 88 gets back into victory lane.
Rob Blount: Jeff Gordon
James Broomhead: Jimmie Johnson
Kelly Crandall: Jimmie Johnson
Saved him for this race. Let's see what he does at one of the tracks he owns.
Billy Fellin: Jeff Gordon
The 48 will be strong, but it's about time (hah, trophy pun) that Gordon heads to victory lane.
Michael Hirshbein: Paul Menard
Kara Martin: Kyle Busch
Ryan O'Hara: Clint Bowyer
No idea. Win please.
Dustin Parks: Jeff Gordon
I only have three race picks set in stone for the Chase this year, and this is the second of them. Sure, the 48 has eight wins, but Gordon has been surging in the standings, and keep in mind at Martinsville, he has not failed to finish a single time. Somehow, someway, he's always running at the finish.
There is no one I'd rather pick for victory at Martinsville than the Drive to End Hunger Chevy.
Patti Rodisch: Jimmie Johnson
Sal Sigala Jr: Jeff Gordon
I'll be missing this race since I will be in Las Vegas covering the NHRA. Good thing there will be enough TV's tuned into the race do I can catch updates.
Rob Tiongson: Brad Keselowski
Do I ever hope this pick doesn't get me out of the points lead, but as I've already chosen the top two contenders at Martinsville, going with the Cup champ. Don't let me down, BK.
Standings following Talladega:
Rob Tiongson (2240) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 2nd (3)
Sal Sigala Jr. (2237) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 2nd (1)
Misan Akuya (2230) Jamie McMurray WON (3)
Rob Blount (2220) Clint Bowyer finished 10th (2)
Dustin Parks (2220) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 2nd (0)
Ryan O'Hara (2218) David Ragan finished 6th (1)
Kelly Crandall (2212) Kurt Busch finished 18th (1)
Billy Fellin (2211) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 2nd (2)
Patti Rodisch (2210) Kurt Busch finished 18th (0)
Kara Martin (2208) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 2nd (1)
James Broomhead (2174) Kurt Busch finished 18th (2)
Michael Hirshbein (2161) Carl Edwards finished 17th (3)
Final Thoughts: The hardest part about driving Martinsville according to drivers has been to maintain their equipment, saving the brakes, and making it to the finish. In the end, the one that is able to conserve and keep their car in one piece gets the big trophy. Many greats have been able to achieve victory at this track in it's rich 66-year history.
Either a new face, or a familiar one, will add a grandfather clock to the trophy case this weekend.
The green flag waves shortly after 2 p.m. on ESPN.
Summary of Picks:
Dale Earnhardt Jr-1