We’ve had five races and five different winners thus far into the 2011 season. And, best of all for many NASCAR fans, Jimmie Johnson isn’t one of them.
However, we know it’s coming soon and could happen this weekend in Martinsville where he even has sicker numbers than for California.
However, unlike the race at Fontana, Johnson actually has a statistical equal at Martinsville in Denny Hamlin. Even though Johnson still is tops with six wins and a career average finish of 5.3 at Martinsville, Virginia native Hamlin has won the last three. In fact, Hamlin has four wins in only 11 starts at Martinsville.
Hamlin’s career average finish of 6.1 doesn’t even tell his true story on the track because the number is drastically inflated by a 37th place finish in his rookie year. Outside of that race, he’s gone on to finish sixth or better in nine straight races. Not even Johnson can match that run, but he comes close.
Johnson’s successful run at Martinsville started in 2002, his rookie year, where he finished sixth. Since then, he’s finished ninth or better in every race. That’s an amazing streak of top level consistency for 17 consecutive races; an unheard of run.
As great as a driver as Johnson is, he’s still been able to avoid all the little things that plague other teams every so often such as engine failures, tires going down, pit issues and getting tangled in other people’s errors. None seem to plague either driver at Martinsville.
That’s why the odds for each will be considerably lower for this track than at the others.
However, there are some concerns with Hamlin based on last week where both he and teammate Joey Logano experienced engine problems. Logano’s issue was found before the race and they made an engine change. Hamlin’s played out on the track and led to a 39th place finish dropping him four positions in season points to 21st.
“For some reason, our stuff is just struggling to keep it all together,” Hamlin said after his race was finished Sunday. “I don’t know why. I don’t know what’s changed in the offseason. I think we’re just having some part failures.”
Chances are Martinsville will be just what the car doctor ordered for Hamlin’s team to get them back in a groove. Hamlin will also have other interests to inspire him as well with the improbable VCU basketball squad from his home state making the Final Four.
If daring to wager on someone else other than Johnson or Hamlin this week, you should begin with Jeff Gordon who swept the 2003 and 2005 season at Martinsville. From 2005 to the spring race last year, Gordon finished in the top-five for 11 straight races.
Tony Stewart is one of the few to capture a Martinsville win over the last decade having done so in 2006 while racing for Joe Gibbs. He came out strong with own team in the 2009 spring race finishing third, but hasn’t been able to better the run in his last three starts.
It’s surprising to see a driver like Kyle Busch has never won at Martinsville since he’s been so good on the other small tracks throughout his career. In 12 career starts, Busch has a best finish of fourth, which he’s matched three other times.
A wild card for this race could be Dale Earnhardt Jr. who has always run well at Martinsville. But it’s not his past that makes him a candidate, it’s the present day situation that has him 12th in points after five races.
Sharing garages with Johnson this season has obviously helped change something for the No. 88, even if it’s nothing more than smelling the winning aroma of five championship trophies.