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STP 500 Preview

Race: STP 500
Date: Sunday March 25, 2018
Track: Martinsville Speedway
Time: 2 pm ET
TV: FS1

by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com

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Let me brush my shoulders off, Y'all. While the rest of the internet was going crazy talking about Kevin Harvick winning at Auto Club, I was over here picking the real winner. Martin Truex Jr. is "tried and true" and his stats and current running positions this year back those statements up. Truex ran a solid race, leading Kyle Larson to the checkered flag on Sunday. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano rounded out the top five spots. In fact, he led Larson by nearly 12 seconds to that finish line. In true dominating fashion, Truex was reminiscent of his 2017 year by winning stages 1 and 2 and then the race. He also led the most laps, not that it gives you any additional points anymore, but it's definitely still bragging rights. Maybe because he's never won here before, other guys were scared of putting him at the top of their field, but if you honestly look at the stats and look at his consistency, it was only a matter of time before Truex was able to check that box next to Fontana.

Maybe the funniest part of the day was the fact that everyoneís golden boy, Kevin Harvick, managed to catch a temper tantrum when racing hard with Kyle Larson on lap 38. Larson was holding his line and basically pulled the air off Harvickís car, causing Harvick to get a little squirrely. In all honesty, Harvick was riding Larsonís fenders for quite a while. Regardless, Harvick didnít appreciate getting loose due to Larson and from the looks of it, he came down on Larson. Little did he know, Larson stayed true to course and Harvick managed to wreck himself. Iím not going to lie. That was one of the funniest things Iíve seen in a long time. Harvick can deny whatever he wants, but even Jeff Gordon saw what Harvick tried and failed to do. All he did was manage to get himself nine laps down, and a 35th place finish. Not that Harvick has anything to worry about, but that sure was great karma if you ask me.

This weekend, we are heading to a track that creates its own karma. Racing at Martinsville is an inevitable battle that will leave virtually every car with a donut on the door or blacks streaks across every fender. There's no getting out of Martinsville without some kind of scar. If a driver manages that, well, let me know. This place is one of the most entertaining tracks if you ask me. I'm a sucker for short tracks, and Martinsville is the shortest of them all. With a backstretch and front stretch of only 800 feet, there's not a bad seat in the stands. You can see nearly everything on this track no matter where you sit. This track is a 0.526-mile combination of both concrete and asphalt, boasting mild 12-degree banking in the turns and no banking on the straights. As you can imagine, that leads to catastrophic brake failures. The drivers are continually coming out of the turns on the gas as hard as they can and then hitting those turns, having to really hit the brakes because of the lack of banking. This also causes a lot of tire issues amongst the drivers. Between managing the tires and managing the brakes, these guys have their work cut out for them.

When it comes down to picking potential winners, I'm wary of the rookies. Martinville Speedway is a track that is very easy to fall behind on very quickly. It's also a place where drivers are politely moved out of the way when they are in the way. One of the best drivers to do that is none other than Kyle Busch. If nothing else, Kyle is cranky about coming in 3rd at Fontana. When Kyle gets a chip on his shoulders, it's hard for him to come back down to earth until he gets a win. This is an excellent place for him to try. With a *mere* thirteen top 5 finishes and a couple of wins to boot, Busch has a pretty strong record here. Another key to this track is pit stops. Busch's team has been on point in the pits. Martinville is a track where mistakes on pit road will easily cost a driver the race. With all of these factors coming into play, I think that Kyle will be the one to watch this weekend. Let's take a look at all of your potential winners this weekend heading into Martinsville:

My Pick to Win: Kyle Busch
Middle of the Road Pick: Clint Bowyer
Dark Horse Prediction: AJ Allmendinger

The Ďdinger is a great driver to watch on these short tracks. He's really learning more about who he is as a driver and has made great strides in his abilities. He has finished in the front of the pack here in about a third of the races he's run. He's a bit of a wildcard, but I like him, and I like his skills on a short track. Clint Bowyer is not quite as much a wildcard because his stats back him up to some solid runs at this track. The difference this year for Bowyer is being back with a strong team. Each week they seem to get better and better. Look for Bowyer to give these guys a run for their money.

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Here are your current top 16 after last week's race:

1. Martin Truex Jr.
2. Kyle Busch
3. Joey Logano
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Ryan Blaney
6. Denny Hamlin
7. Kyle Larson
8. Kevin Harvick
9. Clint Bowyer
10. Aric Almirola
11. Kurt Busch
12. Austin Dillon
13. Erik Jones
14. Ryan Newman
15. Paul Menard
16. Alex Bowman

Another significant notable for this race is going to be Denny Hamlin. He's a hometown favorite, growing up in Chesterfield, VA. He's got five wins and 12 top ten finishes at Martinsville, which is nothing to sneeze at. I'm not sure about his consistency, which is the only reason why I'm throwing Busch above Hamlin this weekend. I think that those two are going to be running hard at each other for the win. Stay tuned for a great day of short track racing at Martinsville Speedway!

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