STP 500 Predictions: Favorite, Middle of the Road and Longshot Picks

Race: STP 500 Predictions
Date: Sunday March 29, 2015
Track: Martinsville Speedway
Time: 1 pm ET
TV: Fox Sports 1

by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper,

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It wasn’t Logano, but the other Penske driver managed to take the checkers Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. Keselowski proved that he’s still a contender, solidifying his place in the Chase with a win. Even Brad was somewhat dumbfounded on how he took the win away from Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, who both had dominating performances on Sunday. Kevin Harvick wasn’t able to pull a West Coast sweep, but second place isn’t too shabby. Busch finished his second race back with a very commendable 3rd place finish. He’s going to be one to watch for the next few weeks. He wants a spot in the Chase, and he’s certainly got the talent and equipment to pull it off. Other notable finishes include Paul Menard and Ryan Newman, who rounded out the top 5 positions.

This weekend, we are headed to a very different track. Auto Club Speedway is a very large and very fast track. We are taking a big swing back to the East Coast as we move on to my favorite track of the whole series. Martinsville is the paper-clip track that brings the drivers back to their roots. It’s very reminiscent of the dirt tracks and short tracks that most drivers grew up on. Martinsville is also one of the oldest tracks on the circuit, boasting history back to the 1940s. Not many places can say that.

This track is so much fun to watch and I’d imagine just as fun to drive. It is a 0.526-mile asphalt oval shaped just like a paper-clip. The turns have a minimal banking of 12 degrees while the straights are completely flat. There is a lot of give and take at this place because of the nature of short tracks. Not only do drivers have to take care of their equipment, but they must maintain their tempers. Most notably, this is a place where drivers can beat the daylights out of their cars and still come back for a win. It’s one of the few places left where that can happen. Several years ago, Jeff Gordon came back from 3 laps down to win the race. That’s unheard of, but with the amount of cautions and the traffic that the leaders get bogged down with, it can be done.

There are going to be a lot of potential winners this weekend. I think that there will be a trio to keep our eyes on, though. Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, and Kurt Busch should be the biggest contenders. Johnson should come out on top. He has a total of 22 top-10s, 18 top-5s, and 8 wins. How can you bet against that? He’s looking for a win, and this is a solid place for him to do it. Teammate Jeff Gordon also has similar stats with 8 total wins and more top 5s and 10s than Jimmie due to his length of time racing; however, Gordon has struggled so far this year. I will say that if he is going to get a win, this is one of his best shots. Let’s take a look at your complete rundown of potential winners this weekend:

Most Probable to Win: Jimmie Johnson
Middle of the Road Pick: Ryan Newman
Longshot Pick: David Ragan

Just like last year, Ryan Newman is showing some strength and has the potential to make the Chase. This is also one of his better tracks. When it comes to Ragan, he finished top 10 last year at Martinsville, and this year he’s got the strength of Gibbs behind him. Other guys to look out for include Denny Hamlin, Earnhardt Jr. (who won the last Martinsville race), and Jamie McMurray. Let’s take a look at how the points are shaping up after California:

Here are your current top 12 after last week’s race:

1. Kevin Harvick
2. Joey Logano
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
5. Brad Keselowski
6. Ryan Newman
7. Jimmie Johnson
8. Kasey Kahne
9. Paul Menard
10. Aric Almirola
11. AJ Allmendinger
12. Casey Mears

It should remain no surprise that Harvick maintains the top spot. What is surprising are some of the other drivers holding their own into a good part of the season. Menard, Mears, Allmendinger, Almirola, and Newman are all drivers fighting for a spot in the Chase amongst some of the better and stronger teams. This weekend is going to be another unpredictable week. Most short tracks throw at least a couple of wrenches into the plans of drivers and their teams. We will have to wait and see what Martinsville is going to do to these guys as we head to the STP 500 on Sunday!

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