RIDGEWAY, Va. — On a cloudless Sunday afternoon with temperatures in the 60’s, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is preparing to take the green flag for the 68th annual STP 500.
Sitting high atop turns one and two here at the iconic Martinsville Speedway, it’s easy to get lost in the storied history of this half-mile, especially after hearing from NASCAR’s King, Richard Petty.
He’s won a race or two … or 15 … here.
The main story line of today, however, is not so much the legends, or even the veterans of today’s racing (a.k.a. the usual suspects) like Jimmie Johnson (starting 17th) or Denny Hamlin (starting 12th).
It’s the pair of young guns sitting right on the front row.
Polesitter Kyle Larson, 24, comes into this afternoon’s race as the rabbit that everyone in NASCAR is chasing. He leads the standings, he won last Sunday’s race in California and he’s the only driver who has scored points in every stage of every event so far in 2017.
The No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing has been bullet-train fast, and Larson has really begun to learn how not just to lead races, but to finish them.
With three seconds and a win in his last four Cup starts, and the most desired pit stall (a fact that is not insignificant here at this track), Larson is poised to make it two straight wins.
His Chevy stablemate in the front row is fellow young gun Chase Elliott.
Elliott, 21, has a different kind of momentum, as he scored the victory in yesterday’s XFINITY race and has a broom ready for today’s race. He has yet to win a Cup race, and it has been said that maybe part of the reason why is that he hasn’t been as aggressive in the closing stages as he needs to be in some situations.
He was plenty aggressive yesterday (ask Ross Chastain) and took advantage of Christopher Bell’s bad luck at the hands of Austin Cindric to get the win.
Elliott has pretty much been the star of the Hendrick Motorsports show so far this season, so if he can translate what he learned yesterday into knowledge for today and stay in the hunt all day, the si-reen could sound at the Dawsonville Pool Hall later this afternoon.
Two other drivers to keep an eye on today will be Ryan Blaney and Clint Bowyer. They share row four.
Blaney is driving for the infmaous Wood Brothers Racing team and this is their home track. The Wood Brothers are, simply put, thought of as Gods around this place. Their history here is the stuff of legends and the stories are rich with tales of “the good ole’ days”.
Their chauffeur of today is a young gun with a throwback firesuit and old school grit and determination. If Blaney can find the way to victory today, this place will simply explode.
Then there’s Bowyer. After a year of hard time in inferior equipment, the old Clint’s back and as strong as ever behind the wheel of the Haas Automation Ford.
Replacing Tony Stewart is no small task, as he was an icon of NASCAR and the sport in general. Bowyer climbed into the seat at Daytona and has been fast every race so far. He led a practice round yesterday, loves this track, and starts in the eighth position.
Stewart won a sprint car race last night at Bubba Raceway Park in Florida. I’m pretty sure it would be soda cookies all around if Bowyer takes the checkered flag this afternoon.
Want one more thing to keep your eye on today? Brakes. Watch for the tell-tale glow as the race goes on. It’s just one more item that could spell the difference between winning and losing at a track where pit road and contact with other cars are already heavy factors in who ends up in victory lane
The STP 500 gets the green flag this afternoon at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 and MRN Radio, so grab a hot dog and your favorite beverage and let’s go racing, old-school style!
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, the Performance Motorsports Network, Scorpion Radio Group, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Tom Baker is the owner and senior editor of Race Chaser Online, as well as creator of the Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show — airing Thursdays at 7 p.m. Eastern on the Performance Motorsports Network.
With 27 years of motorsports media, marketing and managerial experience, Baker serves as the coach and mentor for several next generation racers, as well as Race Chaser Online’s passionate lineup of rising motorsports journalists.
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