NASCAR is back on the short track this weekend, as the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series compete at Martinsville Speedway. The IndyCar Series runs its second event of the season at Barber Motorsports Park.
Sprint Cup Series
STP Gas Booster 500 - Martinsville Speedway - Martinsville, Va.
After a week off and for some folks a time to cool off, the Sprint Cup Series returns to action at Martinsville Speedway.
Martinsville, a 0.526-mile, paperclip-shaped racetrack, will feature a lot of beating and banging among competitors during 500 laps of racing. It's also likely that tempers will flare either before or after the checkered flag waves here.
Joey Logano and Tony Stewart will be the center of attention this weekend at Martinsville following their physical altercation last week at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Stewart got into a post-race scuffle with Logano on pit road. He was furious with Logano for blocking him multiple times during a restart late in the event.
It was the second straight race Logano had been involved in an altercation. Last month at Bristol, Denny Hamlin and he had words with each other followed by a shoving match between both of their teams after that race ended. Logano was upset after Hamlin spun him around in the late going.
"You have to always look forward in this sport," Logano said. "If you linger on things, you will only go so far. So I've been focusing on Martinsville from the time we left California. It was good that we had an off-weekend, so everyone got a little rest before the upcoming stretch of races. But with the way we have been running, I want to keep the momentum going. So I'm ready to get back at it and move on."
During their confrontation at Fontana, Stewart pushed Logano around, while Logano threw a water bottle at Stewart before crew members from both teams intervened. Stewart later said that Logano is "going to learn a lesson."
Will that lesson take place at Martinsville?
Whether or not he has another run-in with Logano, Stewart does expect a drama- filled day on Sunday at Martinsville.
"One thing about Martinsville is there is no lack of excitement," Stewart said. "I don't care how flawlessly your day goes, you're going to bump into somebody at some point, even on a perfect day. You put 43 cars on this half- mile track, and it's always going to be exciting. You will never have a race there where you don't have some sort of drama during the day. I think every driver will say they will have some drama at some point in the day. When you have 43 drivers with 43 dramatic moments, that's a lot of action going on."
After his accident at Fontana, Hamlin is expected to miss the next five races due to a compression fracture in his lower back. He crashed hard into the inside retaining wall after making contact with Logano while the two were battling for the lead and the win during the final lap.
Mark Martin will substitute for Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota at Martinsville. Hamlin, though, is planning to be at the track throughout the weekend.
With top-10 finishes in each of the first five races this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to Martinsville with a 12-point lead over defending series champion Brad Keselowski. Jimmie Johnson is 16 points behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Earnhardt.
Martinsville has been one of Earnhardt's better tracks lately. He has finished either second or third in the last two spring races here. Earnhardt has yet to win in 26 starts at this track.
"I love racetracks like that," Earnhardt said of Martinsville. "Every track has something about it that you like or something characteristic about it that you enjoy. But Martinsville is just a fun place, really fun track to race on. I think the fans get a great event. They get a great show when we're there. I think it's a good ticket between it and Bristol and Richmond. It's some of the best short-track racing in the country that you can see. I feel like it's always a lot of fun."
Two years ago, Earnhardt was just a handful of laps away from winning at Martinsville for the first time. He took the lead for the first time in that race when he nudged Kyle Busch out of the way with 21 laps remaining. But Kevin Harvick denied Earnhardt the victory after Harvick passed him with just four laps to go.
"At Martinsville, you do a lot of protecting your line, protecting your position," Earnhardt said. "You'll see guys doing a little bit of blocking. But there's a fine line, and I kind of go back to everybody's opinion on where that line is going to be different, and you're going to get different reactions out of different guys, depending on how you race them. You can race everybody the same, and some guys might not like it and some guys might not have a problem with it. But you've got to know each other's personalities well and know what to expect."
Ryan Newman won at Martinsville one year ago, and Johnson claimed the victory here last October. Johnson and teammate Jeff Gordon lead all active drivers with seven wins at this track.
Danica Patrick will compete at Martinsville for the first time. If Patrick makes the field, she will become the first female to start a race here.
"I am actually really excited about Martinsville," Patrick said. "I like the little short tracks. They're fun. We're going to be close racing a lot of the time. We went testing out at Little Rock (Rockingham, N.C.) and got a feel for a track like Martinsville. I thought we actually made some really big gains that day. It was fun. Is there time to look down at your water and oil temperatures? No, there's not. I think it will be fun, and I had no idea that a woman had not competed (in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race) at Martinsville, but I guess these are things I'll find out along the way."
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the STP Gas Booster 500.
Camping World Truck Series
Kroger 250 - Martinsville Speedway - Martinsville, Va.
The Camping World Truck Series has had quite a bit of time off since its season-opener on Feb. 22 at Daytona International Speedway.
While all drivers and teams in the series are eager to get back on track this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, probably no one is more ready than Johnny Sauter, who won at Daytona. Sauter enters this race with a six-point lead over Ron Hornaday Jr. and Justin Lofton.
Sauter won the spring race at Martinsville in 2011. He followed up with a fourth-place finish here later that year. But Sauter has finished 14th and 29th at this track since then.
"Like any race, a lot of things have to go right, pit strategy and taking care of the truck all day and staying out of trouble, so Martinsville is a tough one to win at," Sauter said. "We've done it before, and we typically run in the top-five every time we're there until something happens. I don't see any reason why we can't go there and pick up where we left off in prior races."
Kevin Harvick is the only Sprint Cup Series regular competing in this race. Harvick is driving the No. 24 Chevrolet for NTS Motorsports, which merged with Joe Denette Motorsports prior to the start of this season.
Harvick has won three of the last four spring races at Martinsville. He led all but two of the 250 laps in the event here one year ago.
"Martinsville is one of those racetracks I always look forward to getting behind the wheel at each year," Harvick said. "I've had a lot of success in the Truck Series at Martinsville, so hopefully that trend will continue this weekend with NTS Motorsports."
Forty teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Kroger 250.
Five drivers are making their Truck Series debut at Martinsville. They are: Chase Elliott, the 17-year-old son of 1988 Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, Jonathan Davenport, Grant Galloway, Devin Jones and Erik Jones.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama - Barber Motorsports Park - Birmingham, Ala.
A.J. Allmendinger will compete in an open-wheel race for the first time in seven years this weekend when the IZOD IndyCar Series runs at Barber Motorsports Park.
Allmendinger is scheduled to drive the No. 2 car for Team Penske in at least two IndyCar races this season -- Barber and the May 26 Indianapolis 500. He has tested an Indy car three times in the past seven weeks, including practice last week at Texas Motor Speedway to better prepare for racing on an oval.
After a three-year career in the Champ Car World Series, Allmendinger switched to NASCAR in 2007. He drove for team owner Roger Penske in the Sprint Cup Series last year but lost his ride with the team after the first 17 races of the season when he was suspended for violating NASCAR's substance abuse policy. He is running a limited Sprint Cup schedule for Phoenix Racing this year.
"I look at more than anything the fact that Roger Penske himself made the phone call and wanted me back in one of his race cars, and whether it's an Indy car or a stock car or sports car or whatever; to me, just that phone call itself means more than getting in the race car," Allmendinger said. "I'm excited, and I'm ready to go."
Allmendinger participated in a two-day IndyCar test session at Barber last month.
"I have to really work on learning how to get around this racetrack," he said. "There are certain sections that I feel comfortable in, and there are some other ones that I'm not. It's going to take some getting used to. Good thing about having Will Power and Helio Castroneves as teammates is that they are usually the two fastest guys here."
Allmendinger won five races and made 14 podium appearances in Champ Car from 2004-06. He also won the Barber Dodge Pro Series title in 2002 and captured the Toyota Atlantic Series championship the following year.
"The small amount that I've worked with (Allmendinger), he's a great guy, great personality," Power said. "I think he's an asset to the team, and so far, he's doing two races. I hope he does more. He's good, and I enjoy working with him."
Penske is 3-0 in both pole and race wins at Barber. Castroneves won the inaugural race at this track in 2010, while Power has claimed victories in the past two events here. Power led all 90 laps in the 2011 race.
Twenty-six teams are on the entry list for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.