Sprint Cup: Martinsville shapes up well for Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon

jutter@charlotteobserver.comMarch 26, 2014 

  • Next Race

    STP 500

    Where: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway

    When: 1 p.m. Sunday

    TV: Fox

    Radio: Motor Racing Network

    Last year’s winner: Jimmie Johnson

There generally is no place like home, but when it comes to a NASCAR track where Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon can count on contending for a win, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway is about as good as it gets.

Johnson and Gordon had victory in their sights last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., but each was knocked out of contention late by flat tires.

Both drivers were not pleased with the outcome because each is searching for his first win of the Sprint Cup Series season.

It would be difficult to bet against either in Sunday’s STP 500.

Gordon and Johnson sit atop the active wins list at Martinsville, with eight apiece. Johnson won last spring’s race, and Gordon won in the fall.

In 24 Cup starts, Johnson has finished outside the top-10 only three times at the half-mile short track and has won two of the past three races.

Gordon has finished among the top-10 in 20 of the past 22 races at Martinsville, and finished third and first in last season’s starts there.

Throw in the fact Hendrick is celebrating its 30th anniversary this season and the organization recorded its first Cup victory at Martinsville with driver Geoffrey Bodine in April 1984, and you have all the ingredients for a Hendrick victory celebration.

Notes

Hamlin cleared to race: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Wednesday that driver Denny Hamlin would return to his No. 11 Toyota in the Cup series this weekend after NASCAR received official confirmation from his doctors that he is medically cleared to race.

Hamlin missed Sunday’s race after seeking treatment at a local hospital for problems with his vision.

In a statement, JGR officials said doctors found a sliver of metal in Hamlin’s eye at the hospital and that he improved after it was removed. JGR officials originally said the vision problems were attributed to a sinus infection.

Hamlin had a follow-up doctor visit in Charlotte.

Earnhardt Jr. unveils Elvis’ last ride: Dale Earnhardt Jr. got a chance this week to drive one of Elvis Presley’s most prized vehicles, a 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III – the last car Presley drove before his death in 1976.

The car, which had not been driven in 25 years, will be on public display during the Charlotte Motor Speedway AutoFair, which will begin April 3.

“I’ve been over to Graceland a couple of times and seen the car, but I didn’t read up on the plaque that that was the car that he drove the night that he passed away,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s pretty incredible to be able to sit in it. They haven’t really touched the interior of this car since he drove it.”

Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults, and ages 13 and younger are free when accompanied by an adult. For more information on the four-day event, call 704-455-3205 or go to charlottemotorspeedway.com.

NASCAR penalizes Nationwide team: Kevin Starland, crew chief of the No. 39 RSS Racing team, has been fined $10,000 by NASCAR and placed on probation until Dec. 31 after the car failed postrace inspection last weekend at California.

The car exceeded the maximum rear body height requirement. In addition, car chief Timothy Brown also was placed on probation until Dec. 31.

Black Jr. to make Truck series debut: Ray Black Jr., who raced Late Models in the Southeast most recently, will make his Truck series debut this weekend at Martinsville with SS Green Light Racing.

Marion named to Motorsports Advisory Council: N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory named Randy Marion of Iredell County to the N.C. Motorsports Advisory Council. Marion owns several car dealerships in the Statesville area. The council recommends policy, procedures and program initiatives to protect, strengthen and expand the motorsports industry in the state.

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