Brad Keselowski aims to dent Martinsville dominance of Johnson, Hamlin
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(NASCAR) - If history holds true to form at the most historic of NASCAR tracks, Martinsville Speedway could be Brad Keselowski's Waterloo. Conversely, the .526-mile paper-clip circuit could also be the best opportunity for Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin to loosen Keselowski's grasp on the NASCAR Sprint Cup series lead.
So far this season, Keselowski has answered all challenges and turned back all comers with the look of a champion. But for a coronation to occur four races from now at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Keselowski will have to beat the Martinsville masters at their own game in Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), round 7 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason.
Keselowski's sample size at the lone short track in the Chase is relatively small, having only been a full-timer in the Cup series for three years. To place it in perspective, Johnson has more victories (six) at Martinsville than Keselowski has starts (five) there. Hamlin isn't far behind, with four wins at the Virginia short track.
Keselowski hasn't been awful at Martinsville, but his average finish of 13.4 is a few steps behind the stellar series-best 5.8 of Johnson and the admirable 6.4 of Hamlin. But despite what the numbers say, Keselowski -- who leads Johnson by seven points and third-place Hamlin by 20 -- has frequently defied conventional wisdom in 2012. Sunday's 500-lapper may be the next exhibit in building his case for his first Sprint Cup title.
"Martinsville is just one of those tracks where it seems like there's numerous variables that we've struggled with," said Keselowski, who notched a career-best ninth-place finish at Martinsville earlier this season. ". . . Those things happen, but we've had speed at Martinsville and I'm encouraged by that. And you know eventually if you have enough speed at a track over and over again that you will get the results out of it, and I'm confident of that."
Keselowski's confidence, however, is matched by that of his rivals. Hamlin, who famously called his shot before his New Hampshire victory via Twitter, turned to social media earlier in the week to tweet that it was "time for MAX points." Johnson's attitude is similarly buoyant heading to one of his most favorable tracks.
"It's pressure time, it's go time, it's all that stuff with four (races) to go," Johnson said Tuesday. "The points as tight as they are, we expect to be one of the cars racing for the win."
TRUCKS READY FOR HOME STRETCH
The last time the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series raced at Martinsville Speedway, Ty Dillon was making his first start in a NASCAR national series on a short track. Through the power of hindsight 16 races later, it's easy to point to that second-place run in late March as the start of something big.
After a two-week layoff, the tailgate tour gets back to business with Saturday's Kroger 200 (2 p.m. ET, SPEED) at Martinsville with the 20-year-old Dillon as the points leader in his rookie truck season. But with four races left, plenty can change.
Fittingly, Dillon's runner-up finish that day came just ahead of third-place James Buescher, now his closest rival in the standings. Buescher trails by just one point, with Red Horse Racing teammates Timothy Peters (26 points back) and Parker Kligerman (34 points down) in third and fourth, respectively.
The last time out at Martinsville, Dillon played second fiddle to Sprint Cup regular and Richard Childress Racing teammate Kevin Harvick, who dominated in March by leading 248 of 250 laps. Dillon led the other two laps, impressing along the way as one of the few drivers who could keep pace with Harvick's stalwart truck.
"The No. 3 Bass Pro Shops team has grown a lot since the last race at Martinsville," Dillon said. "I know we have what it takes to contend for the win."
Buescher has impatiently idled just a single point -- the equivalent of one position on the track -- behind Dillon since the truck teams left Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 6. Starting Saturday, the truck series will compete for four straight weekends, meaning the title contender will be forced to wait no more.
"I'm happy that the off weeks are over and we can get back to racing," Buescher said. "Martinsville is a tough track to get a hold of; it's a totally different animal. Coming off a top-three the last time we were there, I feel good about going back. I'm just looking to keep track position and keep it up front."
Harvick returns to the entry list, looking for a truck season sweep at Martinsville. The only other Sprint Cup driver entered is Denny Hamlin, the 200-lap event's defending champion.
Updated October 25, 2012