Raceday: Your guide to the STP 500

April 6, 2013 

By Jim Utter

Three things to watch

1 . Jimmie Johnson has seven wins at Martinsville, including last fall, and starts from the pole. Enough said.

2. It’s virtually impossible for drivers to avoid others at Martinsville, so inevitably Tony Stewart and Joey Logano will find themselves racing around each other. Who knows what will happen?

3 . Denny Hamlin plans to watch Sunday’s race from atop his pit box as Mark Martin drives his No. 11 Toyota. Martin qualified poorly but don’t bet against him.

Observations

Tony Stewart is still trying to have it both ways. On Friday, Stewart tried to explain away the apparent disconnect between his criticism of Joey Logano’s blocking move at Auto Club Speedway two weeks ago and the move Stewart used last fall at Talladega which ignited a 17-car accident. He vehemently insists he does not believe in blocking but defended its use at restrictor-plate races because of the type of racing used there. Sorry, but that doesn’t wash. First, blocking is not against NASCAR rules. If Stewart wishes not to use it, then he does so at his own risk of losing positions on the track. But if you utilize it – and Stewart has on many occasions – you lose all moral authority to criticize its use.

Mark Martin approached his substitute role for Denny Hamlin this weekend by wanting to try to work with Hamlin’s setup on the car, in part because of how successful Hamlin has been at Martinsville in the past. Through two days of practice, however, that plan doesn’t seem to be working very well. It will be interesting to see if the No. 11 team makes vast changes before Sunday’s race and if Brian Vickers – who is substituting for Hamlin beginning next weekend – sticks to the same philosophy.

Keep an eye on Kurt Busch, who is looking for his third consecutive top-five finish. The last time Busch earned three straight top-fives was the first three races of the 2005 season – the year after winning the Cup championship. Coincidentally, the last time Busch finished in the top-10 at Martinsville was also the 2005 season.

Best bets

Three picks for your fantasy team from Jim Utter:

Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers

Notes

Virginia honors Wendell Scott: The Commonwealth of Virginia honored former NASCAR driver Wendell Scott this week with the erection of a historical highway marker in his hometown of Danville, Va. Scott was the first African-American to win a race in what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series.

“Wendell Scott is very much a part of NASCAR’s and Virginia’s history,” said NASCAR President Mike Helton. “We join others in thanking the Commonwealth of Virginia for the honor they are bestowing on Mr. Scott, one that is well deserved.”

Scott, who retired from racing in 1973 and died in 1990, enjoyed a prolific career. In 1959, he won both the NASCAR Sportsman Division Virginia championship and the Sportsman Division championship at Southside Speedway in Richmond, Va. In 1957, he finished third in the Virginia standings behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett. Last year, Scott was among the 25 nominees up for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Swan Racing makes personnel changes: Swan Racing announced that Tony Eury Jr. has been named competition director for the team, replacing Steve Hmeil. Steven Lane has been named crew chief for the No. 30 Toyota driven by David Stremme.

“We made changes in the front office today that we believe will have a long term benefits for the team going forward," said Swan Racing owner Brandon Davis. "This team is committed to making progress every week.”

Final practice update: Clint Bowyer finished final practice Saturday with the fastest average lap speed (97.018 mph). Jimmie Johnson was second, Carl Edwards was third, Greg Biffle was fourth and Jeff Burton was fifth. During the session, Joey Logano and Johnson made contact and each required some minor repairs to their car.

Race facts

Where: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway

Track type: .526-mile paved flat oval

Race distance: 500 laps, 263 miles

Weather: Sunny with high in the mid-70s.

TV: Coverage begins at noon on Fox. Green flag is 1:16 p.m. ET

Radio: Motor Racing Network

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