This weekend the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Martinsville Speedway for the sixth race of the season. It’s the shortest track on the circuit and a favorite of both fans and drivers. But did you know it’s the only track that has hosted Cup races every year since the beginning of the Cup series in 1949?
Red Byron, driving for owner Raymond Parks with crew chief Red Vogt, won the first Strictly Stock race at Martinsville Speedway on September 25, 1949, in his No. 22 Oldsmobile. He took the lead on lap 104 of the 200 lap event, finishing three laps ahead of second-place driver, Lee Petty. Byron went on to become the premier series’ first Cup champion.
But did you know that Martinsville Speedway had a dirt racing surface for the first 12 races held at the track? It was paved with asphalt in 1955 and the first 500-lap event was held the following year. There have been 136 Cup Series races hosted by the track, one in 1949 and two each subsequent year.
The King, Richard Petty, ruled Martinsville during his career, capturing 15 checkered flags to lead the series in victories. On April 10, 1960, he also became the youngest (22 years, 9 months, 8 days) winner at the 0.526-mile track.
Forty-nine different drivers have won at Martinsville but did you know that only seven active drivers have scored wins at the shortest track in the series? Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers with nine first-place finishes, Denny Hamlin has five of the coveted grandfather clock trophies and Kurt Busch has two. Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman have visited victory lane at Martinsville once.
Johnson’s ninth win came last October when he won the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 and he’s eager to return to the track where he has experienced tremendous success.
“The last race at Martinsville was an amazing finish,” he said, “a very emotional one for me, so meaningful, and it obviously paved the way to our seventh championship. It’s a special place for us. It suits my driving style and I wish we raced at Martinsville more than twice a year.”
Johnson is not exaggerating when he says that the track fits his style. Did you know that he has the series-best driver rating (117.7) at Martinsville? It’s no surprise when you consider his career to date results; nine wins, 19 top fives, 24 top 10s and three poles. Hamlin is next with the second-best driver rating (108.2) at his home track with five wins, 12 top fives, 17 top 10s and three poles. Defending race winner Kyle Busch (99.9), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (98.7) and Kevin Harvick (94.6) round out the series’ top five drivers at ‘The Paperclip.’
While overall driver ratings are a good indicator of a driver’s performance at a particular track, the advantages of qualifying well should not be underestimated. Did you know that 36 of the 136 (26.4 percent) Cup Series races at Martinsville have been won from a front row starting position? With that in mind, you may want to pay close attention to Hamlin, Johnson, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman. These drivers lead all active drivers for the most poles at Martinsville with three each.
In the meantime, check out the video below for a look at Martinsville Speedway’s illustrious history. And, don’t forget to tune into FOX Sports 1 (FS1) for the STP 500 Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.
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