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NASCAR Cup Series Power Rankings

POWER RANKINGS: STP 500

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1. Brad Keselowski (+1)

Keselowski became the first multiple-race winner of 2017 with Sunday’s victory at Martinsville giving him a coveted grandfather clock.

2. Chase Elliott (+2)

The paperclip is notorious for being tough on young drivers, but Elliott led 20 laps and finished third.

3. Kyle Larson (-2)

Larson’s four-race second-or-better streak ended as he finished 17th. He also failed to receive Stage points for the first time in the second segment.

4. Kyle Busch (+2)

Busch led 274 laps but ended up second to Keselowski, who made the winning pass with 43 to go. The 2015 champion’s runner-up result is his best of the season, thus far.

5. Joey Logano (—)

Logano finished fourth, giving him his third top-five of the season. The No. 22 driver is fifth in the standings after six races.

6. Martin Truex Jr. (-3)

Truex’s three-position drop isn’t because he did bad on Sunday; the drivers he was ahead of last week (Busch, Elliott, Logano) finished better than him. The No. 78 driver got his first finish outside the top-15 of the year after spinning with 69 laps to go.

7. Clint Bowyer (+3)

Bowyer’s transition to Stewart-Haas Racing is going seamlessly as he posted his third top-10 of the season by finishing seventh.

8. Erik Jones (+3)

The Furniture Row Racing rookie was 12th on Sunday and earned three points in Stage 2. Not too shabby for his first career Martinsville start.

9. Kevin Harvick (-1)

“Happy” wasn’t feeling it after finishing 20th. He’s been outside the top-10 in three of the last four races.

10. Ryan Blaney (-3)

The Wood Brothers Racing sophomore earned points in both stages but was relegated to 25th when the checkered flag waved. Blaney is seventh in the standings.

11. Ryan Newman (+2)

Newman had a top-10 car most of the race and finished eighth. He’s 11th in the standings with one win.

12. Jamie McMurray (-3)

Had McMurray not suffered a flat left rear tire on Lap 106, his No. 1 Chevrolet might have finished in the top-five. Chip Ganassi Racing’s hot streak came to an abrupt halt as McMurray finished 38th.

13. Matt Kenseth (Not ranked last week)

In 35 career Martinsville starts, Kenseth has no wins and 14 top-10s. But he had a much-needed rebound with a ninth-place finish.

14. Denny Hamlin (-2)

Thirtieth is not what the five-time Martinsville winner had in mind. Hamlin was caught up in a multi-car accident on Lap 417 and finished seven laps down.

15. Jimmie Johnson (—)

The No. 48 finished 15th, so that’s where Johnson is ranked this week. The defending series champion’s slow start to 2017 continues as he has only one top-10.

16. Austin Dillon (Not ranked last week)

Dillon earned his second career top-five at the half-mile track and first top-10 of the year. The Richard Childress Racing driver finished fifth and sits 18th in the standings.

Dropping out of the top-16 rankings this week: Daniel Suarez (was 15th) and Kurt Busch (was 16th).

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Confidence Growing for Rookie Erik Jones

With his fourth straight top-15 finish, rookie Erik Jones feels Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway was a confidence boost.

Jones had an up-and-down day at Martinsville, involved in a wreck with 82 laps to go, but rebounded to finish 12th.

“Martinsville has never been my friend,” Jones told POPULAR SPEED. “You know, we did a good job all week.  We got better in practice.  We had a good car, I thought, in practice.  Started off the race and just kind of exaggerated the struggles we had all weekend and caught that a lot of the day.  Thought we were making gains on it at one point and then kind of went backwards.

“By the end of the race, we were the best we had been all day all tore up, so I don’t know what that means but the Five Hour Energy Camry, I thought, was probably a 10th place car maybe at the end.  I don’t know.  We ran up there, sixth, seventh for a little bit.  After that, we kind of struggled to stay up there.”

In the big picture, Jones is set to continually improve each week.  After surprising himself at Martinsville, Jones feels the team is accomplishing their goals for the season and knocking on the door of contending.

“Our goal was to get subtly better,” Jones explained.  “At least that was my goal for the team.  I feel like we’ve done that.  I knew this was going to be our biggest challenge of all the racetracks we’ve gone to this year and it was.  I feel like we struggled the most with handling for sure this weekend but we did a good job of improving on it.  We’ll go to Texas next week and that’s a little bit more of our forte so hopefully we can get up and run inside the top-five like we did at Auto Club and seal one out.”

While Jones feels confident about next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and fellow intermediates, the next short track on the schedule – Bristol Motor Speedway on April 23 – is on his radar. The half-mile is similar to what Jones cut his teeth on when he was racing in Super Late Models, such as the high banked, half-mile Winchester Speedway in Indiana.

“I like Bristol a lot,” Jones said.  “That reminds me a lot of the tracks I grew up racing Late Models on.  It’s always fun to go back there.  I struggled the first couple times I went there but the last few times I’ve been there in the XFINITY car, we’ve had really good speed and felt like we had winning cars each time.  We’ll keep working at it and I know Bristol will be a fun one for us.”

Erik Jones will ride the wave of momentum into Texas as he prepares for double duty, competing in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race and Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

AJ Allmendinger Records Another Strong Martinsville Finish

AJ Allmendinger picked up his second top-10 finish of 2017 in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, his third consecutive at the half-mile.

The driver of the No. 47 started 30th and methodically raced his way into contention, recording a sixth-place finish. After the event, Allmendinger attributed his success to his road course background.

“It’s for sure a little bit like road course racing,” Allmendiner told POPULAR SPEED. “I just think driver can make a bit more of a difference here.  You know, get to the mile-and-a-half, two mile racetracks, aero is a lot of it.  That’s something we’re continuously working on.  We worked hard on the west coast swing.  We learned a lot.  Finishes didn’t show it but felt like we learned a lot aero-wise for those bigger racetracks.  Coming here, it’s just about, got to have a good car.  This car was freaking hooked up.  Once we got it right, long runs, it was just an awesome racecar.”

Allmendinger added this was the first race back for crew chief Randall Burnett, who got suspended for three races due to a lug nut violation at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“Can’t thank everyone at Kroger, Click List, all of our associates, everybody at the shop, Randall Burnett, have him back after the suspension,” he added.  “I wish we would have stayed green for about 120 laps because I think I could have ate these guys alive.  All in all, solid day.”

While he leaves Martinsville pleased, Allmendinger feels there is still work to be done before the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway.

“Texas is so different, brand new racetrack now,” Allmendinger stated.  “More aero-dependent.  We’ve got to work on it.  These Cup races, they’re hard to have great runs in.  So, any time you can have a great run, especially after the west coast swing, the penalty, all that, any time you get a good run, it’s important.”

Allmendinger unofficially sits 26th in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points after Sunday’s STP 500.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Past Results Give Danica Patrick Optimism at Martinsville

Danica Patrick is hoping to get her season back on track, and Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway may be the best opportunity to do so.

Martinsville Speedway has consistently been one of Patrick’s best tracks in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.  The 35-year-old, who is in her fifth full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, has scored four top-20 finishes and one top-10 in eight starts at the half-mile track.

Patrick, who began her foray into NASCAR racing back in 2010, believes Martinsville suits her because the tight confines are similar to road course racing.

“I came from road course racing and I feel like you have to set passes up a little bit like that,” Patrick said.  “I think it’s also a track that you have to exercise a lot of discipline.  It’s easy to make mistakes.  It’s easy to overdrive or overdrive when trying to get a little more when you’re passing somebody and make mistakes.  Those are the two things I keep in mind when I’m there, but you need a good car too and Stewart-Haas has always had good cars there.”

While Martinsville has been good to Patrick over the years, she does recognize that it presents its own set of challenges.  Patrick elaborated in an interview with Fox Sports last year.

“Martinsville, like any short track, you want to make sure you turn the center but you have to have drive on exit and they go hand-in-hand too,” Patrick explained.  “I mean, if you can’t turn in the center, it doesn’t matter what kind of power down you have.  If you have all that wheel in it when you’re trying to get off the corner with the power down, it puts a lot of load on those back tires to try to get you off the corner because you’re using the power to try and turn.  It’s about achieving a good balance with the car.  I feel like our team has always done a pretty good job with that.”

Patrick says her favorite thing about Martinsville is being able to set up and make passes on her competitors.

“At Martinsville, I enjoy that, if you have a good car, you can pass,” Patrick elaborated.  “I always say that Martinsville’s one of those tracks that you’re either looking out the windshield or looking in your rear-view mirror.  It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of in-between at least for me there.  So, luckily, I’ve had more races that I’m looking out the windshield.”

When the season started, Patrick was optimistic about improving and becoming a consistent top-15 driver and potentially challenge for wins.  The Stewart-Haas team underwent a radical change in the offseason when they went from running Chevrolet to running Ford; however, that change was welcomed by Patrick.

“The goal is to do better all the time and hopefully some of the things that have changed within in our team, the big one being the changeover to Ford, will open up some opportunities and possibilities and just some pure potential for the team and we can improve,” Patrick remarked.  “Hopefully, there is more room to improve now, so that’s kind of exciting to me.  I’m optimistic and hopefully it will be something that makes a difference.”

Patrick feels running up inside the top-15 throughout the season is a realistic goal.  The veteran racer hopes she and her team can continue to improve throughout the season and work their way into the top-10.

“I think if you’re in the top-15 every weekend, then you do a little bit better and then you’re in the top-10 and then, once you’re in the top-10 with good pit stops, good strategy and all the things that play into it – some of the new formats for the races can play into segment wins – so I think it’s important to be realistic.  So, to tell you to go out and win races and segments is not something I necessarily think is going to happen right away, but we’ll assess.  We’ll assess how strong we are as a team.  A few years back, we were really strong and I felt like that’s where I was running by the end of the year, was up in the top-15 and getting into the top-10, so hopefully we can get back to that and work from there.”

Patrick’s season started on a high note, scoring points in two stages at the Daytona 500 before getting swept up in an accident in the early laps of the third stage of the race.  She scored a 17th place finish in Atlanta but finishes of 36th, 22nd, and 26th in the West Coast Swing have knocked her down to 29th in points.

Martinsville could be the race that puts Patrick’s season back on track.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.