As if Kevin Harvick didn’t need any more ammunition to fuel his early-season hot streak, he’s got the STP 500 and Martinsville Speedway lined up in his sights next week. He couldn’t be happier.
Let’s count the reasons. It’s home. He’s won in every division he has raced on the half-mile oval. And with two wins in the bank already this season, he can afford to gamble in next Sunday’s STP 500.
Harvick has won in three different divisions, Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck, at Martinsville, one of only three drivers to score a Martinsville hat trick. Bobby Labonte and Jimmy Hensley are the other two. Labonte had Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck wins while Hensley scored Xfinity, Camping World Truck and Modified victories.
“When you look at how short that list (of triple winners) is, yeah, it’s hard to win a race at Martinsville. It just seems really hard to win those races,” Harvick said recently. “Going to Martinsville and being able to win is fun for us because it is so close to where we spent a lot of our lives as a couple there in Oak Ridge (NC). Delana’s family still lives near the race track, so we have a lot of family and friends that come up. You want to run good and try to at least get them out of the grandstands and into victory lane with you.”
Harvick has five Martinsville victories, but only one in the Sprint Cup Series. It will be easier for him to shoot for that second win in the STP 500.
“It’s all about winning races and at this particular time you can really lean more toward the winning race side because you know you have the (two) wins to fall back on for the Chase,” said Harvick, who is the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
Harvick’s team apparently has done a better job than most others of adjusting to a new rules package NASCAR introduced this year. The STP 500 will be the first short-track race for the new rules, and Harvick thinks it could make things interesting.
“I think the less power and the less gear are going to change a lot of things we haven’t been accustomed to at Martinsville,” Harvick explained. “I think you are going to have to go through some pretty big learning curves in a pretty short amount of time in practice to get your stuff right for qualifying and then go back to the drawing board Friday night and come back Saturday with some different plans.
“So I don’t think anybody really knows where everything is going to be. But I do know it’s going to be different because I’ve raced the trucks and Xfinity cars up there and know that as you take the power out of the corner speed the rolling speed has to be really good to get your car to come up off the corner to pass.”
Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson believes the new rules package will make for better racing at Martinsville.
“I think the reduction in power and the gear change we made is going to be much more forgiving on tires,” said Johnson. “I think we will be racier as the result. The tires won’t fall off as much. I think we’ll still have drive-off of two and four and the end result will be better passing.”
Virginia Lottery Pole Day will kick off at Martinsville Speedway at 10 a.m. on Friday with the first Camping World Truck Series practice, followed by a Sprint Cup practice session at 12 noon. Sprint Cup qualifying is scheduled for 4:45 p.m.
There will be two Sprint Cup practice sessions on Saturday, the first at 10 a.m. and the final at 1 p.m.
The STP 500 will take the green flag at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Fan gates open at 9 a.m. each day.
Advance ticket prices for the STP 500 begin at just $45.
Ticket prices increase race week.
Tickets to the STP 500 on March 29, the Kroger 250 on March 28 and the Virginia Lottery Pole Day on March 27 can be purchased by calling 1.877.RACE.TIX. Tickets may also be purchased online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com.