Ford searching for their first Martinsville victory in 15 years

The last time a Ford visited Victory Lane at Martinsville Speedway was with Kurt Busch behind the wheel in 2002.

Ford searching for their first Martinsville victory in 15 years
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Team Penske Ford detail
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford

Since then, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has visited the .526-mile short track 28 times, and the United States has held four Presidential elections.

Though Brad Keselowski has finished second in two of the last four races — to nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson last fall and to five-time victor Denny Hamlin in the spring race in 2015, either a Hendrick Motorsports Chevy or a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has won eight of the last 10 Monster Energy Cup events on the paper-clip-shaped track.

Certainly, the most dominant Ford to race at Martinsville in years was Joey Logano’s No. 22 Fusion in the fall 2015 race. Logano, who had won his second of three-consecutive poles, led 207 of 458 laps before Matt Kenseth dumped him between Turns 1 and 2.

Since joining Team Penske in 2013, Logano’s average starting position at Martinsville Speedway is 2.5. With the STP 500 field set by points after qualifying was rained out on Friday, Logano will roll off fifth on Sunday. Earlier this week, he offered his keys for the race on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“You have to be very gentle with the throttle,” Logano said. “You have to be gentle with brakes. That’s why Duralast GT brakes obviously picked the perfect track to sponsor the car. It’s definitely one of those places where you have to have a lot of finesse, not just when you’re driving current laps by yourself but even when you’re around other cars you have to know how hard to push it during the race so you have a car at the end.”

Logano finished second in just his third Martinsville start and sixth later that season. He has posted three top-five finishes in his last six starts and led all of his 456 laps.

“With our cars, there is a time that you’re a bull in a china shop — and you need to be,” Logano said. “There are certain times in the race when you have to do that, instances like at the end of a race or coming to a stage finish. You know those cautions are coming and you can afford to push it hard. Or if you’re a lap down and you’re racing for the lucky dog, you don’t have an option, you have to run it hard.

“But if you’re in the top five and it’s the first run of the race, you have to be smart, take care of the rear tires and easy on, easy, to start getting that rhythm going. If you’re smart in the beginning, you get the reward later on.”

So other than Logano, who from the Ford Performance camp could win on Sunday?
Brad Keselowski — Keselowski, who starts fourth, has four top fives and eight top 10s at the track. He’s completed 99-percent of all laps raced at Martinsville and has led 171 circuits. Keselowski was fourth in Happy Hour.

Kevin Harvick — Harvick has one grandfather clock — the trophy awarded to the victor at Martinsville. In 31 starts, he has one win, three top fives and 14 top 10 finishes. However, he will not have crew chief Rodney Childers on the box this weekend to guide the No. 4 team.

Clint Bowyer — Bowyer was fastest in final practice on Saturday. His best finish at Martinsville was second in this race in 2013. All tolled, Bowyer has four top fives and 12 top 10s in 22 starts.
Kurt Busch — Busch has a love-hate relationship with Martinsville. In 33 starts, he has two wins, three top fives and five top 10s — but an average finish of 21.2. Busch was not pleased with his car in final practice and ended up 29th on the speed chart.

Ryan Blaney — Could this be the race where Blaney finally breaks through? Blaney finished 19th in both races last year, but the driver of the iconic No. 21 Ford starts seventh on Sunday. He was eighth in Happy Hour and would love to bring the Wood Brothers a third Cup trophy from their home track.

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