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NASCAR: Who to watch in the 2014 STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway

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The Sprint Cup Series heads to Martinsville Speedway in Virginia for this weekend’s STP 500 on Sunday, March 30th. Martinsville, also known as “The Paperclip” due to its shape, is NASCAR’s shortest track – just 0.526-miles in length – but it’s home to some of the best short track action in the series. Four current Cup Series drivers have multiple wins at the track, all of whom have something to prove after last weekend’s race in Fontana.

It may be too early to tell, but Tony Stewart seems to be heading in the right direction – and that’s up in the points standings. Stewart has improved significantly in the last two races, with top five finishes in both Bristol and Fontana, and has jumped 10 spots in points, from 27th to 17th. He has three wins and 15 top 10 finishes in 29 races at Martinsville, with the last one coming in the fall of 2011 while he was chasing his third Cup Series championship.

After missing the race at Auto Club Speedway with a vision problem (later revealed to be a sliver of metal in his eye), Denny Hamlin will be one of the favorites at “The Paperclip.” Hamlin, who has an average finish here of 8.1, has four wins and 13 top 10 finishes in 16 races at the track.

Martinsville is Jimmie Johnson’s top track, with a stingy average finish of just 5.3 in 24 races. In the last 12 seasons, he’s won eight times and collected 21 top 10 finishes, three poles and 2,450 laps led; last spring, Johnson won from the pole. Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon also has eight wins at Martinsville, as well as 34 top 10 finishes and seven poles in 42 races; his last Martinsville win came in the fall of 2013. The short track also ranks as Gordon’s best, with an average finish of 6.8 and 3,593 laps led.

Rookie watch – with his runner-up finish at Auto Club Speedway last weekend, Kyle Larson leads Austin Dillon in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. Larson has been the top-finishing rookie in three of this season’s five events (Phoenix, Bristol and Fontana), while Dillon led the way at Daytona and Las Vegas.

The Sprint Cup Series qualifies for the STP 500 on Friday, March 28th at 4:40 p.m. ET, with the race going green on Sunday, March 30th at 1 p.m. ET. Keep up with the action at www.nascar.com.

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