The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will begin its final five-race stretch of the season Saturday when it visits Martinsville Speedway with championship leader Todd Bodine looking to aggressively protect his 262-point advantage over second-place title contender Aric Almirola.

The top tandem will face off for the first time since the series raced on Sept. 25 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where Bodine drove to his 14th top-five finish of the season and seventh consecutive top-10 finish by manufacturing a fourth-place run. Almirola picked up his 16th top-10 finish of the season and eighth straight top-10 finish with a sixth-place effort.

Drivers competed on the famed 0.526-mile paper-clip-shaped Martinsville oval earlier this season on March 27. Almirola and his No. 51 Billy Ballew Motorsports truck placed sixth while Bodine struggled to his season-worst 30th-place finish when his No. 30 Germain Racing ride overheated and his day ended on Lap 173 of 250.

Bodine is all too familiar with the challenging conditions presented by the track where he has yet to post a victory and averaged a 17th-place finish in his last three starts.

"Martinsville is a tough little short track. Anything can happen and we know we have to come out of there with a good finish. Do we want to win? Of course, but at the same time, we realize what our finish needs to be.

"We tested at Little Rock (at Rockingham Speedway) to improve our short track program and figure some other things out. We did and we're going into Martinsville with a little extra optimism. We have a direction to go and we should be fine," Bodine said.

Almirola will make his fifth career NCWTS Martinsville start intent on replicating the March performance that brought him his first top-10 finish on the track.

"Martinsville is one of those tracks that I feel like I learn more and more each time I race. We finished sixth in March, we're building on that performance and coming back with a few changes. Hopefully, we'll be a little bit better and can win our third race of the year," Almirola said.

He provided insight into his approach to the 21st NCWTS race of the season.

"You go to Martinsville expecting a rough race. As a driver, it's a tough balance between staying patient and being aggressive. A good starting spot makes race day so much easier. It's a lot easier to stay up front and protect your position than it is to fight your way through the field. If you get stuck in the middle, you're going to have to be pretty aggressive to get to the front, but you can't get so crazy that you get caught up in a wreck.

"You've also got to take care of your brakes and not use up too much of your truck early. There's no magic formula. It helps to have a spotter that can keep you calm and focused when you're upset or being careless, or tell you that it's time to go when you need to kick it in high gear," he said.

Saturday race coverage will begin 12:30 p.m. on SPEED Channel and 12:45 p.m. on Motor Racing Network Radio and Sirius XM 128.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~Kentucky Speedway~