Seven drivers will be looking for places in the NASCAR Cup Series championship four Sundays at Martinsville Speedway in the final race of Round 8.
Joey Logano secured one of four positions after winning in Las Vegas. No playoff contenders won last week at Homestead-Miami Speedway as Kyle Larson scored in a breakaway, leaving three championship spots available on Sunday.
Winning any of the seven will mean an automatic place in the Phoenix Championship Group. If none of the playoff contenders win, the remaining three places will be determined by points.
MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Ranking
Entrance to Martinsville Ross Chastain is plus -19 to the cut line. Chase Elliott plus-11. William Byron plus-5. Below the cut line are Denny Hamlin (-5 to cut line), Ryan Blaney (-eighteen), Christopher Bell (-33) and Chase Briscoe (-44).
Drivers who will be watching Sunday in Martinsville:
- Points position: 2nd
- Last three races: 2nd at Homestead, 2nd at Las Vegas, 37th at Charlotte.
- Past in Martinsville: career best of seven starts – 5th
Chastain hasn’t won since April, but for the past two weeks he’s been knocking on the door with a second-place finish. He feels the most comfortable of the seven starters at Martinsville with 19-point cutline cushioning, but his short history on the track is unremarkable.
- Points position: 4th
- Last three races: 12th at Homestead, 13th at Las Vegas, 16th at Charlotte.
- Martinsville Past: Won in April
Byron led 212 laps, winning the spring race at Martinsville. Hendrick Motorsports would welcome a repeat as Byron bounces off the cut line at plus 5 to enter the race.
- Points position: 5th
- Last three races: 7th at Homestead, 5th at Las Vegas, 13th at Charlotte.
- Past in Martinsville: five wins, last in 2015
Hamlin arrives at one of his favorite tracks, in need of a good run. He’s five points below the cut line and hasn’t won since May in Charlotte.
QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
- Points position: 3rd
- Last three races: 14th at Homestead, 21st at Las Vegas, 20th at Charlotte.
- Martinsville Past: Won in 2020
After winning at Talladega four races ago, Elliot dropped to the middle of the rankings, finishing 14th or worse three times in a row. In the last two races, he did not lead on a single lap.
- Points position: 6th
- Last three races: 17th at Homestead, 28th at Las Vegas, 26th at Charlotte.
- Martinsville Past: Finished second twice
Blaney’s incredible march continues. Having not won this year except in the All-Star race, he remains a shot at a fourth championship, but is -18 points behind the cutoff line at Martinsville.
- Points position: 20th
- Last three races: disqualified at Homestead, 36th at Las Vegas, 7th at Charlotte.
- Martinsville Past: Career best out of nine starts – 11th
Wallace was watching the last week’s race on TV when he served a one-race suspension for arguing with Kyle Larson at the Las Vegas Speedway. He returns under scrutiny at the track this week, where he took two Truck Series victories but only finished 11th in the Cup.
The remaining three places in the fourth NASCAR Cup Series championship will be determined in Sunday’s 500-lap race at Martinsville Speedway (2:00 pm ET, NBC), the penultimate event of the season.
Joey Logano placed in the final four, having won two races back at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Last Sunday, non-playoff runner-up Kyle Larson won at Homestead-Miami Speedway, depriving seven other playoff drivers of victory and automatic advancement to the final round.
The fact that Logano is the only winner of the 8th round playoff race during the first two races means that at least two of the four positions in the Fourth Championship will be awarded on points. If any of the seven remaining playoff drivers win at Martinsville, they will advance to the Phoenix Raceway Championship race. If none of the seven win on Sunday, the three riders with the most points will advance.
MORE: Denny Hamlin is at the top of the NBC NASCAR Power rankings
Also on the Martinsville schedule is Saturday’s (3:00 pm ET, NBC) Xfinity Series race. Noah Gragson as well as Josh Berry qualified for the November 5 Xfinity Championship race in Phoenix. Two spots remain open to six eligible drivers.
Is Hamlin the favorite for Martinsville?
Of the eight riders remaining in the Cup playoffs, Denny Hamlin the only one to have more than one Martinsville win. Hamlin has won the short track five times. Joey Logano, William Byron as well as Chase Elliott have one victory each, and the other four racers – Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Chase Briscoe as well as Christopher Bell — looking for their first wins on a big paper clip.
Does that make Hamlin’s favorite Sunday? Not so fast. Hamlin’s wins at Martinsville occurred in 2008, 2009, 10 (twice), and 15. In the last five races at Martinsville, he finished 11th or worse four times.
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Hamlin can obviously still win Sunday, but his recent record pales in comparison to his best half-mile years. He was 28th in the April race at Martinsville (won by Byron) and failed to place in the top 10 during the race.
No more stripes?
Arriving in Martinsville this week are three outstanding riders who are on a massive winning streak year after year and their records are in jeopardy.
Brad Keselowski, which was taken over by the team this year to form Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, has won at least one race in 11 consecutive seasons. His fifth place at Homestead last Sunday was his best result of the season.
Keselowski won twice in Martinsville.
Martin Truex Jr., also a non-winner this season, has run into a web of problems this year, as highlighted by his problem on pit road at Homestead. He has won at least one race for seven consecutive years.
Truex has three wins in Martinsville.
Ryan Blaney, who has not won this year except for an All-Star triumph, has a five-season winning streak on the line. His best finish in Martinsville is second – twice.
More laps, more action?
April’s race at Martinsville, the track’s first for a Next Gen car, was widely criticized for its lack of competition.
There were only four leaders on the narrow half-mile track, which usually makes for a thrilling race: Winner William Byron led 212 laps, Chase Elliott 185, Ryan Blaney five and Austin Dillon one. There were five lead changes from 15 in last year’s fall race.
In April, there was little struggle for leadership. Byron edged out Joey Logano in overtime to take the win.
The spring race was scheduled for 400 laps (it ran 403 due to overtime), Martinsville’s first race scheduled for less than 500 laps since 1958. Sunday’s race is scheduled for the traditional 500.
List of Martinsville Cup members
List of Martinsville Xfinity members
Schedule and forecast for this week
(All time Eastern)
Friday, October 28
Forecast: Partly cloudy. High 62.
- 16:00 – 16:35 – Xfinity Series practice (US network)
- 16:35 – 17:30 – Xfinity Series Qualifier (US Network)
Saturday, October 29
Forecast: Mainly cloudy. Maximum 62. Chance of rain 4%.
- Noon – 12:45 pm – Cup Series Practice (USA Network at 12:30 pm, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 12:45 – 14:00 – Cup Series Qualifier (USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 3:00 pm Xfinity Series Race (250 laps, 131 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Sunday, October 30
Forecast: Cloudy, occasional showers. Maximum 63. Chance of rain 60%.
- 2:00 pm Cup Series Race (500 laps, 263 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)