Martinsville Speedway will host the penultimate races in the Playoffs to set the Championship 4 for all three of NASCAR’s top divisions.
This weekend will mark the first time the .526-mile track will hold the ninth race in the Playoffs. Phoenix Raceway, the new location of the Championship race, previously held the spot since 2005.
Joey Logano is the only driver so far that is locked into the Cup Series Championship 4 by virtue of his win at Kansas Speedway. Regular-season champion Kevin Harvick (+42), Denny Hamlin (+27) and Brad Keselowski (+25) are the drivers above the cutline going into Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (MRN, 1 p.m. ET). All four are previous winners at Martinsville with Hamlin leading the way among the group with five.
“Technically, I’m third in points, but fourth in the playoff standings,” said Keselowski, who has two Martinsville wins. “But sitting there you obviously feel very vulnerable that one of those guys that’s not in can win. You look at the cars that aren’t in right now it’s Chase Elliott and Martin Truex that probably stand out the most, and I could definitely see one of those two going to Martinsville and winning.”
Keselowski ranks first in wins (3) and laps led (669) in the eight oval races at tracks 1.058-miles or less in length this season with the reduced-downforce package.
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Alex Bowman (-25), Chase Elliott (-25), Martin Truex Jr. (-36) and Kurt Busch (-81) each will have the mindset to go win Martinsville as they are the drivers below the cutline.
“For us, we need to go win,” said Elliott, who has posted six top 10s and 243 laps led on the ovals with the reduced-downforce package in 2020. “That’s really the bottom line. I am not even going to look at points because, in my opinion, it really just doesn’t matter. If you can’t win races and win them consistently in the Series you aren’t going to win a championship, anyway.”
Truex Jr. has won the last two races at Martinsville after combining to lead 596 laps.
“I’m excited about going to Martinsville,” Truex Jr. said. “We know we can win there and obviously we’ve shown that in the past. It’s a new race and a new week. We have to figure out how to be better than we’ve been there before because I feel like everybody else will get better too. I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited for the opportunity to get to do this. Hopefully we can go there and do what we have to do to put ourselves in another championship race.”
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson will be making his final start at Martinsville as a full-time driver on Sunday. It will mark his 38th start at the Virginia short-track where he has nine career wins with the last one coming in 2016 when he went on to capture the record-tying title.
“Hands down one of my favorite tracks of all time,” Johnson said. “I love racing there and will miss it so much. It is a hard track to figure out, but once you do it’s so fun to race on. I love the history there and it just reminds me of the early days in the sport. We had a great run last time there in the No. 48 Ally Chevy, and with just two more races this season I really want to win.”
NASCAR.com: Paint Scheme Preview
The NASCAR Xfinity Series will race at Martinsville for the first time since 2006 in Saturday’s Draft Top 250 (MRN, 3 p.m. ET).
All of the Round of 8 drivers have turned laps at Martinsville in at least one of the two other NASCAR National series with a majority coming in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. Justin Allgaier has experience in Cup at the track and Ross Chastain has raced in both.
Chase Briscoe, who is locked in via his win at Kansas, made two truck starts at Martinsville in 2017 with a best finish of 11th. Pole-sitter Austin Cindric (+14), Allgaier (+8) and Justin Haley (+4) are the drivers above the cutline.
Brandon Jones, who will also compete in Friday night’s Gander Truck race, is the first driver on the outside looking in (-4).
“I plan to use a lot of information from that race to carry over to the Xfinity side,” Jones said. “We are going to put all our effort into Martinsville so that we can advance into Phoenix where we know we can win. There’s a lot of unknowns going into this weekend, but I do have notes with five starts in the Truck Series.”
Chastain (-15), Noah Gragson, who won the 2017 fall Martinsville Truck race, (-24) and Ryan Sieg (-43) round out the four below the cutline.
“This team deserves to be fighting for a championship and I am going to do everything possible on the track to get it done,” Gragson said. “It definitely gives me more confidence that we are heading to Martinsville, a place where I have had success in the past in the Truck Series. I’m just ready to get out there and do what we have to do to get to Phoenix.”
Two more drivers will be added to the Championship 4 in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series when the checkered flag flies in Friday night’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 (MRN, 7:30 p.m. ET).
GMS Racing teammates Brett Moffitt and Sheldon Creed are already headed to the championship race after winning at Kansas and Texas, respectively.
“Heading into Martinsville already locked in to Phoenix is a huge weight lifted,” Creed said. “We need to be smart this week and not make any enemies that could come back to bite us in Phoenix, but I’m not going to let myself get moved around.”
Austin Hill (+27) and Zane Smith (+12) head to Martinsville currently above the cutline.
“I feel like I’m at a bit of a disadvantage seeing Martinsville for the first time this weekend with no practice, but a lot of these tracks this year I’ve been seeing for the first time,” said Smith, who will start second alongside Creed. “I’ve been relying on my teammates and simulator time to prepare for my first start. We’re going to go into this week and run our race and hope we advance to the final four at Phoenix.”
Defending series champion Matt Crafton is the first driver out, only 12 points behind. The others are 42 points or more back – Grant Enfinger (-42), Ben Rhodes (-45) and Tyler Ankrum (-79).
Crafton is the only Round of 8 driver that has visited Victory Lane at Martinsville, winning in 2014 and 2015.