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Cup Series drivers wrap up two-day test session at Martinsville Speedway

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Like nearly everyone else in the garage area, William Byron is not completely sure what to expect when the NASCAR Cup Series heads back to Martinsville Speedway in October for the Xfinity 500.

The past couple of days have seen Byron and several other drivers make laps around the historic half-mile in a test session that saw teams experiment with a different tire compound and gear ratio ahead of the penultimate race of the season.

Byron was encouraged by what he saw out of the tires on Wednesday afternoon but admitted there is not yet enough information for him to infer on how different the Xfinity 500 will be compared to the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 in the spring, which he ended up winning.

“The track [was] laying a ton of rubber, more than we‘ve ever seen at Martinsville,” Byron said. “That‘s a good sign, but I‘m curious if that‘s because of the tire or temperature. I‘ve never been here when it‘s been 85 or 90 degrees, so there are some different characteristics compared to the spring, but it‘s still the same old Martinsville.”

RELATED: Recap of Tuesday’s test session at Martinsville

Byron said that shifting was still a necessity throughout the entire session with the new 6.04 final drive ratio, adding that the only noticeable yet minor difference came down to the shift points.

The onset of cooler weather conditions in the fall is something Byron believes could increase the pace and further alter the shift points with how sensitive Martinsville is to temperatures, but he does not see a scenario in which there will be no shifting in the Xfinity 500 later this year.

Chase Elliott echoed the sentiments of his teammate Byron on the changes utilized in Wednesday‘s session. He did not see much tire falloff during the day despite the amount of rubber put down and said that shifting will still be important come October.

Martinsville has been one of Elliott‘s better tracks since entering the Cup Series. Along with claiming five top fives at the track, his lone Martinsville victory in the fall of 2020 was a key catalyst that allowed him to claim his first championship the following week.

Elliott led 185 laps in the spring race at Martinsville before a bad pit stop ended up relegating him to 10th. He said that race highlighted the importance of track position at Martinsville and expects that quality to be prevalent when the Cup Series returns in a couple of months.

Regardless of the changes made to the cars ahead of October‘s Xfinity 500, Byron hopes his next visit to Martinsville results in a Championship 4 berth.

After opening the 2022 season with four top fives and two victories at Martinsville and Atlanta Motor Speedway, Byron has been unable to match that consistency during the summer, with his best performance being a ninth-place result at Sonoma Raceway.

Despite the struggles, Byron sees Martinsville as a perfect opportunity to reignite the championship hopes he possessed earlier in the year but said a lot must happen for him just to be one of the eight drivers who could realistically lock into Phoenix with a win.

“This is one of those oasis tracks for us, but we have to get here first,” Byron said. “If we can get here, I feel pretty good about the feel I have for these places with the short track racing I‘ve been doing and the feel Rudy [Fugle] has for the setup. A lot of that continued [on Wednesday] but there‘s a long road to get to that race.”

Corey LaJoie set the fastest time in the Wednesday test session with a 20.021. Ryan Blaney was second overall and was followed by Denny Hamlin, Byron and the Petty GMS No. 43 that was split between Erik Jones and Noah Gragson.

The Xfinity 500 in October will determine the four drivers that will have a shot at the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series championship in Phoenix. The race is scheduled to take place on Oct. 30 at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.