Only one race remains to set the Championship 4 in the NASCAR Cup Series.
The premier stock-car racing division heads to Martinsville Speedway for the Xfinity 500 on Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) for the final race of the Round of 8.
With only one driver sure of his championship hopes, let’s set the table for a busy weekend around the shortest track of the postseason:
SET THE GRID
Teams will be broken into Groups A and B for 20 minutes of practice on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio; 12:30 p.m. on USA Network) for each group, respectively. Following practice, the series will roll into two rounds of single-car, two-lap qualifying set to begin at 12:45 p.m. to set the starting lineup.
With the postseason underway, playoff drivers and teams will be ordered by their previous race metrics and assigned to Group A or B by the usual odd/even metric procedures. Playoff teams will be the final cars to qualify in their respective groups.
Each driver will post two laps during their time trial. The fastest five drivers from each group will advance to the final round of qualifying, where those 10 drivers will set two more circuits to fight for the Busch Light Pole Award. The driver who sets the quickest lap in the session will start first on Sunday.
— Built in 1947, Martinsville Speedway hosted its first race on Sept. 7, 1947, a modified stock car race that preceded NASCAR‘s inception. Bill France Sr. convinced track founder Henry Clay Earles that stock cars were the future of racing and promoted the event for a percentage.
— Martinsville appeared on the first Cup Series schedule in 1949 and is the only track on today‘s circuit that remains from that year.
— The first 12 Cup races at Martinsville were run on dirt.
— Earles partnered with Ridgeway Clock Company in 1964 to begin awarding race winners with a grandfather clock. Fred Lorenzen took the first one home on Sept. 27, 1964. Richard Petty won the most at 12 (not including his three prior victories), Darrell Waltrip won 11, and Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson each won nine.
— The track‘s turns were resurfaced with concrete in 1976, and the track wasn‘t resurfaced again until 2004 after Gordon struck a loose chunk of concrete during that year‘s spring race.
— LED lighting surrounded the 0.526-mile track starting in 2017.
— In 2022, Martinsville Speedway celebrates its 75th anniversary (1947-2022).
— The spring race at Martinsville was 400 laps, the first race there that was scheduled for less than 500 laps since 1958.
Source: Racing Insights
Teams return to Martinsville Speedway with a new tire compound, but one they already have experience with.
Goodyear is providing a different tire setup than what was previously run in April when exceptionally cold conditions made laying rubber on the track’s concrete corners significantly more challenging. A June tire test featuring Tyler Reddick, Kyle Busch and Austin Cindric helped guide Goodyear’s direction on updated tire codes which were confirmed in an organizational test at the track in August.
“Martinsville is such a unique track, not only with the relatively long straightaways and tight turns but also with the concrete surface in the corners only,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear‘s director of racing. “After an especially cold spring race, where it became very difficult to lay rubber in the corners, we decided to test there to make another step in doing that no matter how cool the temperatures are. We had a good test, and the compounds worked extremely well, and we believe it‘s a formulation that will work in all conditions. Laying rubber in the corners is important at Martinsville because it gives drivers an option to move up to a second groove to look for grip and give them a better chance to pass cars. That, of course, creates better racing.”
MARTINSVILLE STORY LINES
— Joey Logano is the only driver locked into the Championship 4 and has done so for the fifth time in the past nine years, continuing his streak of advancing to the title race in every even year since the elimination format was introduced in 2014.
— Kyle Larson’s Homestead-Miami win locked the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team into the Championship 4 for the owners’ championship. Only twice in Cup have there been a separate owners champion and driver champion: In 1963, Joe Weatherly won the drivers‘ title, and Wood Brothers won the owners’ championship; in 1954, Lee Petty won the drivers‘ championship, and Herb Thomas won the owners’ championship.
— Logano (2018) and Chase Elliott (2020) are the only remaining past champions in the playoffs.
— Nineteen different drivers have won this year, tied for the most all time.
— William Byron won the last race at Martinsville Speedway in April.
— Joe Gibbs Racing‘s next win is its 200th and would make it the third organization with at least 200 wins.
— AJ Allmendinger finished top 10 in his last six starts, his longest-ever top-10 streak in Cup.
— The last driver to win from pit stall No. 1 at Martinsville was Jimmie Johnson in April 2013.
— Ross Chastain finished runner-up in the last two races (Las Vegas, Homestead). The last time he was runner-up in two consecutive races, he won the next race (COTA).
— The driver leading the most laps won seven of the last 10 races at Martinsville, including the race there in April when Byron won after leading 212 laps.
Source: Racing Insights
MONEY ON MARTINSVILLE
Chase Elliott is one of only three playoff drivers to win this postseason while still eligible for championship contention. And with a solid track record at the paperclip, it should come as no surprise that the No. 9 Chevrolet is posted as the favorite to win Sunday’s race at 6-1 odds, according to BetMGM.
But perhaps the driver to watch will be Ryan Blaney (8-1). The driver of the No. 12 Ford carries the best average finish at Martinsville among active drivers at 10.2 but has yet to win at the half-mile track. Entering Sunday’s race 18 points beneath the elimination line, the playoffs’ lone winless competitor may need to break into Victory Lane to keep his championship hopes alive.
Ross Chastain might also be a bargain this weekend at 14-1 odds. Chastain sits highest in points among those who aren’t yet locked into the Championship 4 (+19 points) and doesn’t have the best record at Martinsville. But his lone appearance in a Trackhouse Racing car there produced a fifth-place finish, meaning the runner-up of the last two weeks could break through in a dramatic way come Sunday.
Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out NASCAR Fantasy Live, which reset for the playoffs. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts by garaging a driver by the end of Stage 2, and there is a $10,000 prize for the playoff winner.
The 2022 Fantasy Live points leaders are Chase Elliott (1,141), Joey Logano (1,052) and Ryan Blaney (1,035).
In addition to Fantasy Live, NASCAR.com is offering the Playoffs Grid Challenge presented by Ruoff Mortgage during the playoffs.
ALSO ON NASCAR.COM
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