Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, VA — October 31, 2021
Today’s race at Martinsville will determine the four drivers that will face off for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix next Sunday. Entering the Xfinity 500 only one driver is assured of a spot in the Final Four. Kyle Larson knows he will be one of those four drivers.
Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin hope they have done enough to make their advantage in the Championship Points standings hold up. Elliott is 34 points above the cut line and Hamlin is 32. Regardless of who wins, Chase Elliott would clinch with 22 points and
Denny Hamlin would clinch with 25 points. Look for them to add as many bonus points from Stage positions as possible.
Joey Logano likely needs a win if he is going to race for a second championship. The other four contenders are separated by just six points. It’s truly anyone’s position to grab.
NASCAR Cup Series Driver Playoff Outlook Following Kansas Speedway
|Rank||Driver||Points||Race Wins||Stage Wins||Playoff Pts||Pts From Cutoff|
|1||Kyle Larson||4,181||9||17||65||In On Wins|
|6||Martin Truex Jr.||4,071||4||5||29||-3|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Kyle Larson has already secured his spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 Round. It is the first time in his career he has advanced this far in the Playoffs. Larson has made 13 starts at Martinsville posting two top-fives and three top 10s. He finished fifth at the half-mile track earlier this season.
Chase Elliott currently sits second in the Playoff standings with a 34-point edge on the Championship 4 Round cutoff. 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion is looking to advance to Championship 4 Round for the second time in his career this season. Elliott has made 12 series starts at Martinsville collecting one win (2020), five top-fives, and seven top 10s; including winning this Playoff race last season. He finished runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. at the half-mile track earlier this season.
Denny Hamlin resides in third in the Playoff standings with a 32-point cushion above the Championship 4 Round cutline. Hamlin is looking to advance to the Championship 4 Round for the fourth time in his career (2014, 2019, 2020). Hamlin has made 31 series starts at Martinsville posting five wins (2008, 2009, 2010 sweep, 2015), 16 top fives, and 22 top 10s. He finished third at the half-mile track earlier this season.
Kyle Busch heads to Martinsville fourth in the Playoff standings with just a one-point advantage on the Championship 4 Round cutoff. Busch a two-time series champion is looking to make the Championship 4 Round for a series leading sixth-time in his career (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019); he is currently tied with Kevin Harvick for the series-most Championship 4 Round appearances at five each. Busch has made 32 starts at Martinsville grabbing two wins (2016, 2017), 16 top fives, and 19 top 10s. He finished 10th at the half-mile track back in April.
Ryan Blaney finds himself fifth in the Playoff standings just one point back from Kyle Busch in the fourth and final transfer position to the Championship 4 Round. Blaney is looking to advance to the final round of the Playoffs for the first time in his career. Blaney has made 11 series starts at Martinsville posting five top fives and six top 10s. He finished 11th at the half-mile track earlier this season.
Martin Truex Jr., the most recent winner at Martinsville Speedway (April 2021), currently sits sixth in the Playoff standings a mere three points behind Kyle Busch in the fourth and final transfer position to the Championship 4 Round. Truex is looking to qualify for the Championship 4 Round for the fifth time in his career (2015, 2017, 2018, 2019). Truex has made 31 series starts at Martinsville putting up three wins (2019, 2020, 2021), eight top fives, and 14 top 10s.
Brad Keselowski currently is seventh in the Playoff standings, six points back from Kyle Busch in the fourth and final transfer spot to the Championship 4 Round. The 2012 series champion is looking to make the Championship 4 Round for the ?? time in his career. Keselowski has made 23 starts at Martinsville amassing two wins (2017, 2019), 11 top fives, and 16 top 10s. He finished 33rd at the half-mile track back in April due to a late-race incident.
Joey Logano is last but not least in the Playoffs’ Round of 8 standings (eighth) with 26 points between himself and the Championship 4 Round. Logano is looking to qualify for the Championship 4 Round for the fifth time in his career (2014, 2016, 2018, 2020). Logano has made 25 series starts at Martinsville producing one win (2018), eight top fives, and 13 top 10s. He finished sixth at the half-mile track earlier this season.
Three Fords One Team
It is interesting that the three Ford Mustang drivers remaining in the Championship hunt are all from Team Penske. Ryan Blaney has been the most consistent of the three, but a wreck last week at Kansas resulted in a 37th place finish and dropped him out of the Top 4, one point below the cut line.
In a meeting prior to the green flag, the Penske teammates were told to race each other clean. But, when it came to the finish it was every man for himself. Brad Keselowski is leaving Team Penske at the end of 2021 to accept an ownership and driving position at Roush Fenway Racing, he would love to close out his season with another Championship on his resume.
Brad spoke about making the transition and leaving Team Penske. YOU HAVE TWO RACES LEFT WITH TEAM PENSKE. HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT THAT AND ANY REFLECTIONS? “I think there was probably a lot of reflecting over the last half a dozen weeks, but now with the task at hand to try and win the championship, there’s not a lot of time to reflect. There’s too much coming at me through the front windshield to be looking out the rearview mirror, but my head is down. I’m trying to win this weekend at Martinsville and then hopefully if we’re able to achieve that and/or just transfer into the next round, then do the same at Phoenix. That has consumed a majority of my bandwidth to be quite honest and I really haven’t had a chance to reflect.”
Ford’s Success in the NASCAR Cup Series at Martinsville
- Ford has 30 series wins at Martinsville Speedway.
- Ford has won four of the last nine series events at Martinsville.
- Brad Keselowski has two of those wins while Joey Logano has one.
- In 2018, Joey Logano won from the 10th starting position at Martinsville Speedway and went on to win his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Martinsville Speedway and the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs
The 2021 season marks the second time Martinsville Speedway has hosted the penultimate race (Race No. 9) in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs – the Round of 8 elimination race.
Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 2004, Martinsville Speedway has occupied three different positions on the postseason schedule. From 2004 – 2010 (seven seasons) Martinsville Speedway hosted the sixth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and from 2011 – 2019 (nine seasons) Martinsville hosted the seventh race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Last season (2020) was the first time Martinsville Speedway hosted the ninth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Martinsville Speedway is the third different track to host the ninth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs; joining Darlington Raceway (2004) and Phoenix Raceway (2005-2019).
A total of nine different drivers have won a NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Martinsville Speedway. Jimmie Johnson leads the NASCAR Cup Series in postseason wins at Martinsville Speedway with six Playoff victories (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2016). Denny Hamlin leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in postseason wins at Martinsville Speedway with two Playoff victories (2009, 2010). Five of the current eight drivers in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 8 have previously won a Martinsville Speedway Playoff race.
In 2020, Chase Elliott won from the eighth starting position at Martinsville Speedway and went on to win his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Kyle Larson Favored
Hendrick Motorsport’s Kyle Larson is having a historic Cup season. When Kyle Larson joined Hendrick Motorsports prior to the 2021 season everyone knew he would make a jump in success in the NASCAR Cup Series, but few envisioned the leap would be this astronomical.
Prior to the 2021 season, Kyle Larson’s best season statistically in the NASCAR Cup Series was 2017 when he put up four wins, 15 top fives, and 20 top 10s. He led 1,352 laps and posted an average start of 11.3 and an average finish of 13.3. He finished the 2017 season eighth in the final standings. His best season in the Cup driver point standings/Playoffs was 2019 where he finished sixth after collecting one win, eight top-fives, and 17 top 10s. But neither of those seasons even come close in comparison to Larson’s stellar performance in 2021.
This season, Larson’s list of accolades is fairly long. He has produced career-bests in every single traditional statical category – wins (9), top fives (19), top 10s (25), laps led (2,397), average start (6.4), and average finish (9.2). He also leads the series in key season-to-date Loop Data categories like Driver Rating (112.3), and Fastest Laps Run (1,198).
But that’s not all Larson has been able to accomplish, his performances this season have allowed him to etch his name alongside some of the sport’s greatest in the record books.
For example, his win last weekend at Kansas Speedway made him the fourth different driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to win three or more consecutive races multiple times in a single season; joining NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt (1987) and Richard Petty (1967, 1971) and David Pearson (1968).
NASCAR Cup Series Consecutive Victories (Three Or More Multiple Times A Season)
|1||Richard Petty||3||Thursday, July 13, 1967||Sunday, July 23, 1967||1967|
|Richard Petty||10||Saturday, August 12, 1967||Sunday, October 1, 1967||1967|
|2||David Pearson||4||Sunday, May 5, 1968||Saturday, May 18, 1968||1968|
|David Pearson||3||Thursday, August 8, 1968||Sunday, August 18, 1968||1968|
|Richard Petty||3||Sunday, March 7, 1971||Sunday, March 21, 1971||1971|
|Richard Petty||3||Thursday, April 15, 1971||Sunday, April 25, 1971||1971|
|Richard Petty||6||Wednesday, July 14, 1971||Sunday, August 8, 1971||1971|
|3||Dale Earnhardt||4||Sunday, March 29, 1987||Sunday, April 26, 1987||1987|
|Dale Earnhardt||3||Saturday, August 22, 1987||Sunday, September 13, 1987||1987|
|4||Kyle Larson||3||Sunday, May 30, 2021||Sunday, June 20, 2021||2021|
|Kyle Larson||3||Sunday, October 10, 2021||Sunday, October 24, 2021||2021|
This weekend Larson is looking to become just the ninth different NASCAR Cup Series driver in the Modern Era (1972-Present) to win four or more races consecutively and the 13th different driver to accomplish the feat all-time.
Plus, Larson’s 2,397 laps led this season are the most in a NASCAR Cup Series single season since NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon’s 2,610 laps led in 1996. Larson is only the fourth active driver to lead more than 2,000 laps in a single season; joining Kevin Harvick (2014, 2015), Kyle Busch (2017), and Martin Truex Jr. (2017).
And let’s not forget, Larson’s nine wins this season are tied with Kevin Harvick’s nine wins in 2020 for the most since Jimmie Johnson’s 10-win season in 2007. NASCAR Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon (1998) and Richard Petty (1975) hold the record for the most win in the NASCAR Cup Series in the Modern Era (1972-Present) with 13 wins each. If Larson wins either this week or next, he will become the only active driver with double-digit wins in a single season and the 11th driver in the Modern Era to accomplish the feat.
Larson has made 13 starts at Martinsville Speedway posting two top-fives and three top 10s. He finished fifth at Martinsville back in April.
The 500 laps run at Martinsville Speedway make up 263 miles around the 0.526-mile speedway nicknamed the paperclip for its unique layout with different corner apexes. Martinsville is the shortest track on the circuit and the only track to have hosted a race in every NASCAR season since 1949.
Stages are 130/130/240 laps and a competition caution is to be displayed around Lap 60.
Kyle Larson(5) starts on the pole with teammate Chase Elliott(9) beside him. Denny Hamlin(11) was set to start 3rd but will have to report to the rear of the field on the pace laps after failing pre-race inspection twice. Passing is difficult at Martinsville and Hamlin will have his work cut out making it into the Top 10 for bonus points at the end of the Stage.
Larson drove off into Turn 1 with the lead and held it for the first 56 laps. When the leaders began dealing with lapped traffic, Elliott caught and passed Larson to hold the lead until the competition caution waved on Lap 61.
Larson retook the lead exiting the pits first after caution flag service stops. He could not maintain the position, Elliott appears to be the fastest car on the track and he easily went around the #5 car to pace the field.
Hamlin continued to make trouble for himself, he was caught speeding on pit road and had to drop to the rear of the longest line for his restart.
Ryan Blaney(12) got in a battle for position with Austin Dillon(3) and sustained damage to the left rear of his race car when Dillon played bumper tag making a pass. Hamlin’s crew will have to provide some attention during Stage ending pit stops. Luckily the damage is not interfering with the tire and Hamlin continues to try and earn Stage points.
Elliott held on for the Stage win, Larson finished 2nd. Blaney and Hamlin failed to cash in on Stage bonus points finishing outside the Top 10 after 130 laps.
Stage 1 Results
|1||9||Chase Elliott (P)||10|
|2||5||Kyle Larson (P)||9|
|3||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||8|
|5||2||Brad Keselowski (P)*||6|
|6||18||Kyle Busch (P)||5|
|9||22||Joey Logano (P)*||2|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Larson again is first off pit road followed by Elliott, Martin Truex Jr.(19), Kyle Busch(18), and Brad Keselowski(2). But, Larson was caught speeding exiting and sent to the rear for the restart. Blaney also starts near the back of the pack as his crew took extra time repairing the left rear of his car of the damage he received from Dillon.
Elliott easily held the lead until Dillon suffered a flat right-front tire and hit the wall to bring out the caution flag on Lap 196. The incident proved timely for Blaney as he was close to being lapped by the leader.
Everyone took the opportunity to pit for fuel and fresh Goodyear tires. Truex led the race off pit road this time with Elliott beside the #19 on the restart. William Byron(24), Alex Bowman(48), and Kyle Busch followed.
Truex could only hold the lead for one green flag lap as Elliott drove around the outside and back to the front.
Elliott goes back-to-back winning the first two stages and becomes the 2nd driver to lock himself into the Championship Four based on the number of points he has accumulated so far at Martinsville.
Stage 2 Results
|1||9||Chase Elliott (P)||10|
|4||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||7|
|5||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||6|
|8||2||Brad Keselowski (P)*||3|
|9||18||Kyle Busch (P)||2|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Elliott maintained the lead after Stage ending pit stops. Bowman, Hamlin, Almirola, Byron, and Truex make up the first three rows heading to the restart. Kyle Busch was caught speeding on pit road and will have to start from the rear of the field.
The Final Stage is 240 laps, so there is still plenty of time to make a run. Currently, Hamlin and Truex hold the final two playoff positions based on points at this juncture of the race.
An incident between Corey LaJoie(7) and Josh Bilicki(52) sent the #52 car backend first into the wall and brought out the caution on Lap 309. The leaders will pit looking to improve the performance of their car as the laps are beginning to wind down.
Elliott and Hamlin lead the field back to the green flag. Hamlin missed a shift when accelerating down the front stretch and bunched up the field behind him. A lap later Bilicki got into Quin Houff(00) and hit the wall bringing out another caution. Houff did not appreciate the move and spun Bilicki’s car out as they circled the track under the yellow. The move earned him a 5-lap penalty as NASCAR held the car in the pits.
Hamlin got a better restart this time as Elliott led followed by Bowman. Denny ran 3rd ahead of Truex and Byron. Just 16 laps later Ryan Newman(6) and Ross Chastain(42) got together bringing out the caution again. Having just pitted, Joey Logano(22) stayed on the track while the leaders pitted again. Logano inherits the lead and will see if the improved track position and clean air on the nose of his race car performance improves.
Eventually, Elliott passed the #22 car regaining the lead. One by one, the leaders moved by Logano as he dropped back through the field and out of Championship contention.
With 125 laps to go, unless something happens to Hamlin or Truex it appears they will advance safely by finishing on the lead lap.
Under 100 laps to go, Hamlin leads followed by Truex and Elliott.
Austin Dillon had a right-front tire go down and he hit the wall on Lap 435 bringing out the 11th caution of the day. All the leaders pit for fresh tires and the final adjustments they hope will propel them to a win.
As they line up for the restart it’s Hamlin in the lead, followed by Bowman, Elliott, Truex, and Keselowski. As the laps go away the battle heats up. Keselowski gets past Truex and attacks Elliott’s bumper. Truex gets into the back of Keselowski and the contact causes a significant amount of damage to the left front.
Keselowski gets into the side of Elliott and spins the #9 car out bringing out another caution. None of the leaders pit for fear of losing track position with 23 cars on the lead lap. Truex appears to have a slight tire rub, will it last 40 plus laps to the finish.
Keselowski moves into 2nd by passing Bowman, inexplicably Truex sticks the nose of his car under Keselowski trying to go 3 wide. Truex gets squeezed out and loses several positions. To make matters worse while racing on the outside of Aric Almirola(10) the #10 car gets loose and he pushes Truex high causing him to hit the wall with the rear of his race car and lose more positions.
Ryan Preece(37) spins out and brings out the caution with 29 laps to go. Back to green and the fight for positions gets crazy. Hamlin and Bowman separate themselves from the field. Kyle Busch gets ahead of Keselowski and with Truex back in the field, Busch moves to the final playoff position. Truex passes a car and he moves ahead of Busch for the final spot.
Bowman and Hamlin race side by side, Bowman on the inside gets loose, hits Hamlin, and spins the #11 car out. The caution causes the race to go into overtime.
With the choose rule in effect, Truex gets a big break and picks up positions as cars in front of him take the bottom lane. This puts Truex ahead of Kyle Busch for the final playoff spot. Bowman pulls away on the restart and stays far enough in front of Kyle Busch that he cannot touch him. Bowman holds on for the win.
Keselowski and Busch get together coming to the checkered flag but it’s meaningless as Truex takes 4th and grabs the final playoff position. Despite finishing 24th, Hamlin takes the 3rd playoff spot based on the points he had accumulated.
Hamlin was not happy with the way Bowman raced him. As Bowman began his celebration at the start/finish line, Hamlin pulled up and blocked his path. The two cars ended up nose to nose and Hamlin pushed him backward. With his crew in his ear on the radio, they convinced Hamlin to not make a bigger scene and just move on to the final next week.
The Championship Four
Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr. will race for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship next week at Phoenix Raceway. Throw out the points, forget about Stage finishing positions, it all comes down to which of the four finish highest in the race.
Since the current format of the playoffs was instituted the Champion has won the final race of the year. Bet that trend continues, despite Bowman’s surprise win today.
Ford is shut out of the Championship Four for the first time as all three Team Penske drivers fail to advance.
Results of the Xfinity 500 from Martinsville Speedway
|2||18||Kyle Busch (P)||0.472||501|
|3||2||Brad Keselowski (P)||0.611||501|
|4||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||0.805||501|
|10||22||Joey Logano (P)||1.857||501|
|11||12||Ryan Blaney (P)||1.976||501|
|14||5||Kyle Larson (P)||2.304||501|
|16||9||Chase Elliott (P)||2.591||501|
|19||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2.803||501|
|24||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||4.202||501|