Martinsville is old school, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr. At a time when so much is changing in the sport – new drivers, new cars, new rules, new tracks – it is that connection to the roots of the sport that makes Martinsville Speedway so special.
“The last time we were there with Chase (Elliott) and Denny (Hamlin) and then the crash at the end – everything that was going on – it was crazy,” Earnhardt said on Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “It really felt like we went back to the ’80s and ’90s and the heyday of the sport when we were racing at a lot of short tracks every month with this kind of thing here going on just about every two or three weeks.”
On the final lap of regulation at Martinsville last fall, Hamlin bumped Elliott into a spin. On the ensuing restart, Kyle Busch bumped teammate Hamlin out of the lead and that eventually led to Hamlin spinning on the last lap of the overtime period.
Elliott finished 27th one lap off the pace. Hamlin finished seventh.
After the race, Elliott drove Hamlin into the wall and the two drivers had a heated exchange afterward. Earnhardt climbed from his car to watch the drama on the jumbotron.
“I remember leaving that track and pulling out onto the highway, in my mind thinking if NASCAR could have this every week none of us would have nothing to worry about,” Earnhardt said. “We wouldn’t be able to print enough tickets, wouldn’t be able to build the stands high enough to get the people in here who wanted to see this in person.”
The tight confines of short track racing led to rivalries in the past. An incident was rarely forgotten and was carried over from week to week, according to Earnhardt.
Two weeks later when Elliott and Hamlin were racing for second at Phoenix, Elliott did not give Hamlin any racing room and pinched the No. 11 into the wall. Neither driver advanced to the final round of the playoffs.
Here is all the info for the Saturday Cup race at Bristol:
(All times are Eastern)
START: The command to start engines is at 7:38 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:45 p.m.
PRERACE: Cup haulers enter the garage (screening and equipment unload) at 10:30 a.m. Garage access health screening begins at 12:30 p.m. Garage opens at 12:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:10 p.m. Driver introductions will be at 7:15 p.m. The invocation is at 7:30 p.m. The national anthem will be performed by Joe Nichols, three-time Grammy nominee, at 7:31 p.m.
DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the .533-mile track.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250
TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.
That leaves nine spots for 13 drivers to compete for.
If there is a new winner, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 10th winless driver in the standings.
– Joey Logano – would clinch with 7 points: 51 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Logano has finished third in the last two playoff races (at Darlington and Richmond). Has made 23 starts at Bristol posting one pole, two wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s. Logano’s average finish is 15.3.
– Martin Truex Jr. – would clinch with 20 points: 38 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Earned 22nd-place finish at Darlington and second-place finish at Richmond. Has made 29 series starts at Bristol posting two top fives and three top 10s. His average finish is 20.6.
– Austin Dillon – would clinch with 21 points: 36 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Dillion has a runner-up finish at Darlington and a fourth-place result last weekend at Richmond. Has 13 starts at Bristol posting one top five and three top 10s. His average finish is 17.3.
– Chase Elliott – Would clinch with 30 points: 28 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Elliott finished 20th at Darlington and fifth at Richmond. Has made nine starts at Bristol and has one pole, three top fives and four top 10s. Average finish is 12.6.
– Alex Bowman – would clinch with 31 points: 27 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Bowman placed sixth at Darlington and ninth at Richmond. Has made nine series starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 22.6.
– Kyle Busch – would clinch with 40 points: Just 18 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Has seventh-place finish at Darlington and a sixth-place finish at Richmond. Has made 30 Cup starts at Bristol posting two poles and a series-leading eight wins among active drivers.
– Aric Almirola – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Finished ninth at Darlington and eighth at Richmond. Has made 22 starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 25.0.
– Kurt Busch – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the cutoff sport. Almirola holds the tiebreaker of best finish in the current playoff round. Busch has finished eighth at Darlington and 13th at Richmond. Has 39 Cup starts at Bristol with one pole, six wins, 12 top fives and 21 top 10s. Average finish is 14th.
– Clint Bowyer – would clinch with 55 points: Three points over cutoff. Finished 10th at Darlington and Richmond. Bowyer has made 29 Cup starts at Bristol with eight top fives and 16 top 10s. Average finish is 13.6.
– William Byron (-3 points from cutoff; would need help to clinch): Finished fifth at Darlington and 21st at Richmond. Five Cup starts at Bristol with one top 10. Average finish of 17.2.
Cole Custer (-8 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 12th at Darlington and 14th at Richmond. Finished 25th in lone Bristol Cup start.
Matt DiBenedetto (-25 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 21st at Darlington and 17th at Richmond. Eleven Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and one top 10. Average finish of 19.1.
Ryan Blaney (-27 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 24th at Darlington and 19th at Richmond. Ten Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and three other top 10s. Average finish of 20.7.
Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.
Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.
“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”
Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.
Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier
STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.