Last fall’s Martinsville race was memorable for a finish that saw Joey Logano move Martin Truex Jr. out of the lead on the final lap to win and earn a spot in the Championship 4 in Miami.
As the series returns to the half-mile Martinsville Speedway this weekend, what are the chances of such action repeating?
“I would say that it’s probably not going to be, there’s less of a chance that it will be like that,” Truex said. “Just because it’s not a race to get into the final four. I would think it would be tame and normal like we’ve seen there in the past.”
“I see a trophy on the line,” said the reigning series champion. “A big clock (given to the winner). I don’t see that any different from the spring to the fall.”
The first race of the season at a track less than 1 mile will test drivers and could lead to aggressive actions. The question is how aggressive will drivers be.
“The (driver) code has definitely changed,” said nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson. “People reference the code a lot. But I think ultimately whatever code exists is between the two drivers. And that same code might not exist between driver C and driver D or driver A and driver D; it just changes all the time.
“When I look at it, sure it was a very aggressive move and Joey knew what he was doing to get that win and I’m sure we’ll expect the same to come back from Martin at some point. … In my eyes, sure it was aggressive but it could have been a lot worse.”
2. A familiar refrain
Coming off his dominant run on the West Coast swing, Kyle Busch heads to a type of track he’s ruled lately. Busch has won five of the last nine Cup races on tracks less than 1 mile in length.
Busch’s wins have been at both Richmond races in 2018, the spring Bristol race in 2018 and fall race there in 2017 and at Martinsville in fall 2017.
Teammate Denny Hamlin, whose last win at a track less than 1 mile in length was at Richmond in Sept. 2016, explains Busch’s success.
“He works tremendously hard at his craft,” Hamlin said. “I don’t think it’s just all natural talent. I think he works very hard as well.”
3. Perfect attendance
Ross Chastain is the only driver who has competed in every national series race this season. That’s five Cup, five Xfinity and three Truck races. He’s entered in this weekend’s Truck and Cup races at Martinsville.
Chastain has been running at the finish in every race. He’s completed 98.7 percent of the laps run in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks this season (2,498 of 2,532 laps run).
Such a schedule was expected entering this season. He had a deal to drive select races for Niece Motorsports in the Truck Series. He also was set with a Cup ride with Premium Motorsports.
Chastain was to have raced for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series but those plans went away after the FBI raided the headquarters of sponsor DC Solar and home of the DC Solar’s CEO. With DC Solar unable to fulfill its sponsor obligations, Chip Ganassi Racing shuttered its Xfinity team. That forced Chastain to look for other options.
He’ll drive three races for Kaulig Racing (he drove for the team at Daytona) and the rest of JD Motorsports this season.
So far this season, Chastain finished 10th in the Daytona 500 — giving Premium Motorsports its second top 10 in 231 Cup starts — placed seventh at Las Vegas for JD Motorsports and was third in the Daytona Truck race for Niece Motorsports.
4. “Like what I don’t like”
Xfinity rookie Justin Haley enters the off-weekend for the series 12th in points with a season-best finish of eighth at Atlanta.
Haley placed 10th last weekend at Auto Club Speedway and explained what he needs to do to have better finishes.
“I just need to get better on the feel from practice to the race, how the car transitions and goes through the process of loose and tight,” the Kaulig Racing driver told NBC Sports.
Haley, who finished third in the points in the Truck series last year, said that experience can’t help him with what he’s seeking to improve upon this year.
“A lot of the times the Truck races are at night, so it’s gripped up,” Haley said. “These are day races, it transitions a lot. Really these Xfinity cars have less downforce. The Trucks, if you were good at the start of the run, you were going to be good at the end. There was no falloff really. Even at like Atlanta, the balance stayed the same. These things (Xfinity cars) take a huge swing throughout the run. So just getting a feel for that is the biggest thing.
“What I like most of the time isn’t what’s fastest, so I have to learn to like what I don’t like to make it fast.”
5. Ever return?
Martin Truex Jr. was asked last weekend at Auto Club Speedway if he thought Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser would return to NASCAR after shutting his team down after last year.
Said Truex: “We talk every week. He’s been watching. He’s been talking to us and telling us we’ve been doing a good job, and things like that. I think it’s probably a bit of a relief for him that he doesn’t have to worry about all of the things that come with being a team owner and he’s just able to enjoy it.
“I told him he needs to get to the track soon, we’d like to see him and get him around. As far as your question on whether he’ll be back, if you mean as a team owner? I have no idea. We haven’t talked about it. He hasn’t mentioned it. My best guess is no, but I guess you can never rule out anything.”