What matters at Martinsville: Playoff teams should play to their strengths


What matters in the Round of 8 elimination race at Martinsville Speedway and how should playoff teams choose to set up their cars? Let’s dive into the analytics and trends shaping today’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock):

Martinsville magnifies a team’s strengths

A 42-lap run decided the Martinsville race last spring.

An eternity on the 0.526-mile track, Denny Hamlin’s short-run dominance gave way to the steady doses of adjustments made to Martin Truex Jr.’s car, allowing enough time for Truex to overtake his Joe Gibbs Racing stable mate. The pass for the eventual win took five tries, so inefficient it offered Chase Elliott a chance to cut into the on-track delta from third place.

Even though Hamlin lost a race he probably should’ve won, his dominance on restarts and subsequent short runs was inarguable. He successfully defended his running position across all 14 starts and restarts he made from the front row. He was the only driver in the field to restart from the outside groove and take the lead; he did it twice, on laps 141 and 459. The heavy diet of short runs — there were 15 cautions in all — magnified his short-run speed. He ultimately turned the fastest overall lap and the fastest median lap of the race.

Had the contest culminated with one or more late cautions, his gearing towards short-run strength would’ve been successful in the results column. But two opponents, first Ryan Blaney then Truex, displayed alternative methods to success. Blaney’s car was a long-run stalwart, helping him to lead 157 laps on the day. Truex’s car ranked as the fastest across the final 100 laps and didn’t fully optimize until the later legs of each green-flag run. His restarting — he didn’t cough up a single position on a restart until Hamlin bested him on the final restart of the race — helped in maintaining track position in the short term while his long-run speed allowed for passing as the run progressed.

In all, the April race in Martinsville saw a variety of plans and pathways. Polar-opposite extremes in car setup — Hamlin’s short-run strength and Blaney’s long-run relentlessness — and a methodical hedging, thanks to Truex’s ability to do a little of everything well, allowed for multiple viable shots at a race win. The idea that any strength can actually lead to victory might be the most definable characteristic of the Virginia short track and should suit most drivers well, including the seven playoff contenders who’ve yet to qualify into the Championship 4, in today’s race.

The dueling game plans were microcosms of each driver’s natural strength. Hamlin is a more efficient restarter than he is a long-run passer. Blaney’s long-run acumen has not only been a team strength this season, but it also led to a win in Atlanta’s spring race. Truex’s stature as a jack of all trades has been crucial in recent seasons, including this one, when his team dedicated its concentration on the 750-horsepower tracks with playoff representation.

Essentially, each team relied on its biggest advantage. All of them could’ve conceivably won. Might we see repeat efforts?

What’s the most realistic strength for other playoff drivers?

Of course, Hamlin, Blaney and Truex aren’t the only drivers looking to lock into Championship 4 eligibility. Three spots beside Kyle Larson are available, either via a win today or a strong-enough performance.

But Martinsville success for any of the remaining four drivers shouldn’t look identical. Each has his own strengths and different team capability:

Chase Elliott, long runs: Elliott fares as the most efficient long-run passer on 750-horsepower tracks among all playoff drivers, a plodding trait that was present in April when he utilized the fourth-fastest car late in runs to reel in both Truex and Hamlin. He ultimately passed Hamlin and finished second on a day where 60.5% of his pass encounters resulted in his favor. Only Blaney’s 66.7% rate was higher among Martinsville’s frontrunners.

Joey Logano, short runs: Long runs might serve as the downfall for Logano at Martinsville, who ranks among the eight least efficient passers this season on 750-horsepower tracks. Where he could potentially thrive, though, is if the race breaks chaotic. He ranks third in Production Equal Equipment Rating in races with a higher-than-average caution volume, in part due to his efforts on restarts at choose-rule tracks. He ranks fourth among playoff drivers in position retention rate (68.0%) and second in positions gained (+30).

Kyle Busch, long runs: While he’s a quality restarter compared to the Cup field at large, Busch ranks eighth among the eight playoff drivers in position retention rate on choose-rule restarts, a disadvantage on short runs. But long runs have brought out his best in 2021, leading to him ranking third in adjusted pass efficiency and third, among playoff drivers, in surplus passing value specifically on 750-horsepower tracks. He earned an adjusted pass differential in the spring race 12 positions better than his statistical expectation.

Brad Keselowski, short runs: Keselowski fares as one of the four least efficient long-run passers on 750-horsepower ovals, but his penchant for swinging track position on restarts is second to none. His 33 positions gained this year on choose-rule restarts is the most of any driver, while his 68.8% position retention rate ranks third among playoff contenders. Caution flags created by regular calamity would do his team wonders. His car ranks 12th overall in average median lap time on this track type, the slowest among all remaining playoff teams.

The most straightforward restart dynamic

Different from the previous two races at Texas and Kansas, where restarts were tantamount to stampedes, Martinsville’s restarting dynamic is straightforward, often orderly and on relatively equal footing. It’s arguably the most fair restarting dynamic of any track utilizing the choose rule.

Since Martinsville’s 2020 spring race, 36 starts and restarts ran a full two laps or longer. Across all of them, cars slotted on the inside and outside of the front row retained an even 80.5% of the time. Most often, the second-place car is searching for (and finds) an opening on the bottom; however, Hamlin proved last spring that a capable car can launch better than the leader and secure a lead, contrary to popular wisdom based on outdated anecdotes.

Of the top 14 restarting slots at Martinsville, all but one saw an average positional change less than 0.5 positions, meaning that these typically vulnerable moments shouldn’t induce the type of panic we see from drivers on 550-horsepower tracks. A bad restart won’t derail the rest of a run, while the slotting — inside or outside — shouldn’t cause drivers and spotters to sweat.

It’s a quality restart dynamic that blends into every subsequent run, allowing good restarters to rise to their strengths and bad restarters some wiggle room for recovery. It’s an ideal setting for a race that will determine three of next Sunday’s four championship-eligible competitors.

Portland Xfinity race results, driver points

Portland Xfinity results
Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Cole Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when the top three cars made contact and went on to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Portland International Raceway. Custer is the 10th different winner in 13 races this season.

MORE: Portland Xfinity race results

MORE: Driver points after Portland Xfinity race

JR Motorsports took the next three spots: Justin Allgaier placed second, Sam Mayer was third and Josh Berry was fourth. Austin Hill completed the top five.

John Hunter Nemechek remains the points leader after 13 races. He has a 14-point lead on Hill. Nemechek leads Allgaier by 44 points.

Cole Custer wins Xfinity race at Portland in overtime


Cole Custer held off Justin Allgaier at the finish to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race in overtime at Portland International Raceway. It is Custer’s first victory of the season.

JR Motorsports placed second, third and fourth with Allgaier, Sam Mayer and Josh Berry. Austin Hill finished fifth.

MORE: Race results, driver points

Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when Parker Kligerman, who restarted third, attempted to pass Allgaier, who was leading. Sheldon Creed was on the outside of Allgaier. All three cars made contact entering Turn 1, allowing Custer to slip by. Creed finished seventh. Kligerman placed 14th.

Custer won the second stage when John Hunter Nemechek made contact with Creed’s car while racing for the lead on the final lap of the stage. The contact spun Creed and Custer inched by Nemechek at the line.

Early in the final stage, Creed gained revenge with contact that spun Nemechek, who went on to finish 10th. A few laps later, Nemechek and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith had issues. Smith spun Nemechek. After getting back around, Nemechek quickly caught Smith and turned into Smith’s car, damaging it.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Despite the contact on the overtime restart, runner-up Justin Allgaier managed to score his fourth consecutive top-three finish. … Sam Mayer’s third-place finish is his best on a road course. … Austin Hill’s fifth-place finish gives him four consecutive top-five results.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Daniel Hemric finished 33rd after a fire in his car. … Riley Herbst placed 32nd after an engine issue. After opening the season with six top 10s in a row, Herbst has gone seven races in a row without a top 10.

NEXT: The series competes June 10 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).

Truck race results at WWT Raceway: Grant Enfinger wins


Grant Enfinger took the lead when the leaders wrecked in the final laps and held off the field in overtime to win Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

It is Enfinger’s second win in the last five races. He also collected a $50,000 bonus for winning the Triple Truck Challenge.

MORE: Truck race results

MORE: Driver points after WWT Raceway

Christian Eckes finished second and was followed by Stewart Friesen, Carson Hocevar and Chase Purdy.

Ty Majeski and Zane Smith wrecked while racing for the lead with six laps to go. Majeski, running on the inside of Smith, slid up the track and clipped Smith’s truck. Both hit the wall. That put Enfinger in the lead.

Smith finished 20th. Majeski placed 30th.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Grant Enfinger

STAGE 2 WINNER: Stewart Friesen

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Grant Enfinger’s victory is his fourth top 10 in the last five races. … Carson Hocevar’s fourth-place finish is his fourth consecutive top-five result. … Stewart Friesen’s third-place finish moved him into a playoff spot with four races left in the regular season. … Matt DiBenedetto‘s sixth-place finish is his third consecutive top 10. … Jesse Love finished ninth in his series debut.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ty Majeski had a chance to take the points lead with series leader Corey Heim out because of illness, but Majeski’s 30th-place finish after running at the front most of the day, leaves him behind Heim. … Hailie Deegan finished 32nd after contact sent her truck into the wall hard. … After finishing a career-high third last week at Charlotte, Dean Thompson placed 34th Saturday due to an engine issue.

NEXT: The series races June 23 at Nashville Superspeedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1)

Xfinity starting lineup at Portland: Sheldon Creed wins pole


Sheldon Creed scored his first career Xfinity Series pole by taking the top spot for Saturday’s race at Portland International Raceway.

Creed, making his 50th career series start, earned the pole with a lap of 95.694 mph on the 1.97-mile road course.

MORE: Portland Xfinity starting lineup

Cole Custer will start second with a lap of 95.398 mph. He is followed by Josh Berry (94.242 mph), John Hunter Nemechek (95.127) and Charlotte winner Justin Allgaier (94.897). Road racing specialist Jordan Taylor, driving for Kaulig Racing, qualified sixth at 94.772 mph.

The green flag is scheduled to wave 4:46 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.