NASCAR stays in the commonwealth of Virginia this week as all three national series head to Martinsville Speedway.
The half-mile paperclip is set to host action Thursday night leading into the Cup Series’ first scheduled night race of the year on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1). The Cup race is scheduled for 400 laps around the 0.526-mile track, the shortest scheduled distance at Martinsville since October 1956.
Check out the storylines, entry lists and more ahead of the tripleheader event:
Are the veterans back?
Denny Hamlin‘s victory last weekend at Richmond Raceway marked the first win for a driver over the age of 30 since the last time Hamlin won in September 2021. Does that mean the older guys are back to their winning ways?
The Next Gen era has proven nothing is definitive and trends are difficult to establish. But it certainly seems that the veteran drivers of the sport are figuring out their new rides. Hamlin (41 years old) was first to the stripe at Richmond, Kevin Harvick (46) was second and Martin Truex Jr. (41) was fourth after leading 80 laps. But at ages 24 and 28 respectively, William Byron (122 laps led) and Ryan Blaney (128 laps) were competitive at Richmond too.
The plus for the veterans is that 19 of the last 22 races at Martinsville have been won by drivers 30 or older, according to Racing Insights. Whether that experience translates to the new car will be answered Saturday.
Hendrick vs. Gibbs?
Hendrick Motorsports has won three of the last six short-track races dating back to the start of last year. Joe Gibbs Racing won the other three.
Which team will prevail at Martinsville? In JGR’s favor, Hamlin broke through at Richmond last week and finished runner-up there twice in 2021. Truex has been a short-track ace as of late, winning the spring Martinsville race a year ago and three of the last five there. Per Racing Insights, each of Truex’s last seven wins have come at tracks 1.366 miles or shorter. Kyle Busch leads all active drivers with 16 short track wins but none the past three years.
Hendrick, meanwhile, has seen two wins from Alex Bowman on short tracks over the past 43 Cup races, claiming victories at Richmond and Martinsville, while Kyle Larson went to victory lane at Bristol. Chase Elliott also has a win at Martinsville that he earned in the fall of 2020, propelling him to the Championship 4 and eventual Cup title.
Toyota seems to be back based on how the manufacturer’s teams performed in Richmond. JGR may have the edge under the lights at Martinsville.
Sealing the deal
Ryan Blaney is tied for the series’ points lead, leads the series in average running position (9.25), laps led (334), poles (three) and fastest laps runs (110). Yet the No. 12 has failed to win through seven races.
Last year marked a breakout season for Blaney, who nabbed three victories in his first multi-win season. The performance has been consistently excellent to start this year’s campaign, but there has yet to be a major payoff.
The good news is that his 10.75 average finish at Martinsville ranks second among all active drivers in addition to six straight finishes of 11th or better there, including four top fives. Maybe this is the week Blaney breaks into victory lane.
The 36 chartered teams make up this week’s entry list for the NASCAR Cup Series. Xfinity regular AJ Allmendinger is back in the No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing, his third straight week in the car. Josh Bilicki returns into the No. 77 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports, which marks his fifth race of the season.
Forty-three cars dot the Xfinity entry list, including NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr., who returns to the No. 88 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports as his lone national series race of the year.
Ryan Truex gets back into the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Natalie Decker will drive the No. 28 Ford for RSS Racing. Ryan Ellis pilots the No. 45 Chevrolet for Alpha Prime Racing. Five cars will fail to qualify for the 38-car field.
In the Camping World Truck Series, 40 trucks are entered for Thursday night’s race. Kyle Busch is back in the No. 51 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Former Drive for Diversity driver Blake Lothian makes his series debut in the No. 43 Chevrolet for Reaume Brothers Racing. Four trucks will fail to qualify.
This weekend’s schedule and forecast
(All times Eastern)
Thursday, April 7
Forecast: AM thunderstorms, then partly cloudy, high of 68 degrees, low of 41 degrees
- 3 – 3:35 p.m. — Truck practice (Groups 1 and 2, FS1)
- 3:35 – 4:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (single-vehicle, two laps, FS1)
- 5:30 – 6:05 p.m. — Xfinity practice (Groups 1 and 2, FS1)
- 6:05 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (single-car, two laps, FS1)
- 8 p.m. — Truck race (200 laps, 105.2 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Friday, April 8
Forecast: Sunny then mostly cloudy, high of 61 degrees, low of 36 degrees
- 4:30 – 5:15 p.m. — Cup practice (Groups A and B, FS1, MRN)
- 5:15 – 6:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (Groups A and B, single-car, two laps, two rounds, FS1, MRN)
- 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (250 laps, 131.5 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Saturday, April 9
Forecast: Partly to mostly cloudy, high of 56 degrees, low of 35 degrees
- 7:30 p.m. — Cup race (400 laps, 210.4 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)