NASCAR viewer’s guide: Martinsville Speedway

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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.

Entry lists

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.

NASCAR Cup Series Entry List — Martinsville Speedway

NASCAR Xfinity Series Entry List — Martinsville Speedway

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Entry List — Martinsville Speedway

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)

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.