Martinsville winners and losers

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A look at the winners and losers following Saturday night’s race at Martinsville Speedway

WINNERS

William ByronSure, passing was difficult during the 403-lap race, but don’t confuse that as an undeserving win for Byron. The 24-year-old is now in his fifth Cup season and has adapted quickly to the Next Gen car — and better than most. Byron has the third-best average running position in the series through eight races (10.425) behind only Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott and now has two victories this year, the first time he’s won multiple races in a season. Despite his youth, Byron is quickly challenging as a leader in an already-stacked Hendrick Motorsports lineup.

Joey Logano: Logano finished second at Martinsville and is still seeking his first points-paying win of the season, but perhaps there was a benefit to his success at the Clash at the Coliseum in February. On the quarter-mile track built inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Logano cruised to victory in the exhibition race. The track shape and size differs from Martinsville, but short tracks provide learning opportunities nonetheless, and the No. 22 Ford posted the third-best average running position of the night and the fifth-most fastest laps, according to NASCAR’s loop data.

Austin Dillon: Dillon has already turned in a few impressive runs this season and added another Saturday night, finishing third at Martinsville. The No. 3 Chevrolet was second and reeling in Byron the longer the race progressed, but Dillon spun his tires on the overtime restart after choosing to restart behind Byron. Saturday marks Dillon’s second top-five finish of the year and third consecutive top 10.

Ross Chastain: Chastain was out of the picture for much of the race at Martinsville, averaging a 14.5 running position all night. But the No. 1 Chevrolet was in the mix when it mattered most, taking the checkered flag in fifth place and notching his fifth top five in the last six races. Chastain and his crew took a step back at Richmond where they finished 19th, but Saturday night shows that was likely an outlier.

Chase Elliott: Elliott was flawless throughout the opening two stages, leading each of the first 185 laps and scoring each of the stage victories, but the 2020 series champion couldn’t overcome losing even just one position on pit road. With passing difficult, Elliott never recovered from losing the lead to Byron during the Stage 2 break and finished 10th. Thanks to his stage points though and notable consistency, Elliott leaves Martinsville with the points lead and fifth top 10. The No. 9 team’s lone finish outside the top 15 is 26th, which was the result of late contact for the lead at Auto Club with teammate Kyle Larson.

LOSERS

Denny Hamlin: It’s rare to see any Joe Gibbs Racing car struggle as badly as Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota did all weekend. Hamlin, a five-time winner at the paperclip-shaped oval, never showed strong pace in practice before qualifying 25th. The race didn’t go any better, as he was lapped early and never recovered en route to a 28th-place finish, three laps down. Richmond looked to be positive sign. as Hamlin went to victory lane for his first top-10 finish of the year. But the struggles returned in an ugly way Saturday night.

Martin Truex Jr.Truex had won three of the prior five Martinsville events. But the No. 19 car was off all night, averaging an 18.64 running position before finishing 22nd, two laps down. Truex, along with Daniel Suarez, fell four spots in the points, relegating Truex to seventh after an impressive race at Richmond one week earlier that saw him lead 80 laps and win a stage.

Cole CusterCuster qualified third and proved early that was no fluke as the No. 41 Ford ran inside the top five for the entirety of the first two stages. But one pit road penalty derailed the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s day. Following a pit stop at the conclusion of Stage 2, Custer was penalized for a tire violation, sending him to the rear of the field for the restart. Custer was unable to recover and finished 21st, one lap down.

Kyle Larson: Larson has never excelled at Martinsville, but Saturday proved to be another tough ride for the defending series champ. Larson averaged a 13.03 running position but ultimately finished 19th, the result certainly impacted by a speeding penalty on pit road at Lap 303 under green-flag conditions. Larson has finished 19th or worse in five of the season’s opening eight races. His other three results are all top fives, including a win at Auto Club.

Christopher BellBell showed strong speed throughout Saturday’s race and battled inside the top five much of the night. But a pass-through penalty was issued to the No. 20 team for his crew members leaping over the wall too soon on pit road. Despite averaging a 9.57 running position, Bell wound up 20th, the first car one lap down.