Martinsville winners and losers


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


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.


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.

Alex Bowman confident as he returns to racing from back injury


CONCORD, N.C. — Alex Bowman watched the rain-filled skies over Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday with more than a touch of disappointment.

As weather threatened to cancel Saturday night’s scheduled NASCAR Cup Series practice at the speedway, Bowman saw his chances to testing his car — and his body — dissolving in the raindrops. NASCAR ultimately cancelled practice and qualifying because of rain.

MORE: Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup practice, qualifying

Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident last month and has missed three Cup races while he recovers. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the season’s longest race, is scheduled to mark his return to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet.

“It would have been really nice to kickstart that with practice today,” Bowman said. “I haven’t raced or competitively driven a race car in a month. I’m trying to understand where my rusty areas are going to be and where I’m still good.”

Bowman ran 200 laps in a test season at North Wilkesboro Speedway this week, but, of course, that doesn’t compare with the faster speeds and tougher G-forces he’ll experience over 400 laps Sunday at CMS.

Bowman admitted that he is still experiencing pain from the back injury — his car flipped several times — and that he expects some pain during the race. But he said he is confident he’ll be OK and that the longer race distance won’t be an issue.

“I broke my back a month ago, and there’s definitely things that come along with that for a long time,” he said. “I have some discomfort here and there and there are things I do that don’t feel good. That’s just part of it. It’s stuff I’ll have to deal with. But, for the most part, I’m back to normal.

“I’m easing back into being in the gym. I’m trying to be smart with things. If I twist the wrong way, sometimes it hurts. In the race car at the end of a six-hour race, I’m probably not going to be the best.”

The sprint car crash interrupted what had been a fine seasonal start for Bowman. Although winless, he had three top fives and six top 10s in the first 10 races.

“I’m excited to be back,” Bowman said. “Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off and be strong right out of the gate.”

He said he hopes to return to short-track racing but not in the near future.

“Someday I want to get back in a sprint car or midget,” he said. “I felt like we were just getting rolling in a sprint car. That night we were pretty fast. Definitely a bummer there. That’s something I really want to conquer and be competitive at in the World of Outlaws or High Limits races. Somebody I’ll get back to that. It’s probably smart if I give my day job a little alone time for a bit.”




Charlotte NASCAR Cup Series starting lineup: Rain cancels qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — William Byron and Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the front row after wet weather cancelled Saturday night qualifying.

Rain pelted the CMS area much of the day Saturday, and NASCAR announced at 3:45 p.m. that Cup practice and qualifying, scheduled for Saturday night, had been cancelled.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

The starting field was set by the NASCAR rulebook.

Following Byron and Harvick in the starting top 10 will be Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The elimination of the practice session was particularly problematic for Alex Bowman, scheduled to return to racing Sunday after missing three weeks with a back injury, and Jimmie Johnson, who will be starting only his third race this year. Johnson will start 37th — last in the field.

Charlotte Cup starting lineup

Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup Series practice, qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR Cup Series drivers will start the longest race of the season with no practice or qualifying.

Wet weather and predictions of more to come led NASCAR to cancel Saturday night’s Cup Series practice and qualifying in mid-afternoon. The field for Sunday’s 600-mile race was set by the NASCAR rulebook, placing William Byron and Kevin Harvick on the front row for the  scheduled 6 p.m. start.

MORE: Charlotte Cup starting lineup

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

Weather also could be an issue Sunday as more rain is predicted for the speedway area.

Drivers were scheduled to practice at 7 p.m. Saturday. That session was to be followed by qualifying at 7:45 p.m. The cancellations were announced at 3:45 p.m.

The time-trial cancellation marked the first time in 64 years that qualifying has been canceled for the 600.

Charlotte Xfinity race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — Persistent rain forced the postponement of Saturday’s scheduled 300-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to Monday.

The race is scheduled to start at noon ET. It will be televised by FS1 and broadcast by the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Driver introductions and other pre-race activities were held at the track Saturday, but rain that had dampened the track in the morning hours returned. After several attempts at drying the track, the race was postponed after heavier rain returned in mid-afternoon.

Justin Allgaier will start the race from the pole position.