The remaining three spots in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Four will be determined in Sunday’s 500-lap race at Martinsville Speedway (2 p.m. ET, NBC), the next-to-last event of the season.
Joey Logano locked in a spot in the final four by winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two races ago. Non-playoff driver Kyle Larson won last Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, denying the seven other playoff drivers a victory and automatic entry into the final round.
The fact that Logano is the only playoff race winner in the Round of 8 through the first two races means at least two of the four Championship Four positions will be awarded on points. If any of the seven remaining playoff drivers win at Martinsville, he will move on to the Phoenix Raceway championship race. If none of the seven win Sunday, the top three drivers in points will advance.
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Also on the Martinsville schedule is a Saturday race (3 p.m. ET, NBC) for the Xfinity Series. Noah Gragson and Josh Berry have qualified for the Xfinity championship race Nov. 5 in Phoenix. Two spots remain open for six eligible drivers.
Is Hamlin the Martinsville favorite?
Of the eight drivers remaining in the Cup playoffs, Denny Hamlin is the only one with more than one victory at Martinsville. Hamlin has won on the short track five times. Joey Logano, William Byron and Chase Elliott have one win each, and the other four drivers — Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell — are looking for their first victories at the big paper clip.
Does that make Hamlin the favorite Sunday? Not so fast. Hamlin’s Martinsville wins occurred in 2008, ’09, ’10 (twice) and ’15. In the past five races at Martinsville, he has finished 11th or worse four times.
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Hamlin could still win Sunday, obviously, but his recent record pales in comparison to his best years at the half-mile. He was 28th in the April race at Martinsville (won by Byron) and failed to reach the top 10 during the race.
No more streaking?
Three prominent drivers who have built substantial year-to-year winning streaks roll into Martinsville this week with those records in jeopardy.
Brad Keselowski, who moved into team ownership this year with the formation of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, has won at least one race for 11 straight seasons. His fifth-place finish at Homestead last Sunday was his best of the season.
Keselowski has won twice at Martinsville.
Martin Truex Jr., also winless this season, has been plagued by a web of problems this year, a fact underlined by his pit road issue at Homestead. He has won at least one race for seven years in a row.
Truex owns three Martinsville victories.
Ryan Blaney, winless this year except for a triumph in the All-Star Race, has a five-season win streak on the line. His best Martinsville finish is second — twice.
More laps, more action?
The April race at Martinsville, the first at the track for the Next Gen car, was widely criticized for lack of competition.
On a tight half-mile track that typically produces compelling racing, there were only four leaders: Winner William Byron led 212 laps, Chase Elliott 185, Ryan Blaney five and Austin Dillon one. There were five lead changes, compared to 15 in last year’s fall race.
There was little jousting for the lead in April. Byron outran Joey Logano in overtime for the win.
The spring race was scheduled for 400 laps (it lasted 403 because of overtime), the first Martinsville race scheduled for less than 500 laps since 1958. Sunday’s race is scheduled for the traditional distance of 500.
Thirty-six teams are entered for Sunday’s Cup race. Non-regulars on the list include AJ Allmendinger, Ty Gibbs, Noah Gragson and Landon Cassill.
Forty-two teams are entered for 38 spots in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. Nick Sanchez and Sammy Smith are among the drivers listed.
Martinsville Xfinity entry list
This week’s schedule and forecast
(All times Eastern)
Friday, Oct. 28
Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 62.
- 4 – 4:35 p.m. — Xfinity Series practice (USA Network)
- 4:35 – 5:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)
Saturday, Oct. 29
Forecast: Mainly cloudy. High of 62. 4% chance of rain.
- Noon – 12:45 p.m. — Cup Series practice (USA Network at 12:30 p.m., Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 12:45 – 2 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 3 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (250 laps, 131 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Sunday, Oct. 30
Forecast: Overcast with rain showers at times. High of 63. 60% chance of rain.
- 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (500 laps, 263 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)