By David Morgan, Associate Editor
For the second week in a row, the NASCAR Cup Series stays in the State of Virginia, as it heads down to Martinsville Speedway for Saturday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400.
A mainstay on the schedule since 1949, the historic half-mile, which is also the smallest on the circuit, will test both man and machine over the course of the evening.
Martinsville marks the smallest track the Next Gen car has raced on since the exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to kick off the season, with the results of Saturday’s race lingering long after the checkered flag flies.
Given that Martinsville serves as the final race prior to the championship race at Phoenix, any lessons learned this weekend will go a long way in helping those still in the title fight when the series returns in November.
Thus far in the 2022 season, seven different races have delivered seven different winners and with the unpredictability that short track racing brings, odds are that the streak will continue on Saturday.
Martin Truex, Jr. enters the weekend as the defending race winner, with the pilot of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota having won three of the last five races at the track. The Hendrick Motorsports duo of Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman also found their way to Victory Lane during that span.
By the Numbers
What: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 8 of 36
Where: Martinsville Speedway – Martinsville, Virginia (Opened: 1947)
When: April 9, 2022
TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 7:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 0.526-mile oval
Banking: Turns banked 12 degrees, flat straightaways
Race Length: 400 laps, 210.4 miles
Stage Lengths: First stage: 80 laps, second stage: 100 laps Final stage: 220 laps
Pit Road Speed: 30 mph
Pace Car Speed: 35 mph
April 2021 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota (Started seventh, 20 laps led)
November 2021 Race Winner: Alex Bowman – No. 48 Chevrolet (Started 13th, nine laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (18.898 seconds, 100.201 mph – March 28, 2014)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at Martinsville:
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 105.7
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 102.5
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 99.4
- Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 99.2
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 98.3
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 96.8
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 93.0
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 86.8
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 83.8
- Kurt Busch – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 81.7
From the Driver’s Seat
“It’s the rhythm of it,” AJ Allmendinger said of the Martinsville feature he enjoys the most. “To me, it’s the closest road course oval that you have in the sense of the way you brake and the rhythm you get into the corners. Just everything that goes with it. Obviously, you are not shifting. Maybe on the Cup side of it we shift this weekend, I’m not sure but just the way it races. I love it.
“It can be a challenge if you miss the setup, it’s a tough place. You can’t hide. You can’t get out of the way. It’s mentally grueling because you know a late race restart you can run a perfect race and you can just restarts especially can get chaotic and you can not get a finish that you feel like you deserved all race. It’s mentally grueling until the checkered flag falls, but I’ve always enjoyed the racetrack. It’s something that I’ve kind of grown to right away and love showing up and racing at it. I’m really excited that I get to race two races this weekend.”
Last Time at Martinsville
With a spot in the Championship 4 up for grabs, the penultimate race of the season at Martinsville wasn’t short on action last November.
As the laps were winding down in the race, Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin found themselves and the front of the field with two very different agendas. Bowman had already been eliminated from title contention, while Hamlin had yet to punch his ticket to the championship race and looked to do so with a home state win.
The two drivers fiercely battled for the lead with less than 10 laps to go when Bowman got into Turn 3 too hot, moving up the track into Hamlin’s left-rear quarter panel, sending him for a spin into the outside wall.
While Hamlin was able to get his No. 11 Toyota gathered back up, the lost track position dropped him outside the top-20, erasing a double-digit points advantage over the cut-off line. Bowman went on to hold off a challenge from Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski to win the race in overtime.
Despite the setback, Hamlin finished the race in 24th with enough points to advance on to the Championship 4, but after the contact from Bowman, Hamlin was dead set on giving him a piece of his mind.
As Bowman was set to celebrate on the frontstretch, Hamlin sped up beside Bowman’s car slamming on the brakes to stop beside him before nosing into the front of his car when Bowman spun around to start his burnout, letting his feelings be known with a double-bird salute directed at Bowman.
Amid radio transmissions from his team to take it easy, Hamlin finally relented and pulled away, but was still fuming about it after climbing from his car on pit road.
“He’s just a hack,” Hamlin said. “Just an absolute hack. He gets his ass kicked by his teammates every week. He’s (expletive) terrible. He’s just terrible. He sees one opportunity, he takes it.
“Obviously, he’s got the fastest car of the week and he runs 10th. He didn’t want to race us there. We had a good, clean race. I moved up as high as I could on the racetrack to give him all the room I could, he still can’t drive.
“We got in, did what we had to do. I just wanted to race there at the end. He’s just terrible.”
Bowman acknowledged afterwards that the contact between himself and Hamlin was not intentional, just a byproduct of the close quarters racing at a track like Martinsville.
“I just got loose underneath,” Bowman said. “I’m not trying to drive underneath there and crash the guy. I got under him fair, under him clean. I just got sideways underneath him, spun him out. Hate to do that. Obviously unintentional. Part of short-track racing.”
He added that there was no sense in pushing back when Hamlin interrupted his post-race celebration, comparing the scene to something seen in lower-level racing at Bowman-Gray Stadium.
“Have you ever been to Bowman Gray Stadium? I’ve gone there and watched. That’s what it felt like,” Bowman described. “When they had that TV show with the mods running there, I watched the heck out of that. It was really entertaining then. Not so entertaining when you’re living it.
“Just didn’t want to be a part of that, make us both look dumb. So, I just tried to not be a part of it. I wasn’t going to try to do stuff like that. That’s not who I am.
“I understand why he’s mad. I’d be mad, too. I drove off into the corner, got loose, spun him out. At the same time, I didn’t do it on purpose. If I did, I’d tell you. That’s part of it.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern
- Friday, April 8
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (4:30 pm to 5:15 pm – FOX Sports 1)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (5:15 pm – FOX Sports 1)
- Sunday, April 9
- Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 (7:30 pm – 400 laps/210.4 miles – FOX Sports 1)