Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Mid-week racing is back on the docket tonight as the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Martinsville for a short track showdown under the lights in the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.

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 500 grueling laps. This go around will be an even bigger test than normal. No practice, no qualifying, just line up and turn ‘em loose.

Since being announced last year, the first night race at the historic half-mile oval has been circled on the calendar by both drivers and fans alike and while the fans won’t be able to attend, the drivers are sure to put on a show when the sun goes down on Wednesday night.

Aiding them in that effort will be the new short track aero package that was rolled out this year to try and curb some of the issues that cropped up as a result of last year’s package that led to two runaway races due to the inability to pass.

“This will be a historic night for NASCAR and Martinsville Speedway as we turn on the lights to host a NASCAR Cup Series for the first time in our 73-year history,” said Martinsville President Clay Campbell. “As a sport, we have worked closely with federal, state, local and public health officials to ensure the safety of the competitors, staff, and our local community. While we will miss hosting our loyal Martinsville race fans for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500, we hope to welcome fans back for the penultimate races of the NASCAR season this fall.”

By the Numbers

What: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 11 of 36

Where: Martinsville Speedway – Martinsville, Virginia (Opened: 1947)

TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 7:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 0.526-mile oval

Banking: Turns banked 12 degrees, flat straightaways

Race Length: 500 laps, 263 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages: 130 laps each, Final stage: 240 laps

Pit Road Speed: 30 mph

Pace Car Speed: 35 mph

March 2019 Race Winner: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (Started third, 446 laps led)

October 2019 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota (Started third, 464 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:

  1. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 109.8
  2. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 107.2
  3. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 104.1
  4. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 99.7
  5. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 94.7
  6. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 94.2
  7. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 94.2
  8. Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 91.6
  9. Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 87.9
  10. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 87.4

From the Driver’s Seat

“It’s just the technicality of it,” Denny Hamlin said of what makes Martinsville such a challenge. “I think similar to a road course in how technical it is. The road courses you have to really be good using the gas and the brake. Your braking points – the car gets very, very light on entry there with the back tires, especially as the tires wear out. You got to really be conscious of how your braking. Your acceleration has got to be really on point. You rush the throttle and you will burn up the tires.

“So, I think it’s a driver’s racetrack in that sense that you have to be smart. You’re going to get run into at some point of the day. You can’t let that escalate and throw you off mentally, and you go an retaliate and the next thing you know you’ve got a torn-up car. It’s just a racetrack that demands no mistakes and that’s what I like about it.”

Last Time at Martinsville

Last fall, it was all Martin Truex, Jr. at Martinsville with the 2017 series champion dominating the entirety of the race. Starting third, Truex took over the lead for the first time on lap 31 and was unstoppable for the remainder of the race, leading all but six of the remaining 470 laps to punch his ticket to the championship race at Homestead.

A late caution set up a final 24 lap dash to the finish, with William Byron giving chase, but the youngster from Hendrick Motorsports could never get close enough to make a move on Truex and try to score his first career Cup Series win.

“Just really happy about it, obviously,” said Truex. “Been trying to work on getting a Martinsville win for a long time.  It’s a tough track.  It’s one that, you know, everybody I think wants to win at, the history here, and it’s such a big part of NASCAR.  Really proud of everybody on our team for what they did and the car they brought, the pit stops today were incredible and the guys did a great job.  So just all around a great day.  To lead that many laps is pretty incredible here.”

While Truex was busy celebrating, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin were stealing the headlines with a scuffle on pit road after the race.

Both drivers, who have had their fair share of run-ins on track in the past, had a decent day going with the two running in the top-10 as the laps were winding down in the first race of the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Then as they were running side-by-side with about 50 laps to go, Hamlin ran wide off Turn 4, pushing Logano into the wall.

Hamlin was able to continue on without further issues and finished fourth, but the damage caused by impact with Hamlin’s car and the wall eventually cut Logano’s tire down and sent him for a spin in Turn 1 on lap 460.

Logano would battle back to finish eighth, but the run-in he had with Hamlin on track led the Team Penske driver to confront him after the race to find out what happened between the two.

A civil conversation followed with both drivers expressing their point of view on the incident, but as the two were getting ready to walk away, Logano reached out and pushed Hamlin in the shoulder, leading to Hamlin going back after him. From there, the chaos ensued with crew members from both teams getting involved in the fracas along with the drivers.

The scuffle was eventually broken up, with Hamlin getting thrown to the ground at one point. Everyone went their separate ways, but the NASCAR powers that be were not amused, calling a handful of crew members to the hauler for a discussion about what had just transpired.

Starting Lineup (Random Draw)

  1. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford
  2. Aric Almirola – No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  3. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford
  4. Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  5. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  6. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford
  7. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  8. Alex Bowman – No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  9. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
  10. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  11. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  12. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  13. Erik Jones – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  14. Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
  15. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  16. Ryan Newman – No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
  17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
  18. John Hunter Nemechek – No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford
  19. Matt DiBenedetto – No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford
  20. Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
  21. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  22. Austin Dillon – No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
  23. Bubba Wallace – No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet
  24. Chris Buescher – No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
  25. Corey LaJoie – No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford
  26. JJ Yeley – No. 27 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
  27. Cole Custer – No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  28. Ryan Preece – No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
  29. Michael McDowell – No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
  30. Ty Dillon – No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet
  31. Brennan Poole – No. 15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet
  32. Christopher Bell – No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota
  33. David Starr – No. 53 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
  34. Quin Houff – No. 00 StarCom Racing Chevrolet
  35. Garrett Smithley – No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
  36. Joey Gase – No. 51 Petty Ware Racing Ford
  37. Daniel Suarez – No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota
  38. Timmy Hill – No. 66 Motorsports Business Management Toyota
  39. Reed Sorenson – No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.