Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images via NASCAR

Up to Speed: Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Seven drivers. Three transfer spots into the Championship 4. One race.

The Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs all comes down to Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway, a half-mile bullring in southern Virginia where bent sheet metal and hurt feelings are all but inevitable.

A mainstay on the schedule since 1949, the historic track, which is also the smallest on the circuit, will test both man and machine over 500 grueling laps.

The track has basically one groove, meaning the only way to pass will be the move we all know and love – the bump and run. To be successful at Martinsville, drivers have to have a special skill set that will let them be able to navigate the treacherous track and avoid trouble that is almost certain to happen around them at some point during the race.

Add in the Next Gen car’s struggles on short tracks this season and track position will be the name of the game on Sunday.

Of the eight Playoff drivers, only Joey Logano comes into Martinsville without a worry, having won at Las Vegas to lock himself into the championship race next weekend in Phoenix.

Among the remaining drivers still vying for the championship, Ross Chastain is in the best position at Martinsville, sitting 19 points above the cut-off line. Barring disaster, the double-digit points buffer that he holds should be enough to see him through.

Regular season champion Chase Elliott carries an 11-point advantage into the weekend, which is a decent buffer, but if this season has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.

The same cannot be said for the drivers situated from fourth to eighth in points, with a fierce battle ahead to see which of those drivers will be moving on and which ones will be on the outside looking in when the checkered flag falls.

Single digits separate the drivers currently fourth and fifth in points, with William Byron currently holding the fourth and final transfer spot with a five-point advantage over Denny Hamlin.

From sixth on back, a win will likely be the only means of transferring through to the season finale still holding a chance to battle for the championship.

Ryan Blaney runs sixth, 18 points back, with Christopher Bell 33 points in arears and Chase Briscoe bringing up the tail end with a 44-point deficit to overcome.

By the Numbers

What: Xfinity 500, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 35 of 36

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

When: October 30, 2022

TV/Radio: NBC, 2:00 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, Final stage: 240 laps

Pit Road Speed: 30 mph

Pace Car Speed: 35 mph

April 2022 Race Winner: William Byron – No. 24 Chevrolet (Started fifth, 212 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:

  1. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 103.9
  2. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 102.0
  3. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 101.1
  4. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 98.9
  5. Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 98.0
  6. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 97.6
  7. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 92.8
  8. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 90.6
  9. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 86.2
  10. Austin Cindric – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 85.7

NASCAR Cup Series Points Standings:

From the Driver’s Seat

“The Martinsville (Speedway) race in the spring was different than any Martinsville race I’ve ever really been a part of in the past,” said Chase Elliott. “It was the craziest thing. You couldn’t pass. It was wild to be going that slow and to have a track position race like that. I’m sure it’s going to be more of that (this weekend), and look, that’s fine. It is what it is, right?

“As competitors, you have to figure out how to be successful in whatever environment is thrown at you, and I think that’s what we’re going to have there. I think a good qualifying effort is going to be really important in how your day’s going to unfold and how much opportunity you’re going to have.

“Hopefully we can just get it right all weekend because you’re going to have to be on from the beginning. There’s going to be no catching up.”

Last Time at Martinsville

Hendrick Motorsports dominated at Martinsville in April, leading 397 of what would turn out to be a 403 lap race. Chase Elliott led the first 185 laps of the event, but it was William Byron who came out on top in the end.

Byron took over the lead for the final time on lap 321 and even an overtime restart couldn’t keep him from his second win of the season. Joey Logano gave it his all to try and catch Byron in the final run to the finish, but still came up .303 seconds short.

Austin Dillon finished third, followed by Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola, Chase Briscoe, and Chase Elliott rounding out the top-10.

“It feels awesome,” Byron said. “I knew when that last caution came out we were probably — I thought everyone behind us would pit, and luckily we stayed out. We were aggressive; we felt like we could refire on the tires and be okay, and you’ve got one of the most aggressive guys behind you in Logano. I knew — I chattered the tires in 3 and 4 and kind of left the bottom open but was able to block my exits and get a good drive off.

“This one is for my mom. This same weekend last year she had kind of a mini-stroke and was diagnosed with brain cancer. It means a lot to have her here, and it’s been a crazy year, but she’s doing great, and thanks, everybody, for the support. I kind of felt like she was riding in there with me. It’s cool to have her here, and I’m definitely going to enjoy this one.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

  • Saturday, October 29
    • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (Noon (TV at 12:30 pm) – USA Network)
    • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (12:45 pm – USA Network)
  • Sunday, October 30
    • Xfinity 500 at Martinsville (2:00 pm – 500 laps, 263 miles – NBC)

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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.