Race Preview: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500

NASCAR has had tracks come and go throughout the years. Many tracks, like Daytona and Talladega, have been used by NASCAR for decades, but none have been around for as long as Martinsville Speedway.

NASCAR’s oldest and shortest track has been part of the Cup Series schedule since 1949, when the very first Cup Series season was run. Ever since that first race, the .526-mile track, nicknamed “the paper clip,” has been a fan favorite. The racing, which typically includes cars beating and banging against each other from start to finish, has always been thrilling to watch, no matter what drivers are racing.

Cars usually reach top speeds of no more than 125 mph going into the turns and slow down to around 55-65 mph in the corners banked at 12 degrees. The track wears out brakes and tempers and has produced a series of memorable moments in its history that fans won’t ever forget.

Although the track is small, the races here are marathons in which patience prevails. Drivers who can stay calm and keep their noses clean for the first 350 laps are the most likely drivers to get to the end of the race in contention for a strong finish. Drivers also have to avoid the wrecks, of course, which, similar to Talladega and Daytona, can either involve just a single car or can wipe out a few at once, and with cars constantly next to each other on the track, there’s always bound to be a crash that damages a few vehicles.

Very much like Phoenix a few weeks ago, this first race at Martinsville holds a great amount of importance. Martinsville will host the penultimate race of the season that eliminates four drivers from the playoffs and also allows four drivers to pass through to the championship race. Even if teams don’t come to the track dialed in this weekend, the teams who can learn what they did right and wrong and can improve them before the Series returns in the fall are the teams who may race their way into the final four later on this year.

RACE AND TRACK STATS

Graphic by Joe Passero

Track: Martinsville Speedway — Ridgeway, Virginia

Track Length: .526 miles

Race Length: 500 laps/263 miles

Pit Road Speed Limit: 30 mph

Defending Winner: Martin Truex, Jr.

Package: 750 horsepower, low downforce

First Race: 1949 

First Winner: Red Byron

Most Wins: Richard Petty, 15 wins

Stage 1:  130 laps (ends on lap 130) 

Stage 2:  130 laps (ends on lap 260)

Final Stage: 240 laps (ends on lap 500)

FIVE TO KEEP YOUR EYES ON

Brad Keselowski

Last year, “Bad Brad” Keselowski dominated the short track circuit in NASCAR’s top division, scoring wins at two short tracks (Richmond and Bristol) and a venue with short track characteristics (New Hampshire) and had strong runs at other small tracks (Phoenix). That, along with a pair of Martinsville wins, should give Keselowski’s no. 2 team quite a bit of confidence heading into this weekend. Keselowski has a tendency to run quietly strong at NASCAR’s smallest track — he has 11 top-fives and 16 top-10s in 22 starts and currently has no DNFs at the track. If his team at Team Penske’s headquarters can produce short track cars like they did last year, Keselowski is sure to be a force on Saturday night. 

Kyle Larson

In his time as a NASCAR Cup Series driver, Kyle Larson has repeatedly said that Martinsville is his worst racetrack. In 12 starts, he has just one top-five and two top-10 finishes. He has an average finish of 22.4, his worst among all race tracks where he’s competed multiple times, and four DNFs. So why is Larson a driver to watch on Saturday night?

Larson has had a stellar 2021 season thus far. Had it not been for a few missteps at Daytona and Bristol, he’d probably be giving Hamlin a run for the top spot in points. Larson has established himself as an early playoff favorite with his performances, but in order to win a championship, he’s gonna have to be good all around. If he can have a strong performance this weekend, it would show a lot of strength to the competition and show his improvements as a driver.

Chase Elliott

After running into a few issues early this year, Chase Elliott has to be relieved to visit Martinsville, the track he won at last fall to propel himself into the championship race the following week. While he’s no Martinsville master like some of the Hendrick drivers of the past, he’s had plenty of strength in his 11 starts at the track. With his win last fall, Elliott has four top-fives and six top-10s. He’s never failed to finish a race at the “paper clip,” and with stats like those, there’s sure to be a pep in the reigning champ’s step this weekend as he tries to get his season back on track.

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin hopes to be the hero this weekend at the track that he’s had so much success at, just three hours away from where he grew up. Hamlin has finished in the top-five in all but one race so far and has already racked up three stage wins for playoff points and 101 stage points, nearly 40 more than the closest competitor in that category. 

Martinsville is one of Hamlin’s best tracks — he has five wins, 15 top-fives and 21 top-10s in his 30 starts at the track in addition to a 9.9 average finishing position and 1,608 laps led at the speedway, the equivalent of over three full races at “the paper clip.” In the last two races at Martinsville, however, Hamlin has finished 24th and 11th, so a win this weekend may require some extra effort to keep his incredible season on track.

Martin Truex, Jr.

Once the master of mile-and-a-half tracks, Martin Truex, Jr. has had a knack for short tracks that has only come to light over the past few years.  Martinsville has been one of his more successful short tracks, having won twice there in the last three races. He was looking for a third-consecutive win during the most recent event at the track, but a loose wheel forced Truex to pit under green with less than 50 laps left, eliminating him from contention to win and from the playoffs. Truex won at Phoenix a few weeks ago, and while the 1-mile track in Arizona isn’t exactly a short track, the heavy braking characteristics carry over to Martinsville, which could give the edge to the no. 19 this weekend. 

BROADCAST INFORMATION

The Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 will air live on Saturday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1and MRN.

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