The last two race winners at Martinsville Speedway are also the first two drivers who made it into this year’s Championship 4. So don’t be surprised if Sunday’s Xfinity 500 in Virginia acts as an appetizer for the Kyle Larson-Christopher Bell main course one week later at Phoenix Raceway.
Not only did Larson win the Martinsville race in the spring, but he also was the runner-up to Bell last fall in the classic that saw Ross Chastain ride the wall in desperation to the next round. Of course, for Bell, that fall Martinsville race was his second straight win in an elimination race, following up the one he had at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.
It was then that Bell’s reputation for coming through with pressure-packed wins started to build momentum, and it’s something that has carried over to this season and last week at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver showed remarkable resiliency, rebounding from 22nd place after Stage 2 to make it to Victory Lane and earning a ticket to Phoenix.
In the Next Gen car, Larson and Bell rank second and third, respectively, in points scored on short tracks, further proof that they could spoil the other playoff contenders’ chances of a Championship 4-clinching win on Sunday. Can anyone stop the dynamic dirt-track duo? Let’s find out by diving into the numbers of some of the other playoff drivers.
DENNY HAMLIN: Hamlin’s playoff fortunes took a harsh turn last week when his steering went out late in the race, relegating him to a 30th-place finish and a spot 17 points beneath the elimination line. But he’s the only driver who has scored more points than Larson and Bell on short tracks in the Next Gen car era with 167.
RYAN BLANEY: Blaney made an improbable 27-point turnaround in the standings with his second-place run at Homestead. He now sits 10 points above the elimination line and oh-so-close to his first Championship 4 appearance. Also going for him is the fact he has the best average finish at Martinsville among active drivers at 9.5.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Minutes after Hamlin’s mishap, Truex Jr.’s engine blew up, and so went his hopes of being in a safe position entering Martinsville. Like Hamlin, the Regular Season Champ is also in a 17-point hole and hoping to recapture past glory at Martinsville, where he’s won three times.
TYLER REDDICK: Simply put, he’s going to need to pull an upset to overcome a 10-point hole and a short-track history that includes only one top-10 finish in seven Martinsville starts.
CHRIS BUESCHER: It’s win-or-go-home for Buescher, who is 43 points below the elimination line after Homestead. The thing is, he could do just that as he’s won two of the last six short-track races.
Projections as of Wednesday, Oct. 25:
RACING INSIGHTS’ PROJECTIONS FOR THE XFINITY 500
Racing Insights’ advanced statistical formula includes current track, current track type, recent performance, team data and pit-crew data to arrive at a projected winner and full race results.
Martin Truex Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.