The last race to decide the four drivers who will compete for the NASCAR Cup Series title comes up Sunday with the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The four will move on to the Championship 4 season finale Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway for a chance to put their names into the history books.
But first they have the task of getting through a 500-lap grind at NASCAR’s smallest track. Martinsville measures only .526 miles around its unique paper-clip layout, featuring long straightaways bookended by flat, sharp turns on both ends.
The Virginia short track has been a staple of NASCAR’s schedule since the sport’s inception. While several significant improvements have been made to the amenities around the facility, including installation of state-of-the-art lights, the basic elements of the track remain. Survival is the key, and being in position to make a late move will be very much the strategy for winning.
Once a driver gets the hang of Martinsville, success seems to follow. Many drivers who struggled for years but then figured out the tricky layout and its nuances suddenly began to thrive. That list includes drivers still alive in the playoff picture as well as other formidable competitors who care only about getting to Victory Lane and taking home Martinsville’s iconic grandfather clock trophy.
Here are the favorites for Sunday’s Xfinity 500:
MARTIN TRUEX JR.
The epitome of a driver who seemed lost at Martinsville but eventually found success. Truex is shooting for his third consecutive Martinsville victory. He might have won three of the last four had the Joe Gibbs Racing driver not been moved out of the lead on the last lap in 2018. Truex still has five top-5 finishes in the last six Martinsville races.
The Team Penske driver’s average Martinsville finish over the last 10 races is 6.6, a stretch with two victories, including a 2019 triumph the featured leading an insane 446 of 500 laps. Keselowski has also put up a second and two third-place performances in that span.
He hasn’t had to worry about the playoffs or the championship since winning at Kansas to open the round and earning a spot in the Phoenix title finale. Logano’s aggressive driving style has served him well at Martinsville in recent years, including his contact with Truex to take that 2018 win. He has four top-10 finishes in the previous five Martinsville outings.
Blaney was eliminated early from the playoffs, but the Team Penske driver has an excellent chance to add another win to his 2020 total. Blaney has three straight top-5 Martinsville finishes, including a runner-up effort earlier this year. Make it five top-10 runs for Blaney in the last six races.