The smallest track on the NASCAR schedule is up next with a Wednesday night date for the Blue-Emu Maximum Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The Virginia short track, just a half-mile around, produces tight racing and close competition simply because of its close quarters. Just like a couple of weeks ago at short-track counterpart Bristol Motor Speedway, drivers will have a different rules package that will make the cars a lot looser and more difficult to drive.
Martinsville has been part of the NASCAR schedule since the sport began in 1949, but the iconic track will host the Cup Series for a midweek prime-time affair for the first time in history. Originally slated for Mother’s Day weekend but postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday’s race comes in the middle of a hectic week. NASCAR’s top division raced Sunday in Atlanta and has a trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway on tap Sunday.
The Atlanta race took a toll on a number of drivers dealing with the extreme heat and 500-mile distance. Martinsville won’t be a picnic either. A certain skill set is needed to succeed at the paper-clip-shaped track. But patience and the ability to maintain one’s emotions during a 500-lap grind of nearly four hours is also paramount to win or finish well.
Here’s a look at some of the favorites to succeed in Martinsville:
Believe it or not, there was a time when Martinsville was not a track where Busch excelled in the Cup Series. But that’s ancient history. Since figuring it out, Busch has put together the best average finish in the last 10 Martinsville races at 4.1. Only once has Busch finished outside the top five in that stretch, finishing 14th last fall. The remarkable run includes two wins and three second-place performances.
The Team Penske driver has just one Martinsville finish outside the top 10 dating to 2015. Keselowski has 2017 and 2019 wins on his Martinsville record, with his victory last year coming in one of the most dominating performances in track history as he led 446 of 500 laps.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.
He is still winless in 2020 but has shown great improvement in recent weeks, including a third-place finish at Atlanta. Truex has also seen an incline in Martinsville results that culminated with his first win at the track finally coming a year ago when he led the field for a whopping 464 laps. He has finished in the top five in four of the last five Martinsville races.
The Virginia native is a five-time Cup Series winner at Martinsville, including a streak of three victories in 2009-10. Hamlin cut his teeth racing at the track in his early years and might have more Martinsville laps under his belt than any driver in Wednesday night’s field. He has three consecutive top-five Martinsville runs coming into the race.