Playoffs winding down

It’s do-or-die for a couple of drivers this week at Martinsville Speedway’s flat half-mile paperclip layout with hopes of being one of the Championship 4 drivers at Phoenix next week.

The easiest thing for one of the drivers looking to advance is just win the Xfinity 500, which means 1,000 turns with all 40 drivers in tight quarters battling it out. It can get irritating for them after just 20 turns with bumping and banging. They get revenge on their minds quickly and spend much of the rest of the race looking to retaliate and settle the score, but along the way, they find others fighting their own battles and then those two get tangled up.

It’s those individual battles throughout the race that makes Martinsville one of the most thrilling tracks in NASCAR.

Here’s a look at the favorites to win according to odds posted Monday at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook:

Martin Truex Jr. (3-1): He’s won the last two Martinsville races which is odd because he spent his first nine years racing on it with the appearance of not liking short track racing. He’s been eighth or better in his last six starts, five of them top-fives. In this race last season, he won both stages and led 464 of the 500 laps to win. His win in the June race is his only 2020 win.

Brad Keselowski (6-1): Eight of his last nine starts have been top-fives at Martinsville, including both his wins. Last spring, he led 446 laps and won both stages on his way to a dominant win. The Penske Fords have looked the most competitive with this week’s race package featuring engines that produce 750 horsepower.

Denny Hamlin (6-1): He gets pumped up every time he races at home. The Virginian has been one of the best at getting into and out of the corners fastest with minimal braking. He’s also probably the best at saving his tires. He’s a five-time Martinsville winner with 15 top-fives in 29 starts.

Kyle Busch (8-1): He’s a two-time winner with 16 top-fives in 30 starts. The short track racing fits his style perfectly. It’s in his roots as he dominated all series as a teenager at the Las Vegas Bullring. His 12.3 average finish ranks fifth among active drivers.

Joey Logano (8-1): He’s always in the mix at Martinsville and has led laps in 11 of his last 13 starts, which includes a 2018 win. He’s got no pressure to do anything since he’s already locked in, but would love to get another win and pad his stats. He led 234 laps in the June race before finishing third.

Chase Elliott (8-1): He was fifth in the June race and runner-up last fall. He has three top-fives in 10 Cup starts at Martinsville and also won a 2017 Truck Series race there.

Ryan Blaney (8-1): Since moving to Team Penske in 2018 he’s had top-fives in four of his five starts at Martinsville, including a career-best of runner-up in the June race.

Kevin Harvick (12-1): He’s won three races at Martinsville in the Truck, but surprisingly only has one win in the Cup Series (2011). He grew up short track racing in Bakersfield. His Championship 4 hopes will rest with this race. Expect a good run for him.

Jimmie Johnson (30-1): They give grandfather clocks as a trophy for winning at Martinsville and Johnson has nine of them. Noon must be a fun time in the household for the Johnson’s. In 37 starts, he also has 19 top-fives and 2,933 laps led. Hamlin has the next most among actives with 1,566. This will be his final start on the track he dominated on for so long.