Four more drivers were eliminated last week from NASCAR’s Playoffs and now we’re down to the Round of 8 with only four races remaining on the season until one driver claims the Championship at Homestead next month. Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway will kick off this three-race round, then they’re off to Texas and then Phoenix where four more drivers will be eliminated.
Any playoff driver who wins any of the next three races gets an automatic berth into the Championship race at Homestead. And of the eight drivers, a couple of them are really good at Martinsville.
Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has won on the flat half-mile layout nine times to lead all active drivers. In 31 career starts he’s averaged a 7.5 finish and led an incredible 2,839 laps. This is probably Johnson’s best chance to advance to the Championship because his car has been kind of junky on 1.5-mile tracks, or at least light years behind in performance compared to the likes of Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.
Next on the Martinsville win list among active drivers is Virginia native Denny Hamlin. In 23 starts he’s got five wins, a 10th-place average and led 1,387 laps. He loves this track more than any other and considers it like a home field edge for him and his No. 11 team. He last won there in 2015 and he finished third last season. In the first race there this season he got involved in a wreck late and finished 30th. He should be considered the favorite to win this week just because of his special set of skills on his home track.
Brad Keselowski captured his first career Martinsville win in April leading 116 laps. Kyle Busch finished second and led a race-high 274 laps. The two rivals battled back and forth in the final 150 laps. It was good short-track racing. I like them to both be good again here.
Truex leads the series with seven wins and he’s a huge favorite every week, but not this week. This isn’t a 1.5-mile track and he just never has warmed up to the track in his career. In 23 career starts he has a 20th-place average finish and only two top-five finishes. He’s not a good bet here, but look for him to win at Texas next week.