NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) race preview

TRACK: Martinsville Speedway (.526-mile oval) DISTANCE: 500 Laps – Stage 1: 130 Laps, Stage 2: 130 Laps, Final Stage: 240 Laps, 263 Miles

Starting Lineup

WHO WILL WIN The Xfinity 500?

Martin Truex Jr. 

He’s won three of the last four Martinsville races. The only one he didn’t win was last year when he led 129 laps last Fall. Truex, has six top fives in his last eight tries on the Virginia paperclip.

Chase Elliott

He won last year’s Fall race en route to a Championship 4 appearance. He was also fifth in the spring race a year ago and runner-up this spring to score four top fives in his last five Martinsville starts.

Denny Hamlin

He’s had four top five results in his last six Martinsville tries including what should have been a win in the spring. Hamlin, was third in Phoenix and here, runner-up in both races at Richmond, seventh at Dover and 10th in New Hampshire and ninth at Bristol on short tracks this season.

Joey Logano

A pair of top five finishes came at Martinsville last year to go along with six top 10’s in his last seven tries. On short tracks this season, Logano was second in Phoenix, sixth here in the spring, third in Richmond, fifth at Dover, fourth in Loudon, fifth in Richmond and 11th at Bristol.

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski, has five top five finishes in his last six start in Martinsville including nine in his last 11 starts.

Top Sleepers?

Ryan Blaney

He came home runner-up in both races a year ago and was fourth and fifth respectively in 2019. Blaney, has five top fives in his last seven tries on the Virginia paperclip overall.

Christopher Bell

He has three top eight’s, two of which are top fives, in four Truck Series starts at Martinsville and was seventh in April in the Cup Series.

Alex Bowman

He never considers himself a great Martinsville racer, but Bowman finished sixth in both races last year and has three top sevens in seven tries on the paperclip with HMS.

William Byron

Worth a play here too. Byron, has top three eight’s in his last four Martinsville starts including a runner-up in the playoff race in 2019 and fourth this spring.

Matt DiBenedetto

He was seventh and 10th respectively in 2020 and 12th this past spring.

Who To Fade?

Kyle Busch

He’s not had great luck in Martinsville lately. After eight straight top fives, he’s since been 14th, 19th, ninth and 10th respectively. He’s also only had four top five finishes on 750 tracks this season with one being at Darlington and the other three on road courses.

Kevin Harvick

He’s had just two top fives in his last 18 Martinsville starts including 15th and 17th last year and ninth in the spring race.

Aric Almirola

He’s not had a top five ever on this track and was 20th in April.

Kurt Busch

Wildly one of his worst tracks. He’s had one top five since his 2014 win here and only five top 10’s in his last 30 starts at Martinsville overall.

Austin Dillon

5 of his last 7 races have seen him finish 22nd or worse. The other two finishes? 11th and 14th.

Race Preview

The final race of the Round of 8 is upon us. Eight drivers entered the third round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and only four will move onto Phoenix next week with a shot at a championship in the Arizona desert. Right now, we know 33% of the field for Phoenix with three spots for the taking in Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway.

Last year, Chase Elliott had to win in order move onto the championship round and he did just that. Kevin Harvick had a 42 point lead on the bubble and didn’t advance on despite nine wins during the season because of Elliott’s victory.

It came down to that final lap too and I suspect Sunday’s will again.

We also know that the likely winner will more than likely be a member of the current playoffs which makes this weekend essentially another Championship 4 because you have five drivers going for one spot. It’s very rare for a race to be won by someone not in the top eight at this point of the season so that’s why this weekend will be drama filled.

Among those top eight now, Penske, JGR and HMS will be among the ones to win at that.

JGR and Penske have put four cars in the top five of the finishing order in three of the last five Martinsville races and have won six of the last seven there too. Coincidentally enough, we have three spots left to make it to the final round next week and three of the seven drivers battling for them are JGR-Penske drivers.

The only other team worth watching is Hendrick Motorsports. If you throw them into this equation, you get eight of the top 10 finishers from last year’s June race belonging from Penske, JGR and HMS. They went 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 this past April and took five of the top six in this race last year.

Top Stat

If you want to win, you better find yourself in the top two or three by the end of the second stage. Since we began stage racing in 2017, the eventual winner has finished either first (4 times), second (2 times) or third (twice) in eight of the nine second stages.

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