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What to watch: Full guide to Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville

Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville (⏰ 7:30 p.m. ET | 📺 FS1 | 📻 MRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s race, the eighth points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season. 

Where: Martinsville Speedway, a .526-mile oval located in Martinsville, Virginia
Green flag: 4 p.m. ET (pushed from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon due to rain)
TV/Radio: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: A chance of showers, then showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm after 2 p.m. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 72. Light and variable wind becoming south 5 to 9 mph in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts of less than a 10th of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms, according to NOAA.gov
National anthem: Cy Young Award winner and two-time World Series champion Jake Peavy with his band Jake Peavy and the Outsiders
Grand marshal: NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench & “I’m Your Grand Marshal” contest winner Kerry Sunvold
Race Distance: 500 laps, 263 miles
Stages: 130 | 260 | 500
Pit-road speed: 30 mph
Caution car speed: 35 mph
Martinsville 101: Get the full lowdown
Starting lineup: See the full lineup

Watch OSS Inspection:
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET
Pit stall assignments: See who is pitting where  
| Expert breaks down pit selections

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Five to watch

Here are five big story lines we’ll be following.

1. It’s been one of the biggest story lines of the season, and that’s not about to change now — will we see another new winner to open 2021, for the eighth race in a row? Only twice before (2000 and 2003) were there eight new winners to open a season, and it’s plausible it happens again. Race favorite Martin Truex Jr. has already won in 2021, but the 2017 champ has had a fickle relationship with short tracks historically until recently, so a victory is far from a guarantee. Plus, the winner of the eighth race of the season got his first win in 12 of the last 19 years, including last season. Playoff spots are being snatched up quickly already, and another one could be off the books by Sunday morning.

MORE: Will streak of different winners continue?

2. Team Penske has been strong all year, and the chances are good that the Ford powerhouse adds a third victory of the season at Martinsville. Atlanta winner Ryan Blaney has been exceptional lately, and last year’s runner-up in both Martinsville races has a top five in each of the last four there. Former champ Brad Keselowski has flexed his muscle at “The Paperclip” in recent years, and the two-time Martinsville winner has 10 straight top 10s there, with nine top fives. Bristol winner Joey Logano is a threat everywhere he races, and he’s shown he’s willing to do whatever it takes at the Virginia track to win the battle — and the damn war. The trio finished in the top five in both races in 2020.

3. Penske’s biggest competition this weekend is likely to come from Joe Gibbs Racing (though don’t count out defending winner Hendrick Motorsports and reigning champ Chase Elliott, who’s yet to fully get cooking in 2021). MTJ is sure to be among the frontrunners, but this almost feels like a slam dunk opportunity for the season’s best driver, Denny Hamlin, to break out for his first win of the year. Not only has he spent the most time running in the top five  in ’21, but the Virginia native is also regarded as perhaps the master of Martinsville more than any other active driver. The No. 11 Toyota driver has five victories at his home track, though none since 2015. Feels like that dry spell could shift soon.

4. The Camping World Truck Series provided most of the heated post-race action after Bristol’s dirt races, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t hurt feelings on the Cup Series side of things, as well. With three straight short tracks on the schedule (followed, coincidentally, by NASCAR’s biggest track), the chances of seeing bruised egos on the track turn into bruised body parts of off it is extremely high. At some point over the next two races, we’re bound to see some words exchanged and plenty of incidents uploaded into the memory banks as debt to be repaid now … or perhaps later, when the stakes are higher.

5. Kevin Harvick isn’t performing horribly by any standards other than the ones he’s set for himself, but his 2021 through seven races is a far cry from his stellar 2020 campaign. The nine-time winner a season ago has led just 17 laps so far (all in the Daytona 500) and has just two top fives compared to five at this point last year. It’s not a significant concern yet (if he hasn’t won by the All-Star Race, sound the alarms) but he’s unlikely to get things jumpstarted at Martinsville. Not only does he have just one top five in the past nine short-track races, his last one at “The Paperclip” came three years ago, and he finished 15th or worse in both ’20 races.

BONUS: The next five races could prove to be crucial to shaping the season and a preview of what’s to come — and we felt it was worth adding a separate note on it here. With races at Martinsville, Richmond Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway, Kansas Speedway and Darlington Raceway, the next two months of racing will offer an early look at the postseason, as each of those tracks appears in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Race-day staplesStenhouse Com Powerrankings Hero

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.
Power Rankings: Stenhouse Jr. quietly one of 2021’s most consistent | See the ranks
Paint Scheme Preview: Check out the schemes taking to “The Paperclip” | See the schemes
Fantasy Fastlane: See which drivers to use, avoid | Full Fantasy advice |  Set your roster
Preview Show: Jonathan Merryman and Alex Weaver preview the race | Watch the show        

Get in on the action

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.
• Betting odds for Martinsville race | See the odds
Who’s a dark horse bet to consider?
| BetMGM’s preview
WynnBET Virginia-based deal benefits race fans | Full betting preview| Is this a race for long shots?
Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ

Track history

Every track has a story to tell. Here’s what we’ve seen go down at Martinsville Speedway in the past.
Martinsville mayhem: Years of crumpled cars | See the wreckage
Martinsville masters: The best at “The Paperclip” | See the list
Take me to your leader: Top 10 lap leaders at Martinsville | See the list
Martins at Martinsville: A history of Martins | See the Martins
Martinsville mystique: Historic photos from timeless track | See the photos

Fast facts

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.
Fourth-place Bristol finisher Daniel Suarez (52 laps led) also owns a pair of top 10s at Martinsville in his career.
Most recent “Paperclip” winner Chase Elliott has led more laps at Martinsville than any other track.
Matt DiBenedetto is still in search of his first 2021 top 10, but notched one in each Martinsville race a season ago.
Upstart 2021 story Michael McDowell earned his best career Martinsville finish of 14th last June.
Full-time Cup Series driver Anthony Alfredo has never raced at Martinsville in any of NASCAR’s three national series.

Catch the pack

Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to Sunday’s race.
Tyler Reddick tests Next Gen at Darlington | Read more | Scenes from the test
Hassler to serve as Matt DiBenedetto’s crew chief at Martinsville | Read more
Which driver could extend streak of new winners? | Read our debate
Daytona appoints Frank Kelleher as track president | Read more

Say what?

Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into Sunday’s race.
“I really like Martinsville Speedway. It is one of those places where you go through so many emotions during the course of the race. Someone might bump you and that give-and-take can get frustrating. It’s a short little paper clip, with hard-braking corners. We’ve had some solid runs there, and I think that we can go back and do it again. We’d love to have a good run at Martinsville Speedway.” — Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

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“Martinsville is probably one of my worst tracks — it’s been the toughest for me to figure out since there are so many challenges there. It’s a different style than what I grew up racing. You’re hard on the brakes and you need to be consistent with that while hitting your marks lap after lap. It’s such a challenge to do all that and keep up with the changing lines throughout the race. Hopefully, someday I can win a Martinsville clock.” — Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

“When we got out of Bristol I left with a smile on my face knowing that we had Martinsville, we had Richmond — those are two of my best race tracks. At Martinsville we’ve been just so solid the last few times, and then Richmond was kind of a dominant race for us last fall.  I was super disappointed that Richmond in the spring got canceled because of COVID because I thought we would be really good, but I’m looking forward to going back and hopeful to have the same success we had last fall.  It’s certainly a track that I’ve had circled.  Jeremy Bullins, my crew chief, and the whole team did such a great job preparing the car for that race track, so hopefully we can repeat.” — Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford

“I think short-track racing at Martinsville Speedway with the lights is going to be awesome. NASCAR Cup Series cars, and especially our No. 47 Kroger/Crest Chevrolet, look better under the lights and we know fans love seeing the sparks fly. Martinsville always has a lot of contact and beating and banging so going into it expecting that, I think, is half the battle. Martinsville is not typically my favorite track, but we’re on a really strong momentum swing right now with strong runs at Bristol and Atlanta so I’m looking forward to racing after a week off and keeping that going.” — Ricky Stenhouse Jr, driver of the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet