The NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Martinsville Speedway on Sunday to officially set the 2021 Championship 4 grid.
Ahead of the Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App/Peacock, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Kyle Larson remains the only driver whose ticket to compete for a title is punched. The remaining seven drivers in the Round of 8 are set to make sure they head to the desert as one of the four competitors with championship hopes still burning at Phoenix.
LINING THEM UP
By virtue of his third consecutive victory and ninth of the season, Kyle Larson will once again lead the field to green this weekend at Martinsville. The front three rows of Sunday’s starting grid feature pairs of teammates: Hendrick Motorsports teammates Larson and Chase Elliott will start up front ahead of the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., who are followed by Team Penske housemates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Row 4 rounds out the playoff drivers with Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney starting seventh and eighth, respectively. For the full starting lineup, click here.
NASCAR released purse information for the upcoming national series races.
NASCAR Cup Series: $7,778,099
NASCAR Xfinity Series: $1,325,013
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: $674,952
— Martinsville Speedway held its first race on Sept. 7, 1947, a modified stock car race won by Red Byron and promoted by Bill France Sr., who convinced track co-founder Henry Clay Earles stock cars were the future of racing.
— NASCAR held its first sanctioned race at Martinsville on July 4, 1948, another modified stock car race and won by Fonty Flock. Bill France finished eighth.
— The Cup Series has raced at Martinsville since the series’ inaugural season in 1949. Byron claimed the victory on Sept. 25, 1949 over Lee Petty on what was then a dirt surface. The first 12 Martinsville Cup races were held on dirt.
— The popular grandfather clock awarded as the victor’s trophy was introduced in 1964, when Earles worked with the nearby Ridgeway Clock Company to produce it. The first clock was awarded in September 1964 to Fred Lorenzen.
— Richard Petty has 12 clocks (as well as three wins before the tradition began), besting Darrell Waltrip (11 clocks), Jeff Gordon (9) and Jimmie Johnson (9).
— International Speedway Corporation purchased the then-privately-owned Martinsville Speedway in 2004 for $192 million and resurfaced the entire track following the 2004 spring race, which saw Jeff Gordon run over loose concrete in Turn 3 while leading the event.
— Lights were added for the 2017 season as part of a $5 million project that coincided with the track’s 70th anniversary.
— Sunday marks the 146th race at Martinsville and just the second time it serves as the penultimate race of the season, the first of which occurred in 2020.
Source: Racing Insights
RELATED: Historic moments at Martinsville
NASCAR Cup Series cars will utilize the 750-horsepower, low-downforce package this weekend, which features shorter spoilers and front splitters in an effort to minimize the impact of aerodynamics at tracks shorter than 1.4 miles in length. This package will also be used in next week’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
As the series heads to its penultimate race of 2021, Goodyear returns to Martinsville with the same tire compound and construction used during the spring race. Focus has gone into allowing the tires to lay more rubber in colder temperatures, but with current forecasts predicting a high of 64°F on Sunday, that may not come into play.
What always comes into play at the bullish paperclip half-mile is traction, especially with 750 HP underneath the drivers’ right feet.
“We adjusted the tread compounds last season at Martinsville to not only lay rubber but to give the cars more grip,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “The other key element of the tire is the construction, which we also updated in 2020. Our constructions for Martinsville have to consider that the cars are hard on the brakes entering the corners and hard on the gas exiting and must be able to handle those conditions.”
STORYLINES AND TRENDS HEADING INTO MARTINSVILLE
— While Kyle Larson is locked into the Championship 4, Chase Elliott (+34), Denny Hamlin (+32) and Kyle Busch (+1) sit above the elimination line entering Martinsville.
— On the outside looking in are Ryan Blaney (-1), Martin Truex Jr. (-3), Brad Keselowski (-6) and Joey Logano (-26).
— This is the third time at least four drivers were within six points of the bubble entering the Round of 8 elimination race.
— Martin Truex Jr. has won three of the last four races at Martinsville, including this spring’s event.
— The last eight Martinsville races were won by six different drivers. Truex is the only driver to earn multiple victories in that span.
— Chase Elliott’s victory in November 2020 is Chevrolet’s lone Martinsville triumph in the last nine races at the half-mile paperclip-shaped track.
— Ford is winless in the last four Martinsville races after winning each of three prior events.
— Joe Gibbs Racing has won four of the last eight contests at Martinsville.
— Martin Truex Jr led only 20 laps in his win at Martinsville in the spring, the fewest laps led by a winner in the last 18 races.
— The Stage 2 winner won four of the last six Martinsville races.
— Kyle Larson won three straight races twice in 2021, he is the first driver to do so since Dale Earnhardt in 1987.
— Three races at Martinsville were won with a last-lap pass, two coming in the last eight races.
Source: Racing Insights
TIME TO BET ON IT
While Kyle Larson has dominated the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with wins in four of the last eight races, the nine-time race winner is not the favorite at Martinsville, according to BetMGM.
That honor goes to Martin Truex Jr., who the sportsbook lists at 4-1 odds. With wins in three of the last four Martinsville races, it’s clear to see his advantage over the rest of the field this Sunday.
Larson, meanwhile, only has two top fives and three top 10s in 13 Martinsville starts but is still listed at 13-2, likely thanks to a fifth-place effort back in April. Denny Hamlin (6-1) and Chase Elliott (13-2/+650) have great track records at the paperclip but don’t necessarily need top-tier runs to advance to the Championship 4.
Kyle Busch is a two-time winner at Martinsville, but four straight finishes of ninth or worse at Martinsville leave him with the worst odds of all playoff drivers at 9-1.
Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out the playoff version of NASCAR Fantasy Live, which is open now and offers a fresh start for those of you who played the regular-season contest. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts, and there is a $10,000 prize for the winner.
The 2021 Fantasy Live points leaders are Kyle Larson (1,370), Denny Hamlin (1,363) and Chase Elliott (1,150).
This year, NASCAR.com also has the Playoffs Grid Challenge game, presented by Ruoff Mortgage, where you can pick the winners for each round of the playoffs right up through the Championship 4. First prize is $10,000.
ALSO ON NASCAR.COM
Get additional camera views by logging on to NASCAR Drive, where each week a select number of in-car cameras will be available — as well as a battle cam and an overhead look.
New for this season, NASCAR has partnered with LiveLike to add fan engagement in the NASCAR Mobile App. Log in to the mobile app during the race for polls, quizzes, the cheer meter and more — and see instant results from NASCAR fans like you.
And finally, head over to the NASCAR Mobile App for AR Racing presented by Mobil 1, where you can design your own car and race the playoff drivers at the playoff tracks in augmented reality.