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April 3, 2024

Martinsville Turning Point: Paperclip-shaped pressure cooker on tap after raucous Richmond finish


martinsville speedway general shot

Here’s what’s happening in the world of NASCAR with Richmond in the rearview and Martinsville (Sun., 3 p.m. ET, FS1) right around the corner.

THE LINEUP ️

1️⃣ Richmond reversal and the restart in focus

2️⃣ Last short track for months on tap — what will we see?

3️⃣ Where’s the beef? None to be found – for now

4️⃣ Short-track stars: Next Gen masters of Martinsville

5️⃣ Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

final restart at richmond

1. Richmond reversal and the restart in focus

Everything changed in the blink of an eye at Richmond, and instead of Martin Truex Jr. claiming win No. 1 of 2024, his teammate Denny Hamlin doubled up.

Given his consistent blazing speed through seven races — Truex Jr. leads the series in both average finish (8.1) and average running position (7.2) — we probably would’ve been talking about the No. 19’s potential championship favorite status had things gone slightly differently at the end of Richmond and Bubba Wallace never makes contact with Kyle Larson to send the race to NASCAR Overtime.

Instead, MTJ left Virginia as “mad as hell” as anybody we’ve seen since his former Big Three member Kevin Harvick at Bristol Motor Speedway that one time, and his teammate Denny Hamlin got to celebrate with the trophy in his home state.

The way Richmond’s final moments played out was fascinating, and it added just so many wrinkles and percolating story lines to follow from here on out, with some of them potentially sparking back up this weekend at Martinsville.

Hamlin and Truex have been racing each other in the Cup Series for nearly two decades, much of that time as teammates or as part of a technical alliance; but will Truex feel like he’s “owed” after this? Will we see different restart-zone tactics late in races moving forward based on a strategy that clearly worked for Hamlin and saw one of Truex’s more dominant runs fade to fourth on the results sheet?

Wallace joked to Larson on pit road that “whatever’s coming my way, I expect it” after spinning the No. 5. Larson isn’t quite the retaliatory type and it was a pleasant exchange, but this isn’t their first run-in and likely would’ve been a different conversation if Larson didn’t rebound to finish third … with another short track on tap, could something be coming Wallace’s way?

Bigger picture, Hamlin has now won two of the past three races and seems to be the driver from the “old guard” most suited to doing whatever is necessary to get wins in the Next Gen era so far. Past champions Truex, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch — some of the biggest names in the sport — are riding a combined 235-race winless streak. There’s seven Cup titles between them and yet they’re consistently getting beat by the driver who notoriously has zero.

Maybe he’s got a point.

denny hamlin does a burnout at richmond

2. Last short track for months on tap — what will we see?

Martinsville feels like the blockbuster finale to a three-race short-track series after raucous recent trips to Richmond and Bristol.

Another short track? Yes, please.

We’re closing in on two months into the 2024 season and things are really starting to take shape, but what stands out is just the pressure and intensity already becoming increasingly apparent before we even hit April.

Sure, Sunday’s result was the latest extremely frustrating happenstance for Truex, but zooming out a little — he’s still the points leader, the best driver/car on track on a consistent basis and should have just as good of a shot to win this weekend.

But, boy, was he Big Mad.

You really get the sense that every race and every point really and truly matters (because, well, they do) and we’re seeing drivers just push, push, push to get everything they can with so much at stake and on the line each week. For whatever reason, everything just feels amplified already and a big part of that is likely just because the competition level is arguably as high as it’s ever been. Every opportunity to win matters that much more, because there are just fewer of them.

This is all to say — who’s up for a paperclip-shaped pressure cooker?

We’ve seen almost exclusively nothing but Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing winners thus far in 2024 and truth be told it feels more likely than not Sunday’s winner comes within that eight-driver group. After all, all four Hendrick drivers have won at Martinsville in the last seven races there, and Hendrick/JGR have combined to win eight of the last nine overall at the Virginia short track.

Literally all of those wins, however, have had to go through the two-time champ Logano, as his current nine-race top-10 streak at Martinsville is by far the best with teammate Ryan Blaney and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe turning in four apiece to tie for second.

After a rough start, No. 22 is picking up a head of steam and is probably next on the list behind Hamlin in the “aggressive veteran who knows how to make a win happen” department. Feels very much like he could re-enter the title picture this weekend after somewhat being written off a month into the season by some.

And Hendrick drivers Larson and William Byron have combined for 14 race victories since either Chase Elliott or Alex Bowman have won. They’re both due and running well, while each presents super interesting story lines of their own should they win. On an extremely important weekend for the team, no less.

Alright, time for hot dogs.

kyle larson celebrates in victory lane

3. Where’s the beef? None to be found — for now

Another seemingly unintentional incident between Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace late at Richmond adds to a long history between the two, who smoothed things over after the race.

4. Short-track stars: Next Gen masters of Martinsville

Drivers with the most points at Martinsville in Next Gen era. Will Chase Briscoe or Ross Chastain spoil the Hendrick/Gibbs party and pick up their first Martinsville win?

DriverCarPointsTotal Martinsville Wins
Ryan BlaneyNo. 12 Team Penske Ford1761
Denny HamlinNo. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyots1585
Chase BriscoeNo. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford1570
Joey LoganoNo. 22 Team Penske Ford1571
Kyle LarsonNo. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet1421
Aric AlmirolaNo. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford*1390
Chase ElliottNo. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet1391
Christopher BellNo. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota1341
William ByronNo. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet1271
Ross ChastainNo. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet1230

*Aric Almirola no longer drives the No. 10 SHR entry and instead is competing part-time for JGR in the Xfinity Series in 2024.

5. Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

Power Rankings: Expect to see the No. 9 out front at Martinsville … and perhaps win

Paint Scheme Preview: See the schemes for Martinsville tripleheader

Analysis: Wet-weather tires afforded everyone a win at Richmond

NASCAR SVP Sawyer on Denny Hamlin’s restart

Inside the Race: Letarte, Gordon break down the final restart from Richmond Raceway

Where the race was won: How Hamlin’s crew controlled pit road at Richmond

Kyle Petty on Truex finish: ‘Plenty of people dominate races and get beat’

@nascarcasm: Fake texts to Richmond winner Denny Hamlin

Chandler Smith wins Xfinity race at Richmond for second straight season

Joey Gase throws his bumper — literally — at Richmond

Which driver is favored to win 2024 title after Richmond?

cars race at martinsville

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