Podium Preview: XFINITY 500 at Martinsville

There's nothing more special than a nighttime running of the XFINITY 500 at Martinsville. (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

There’s nothing more special than a nighttime running of the XFINITY 500 at Martinsville. (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

After the extended Texas race weekend, drivers and teams likely feel excited for today’s XFINITY 500 at Martinsville Speedway. On the other hand, 334 laps around Texas might seem like a welcomed option versus 500 tough circuits around this paperclipped short track.

All things considered, this race serves as a win-or-go-home event for drivers outside of the Championship 4 cutline. Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex, Jr., and Kurt Busch hope to displace Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski with their continued focus on the NASCAR Cup Series title. However, hard braking for at least 2,000 instances around Martinsville’s tight corners might require some finesse and patience.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists, consisting of columnists, photographers, and fans, preview the racing action. This weekend, Ashley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt SisolerMatteo MarcheschiMichelle RaynorStephen ConleyTerra Jones, and yours truly consider the return of Kyle Larson and a driver likely to race their way into the Championship 4.

Podium Preview: XFINITY 500 at Martinsville
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Question 1
Can Kyle Larson make the best of his return to NASCAR?

Can Kyle Larson make the best of his return to NASCAR?

Kyle Larson returns to the NASCAR Cup Series as he will Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 car. What can we expect from Larson and how can he continue to grow from his incident earlier this year?

Sisoler :  I think we can expect a lot of the same from Larson. Sure, he might have a bit of a slow start at the beginning, which is expected considering he’s not been in a stock car since, I believe, the fourth race of this season. Watching Larson’s interview on CBS, I could see someone who was truly sorry for the people he hurt with his language, and I think he will continue to atone for his error in judgment as he advances with his career.

Marcheschi :  Larson has already shown how much he’s grown in the last six months, and I look forward to seeing his return to NASCAR in February. He’ll be on thin ice should any further incidents occur, but if he keeps his nose clean, he could certainly take home some great finishes and even a win or two. Keep an eye on him at dirt Bristol in the spring.

Lambeth :  When Kyle Larson returns to NASCAR at Daytona, I think it will be the start of a successful partnership with Hendrick Motorsports. It seems like he is doing a lot of things to improve himself since the Monza Madness incident. I am glad to see him taking the initiative to become more informed about the world around him.

There will likely be a lot of pressure on him moving forward in the public eye. However, I expect him to respond well and slowly repair his image over time. In terms of his performance on-track, I believe that Larson will eventually take the next step in his career and become a more consistent winner.

Hobbs :  I don’t think we need to focus on what happened with Kyle Larson earlier this year; it’s clear he made a mistake, took responsibility, and took action. That choice does not define him as a person because everyone makes mistakes and has lack of judgment; no one is perfect.

I am thrilled to see him get back into a Cup ride because he deserves it. It is no secret Rick Hendrick wanted Larson in his stables, but with a full roster when Larson was ready, he could not have him. This is the perfect time for Hendrick and Larson to come together. And I think Larson will great things in a great ride.

Tiongson :  This latest opportunity with Hendrick Motorsports is absolutely pivotal for Kyle Larson, not just professionally but personally. Some folks would say that he got a reward despite what happened in April. It’s tough because as much as people say we don’t need to focus on what happened, it’s a moment in time in which Larson was too comfortable with a slur that was a part of his vocabulary. My hope is that he is sincere about this not only with his return to NASCAR but in all walks of life.

Moreover, as an Asian American, I see Larson as a driver who can inspire people like me and others not only with success in his craft but as someone who can mature and evolve. As a good friend and journalist Marcus Wiley wrote, yes, he’s earned his spot back in NASCAR. But I don’t think his work towards atoning for his misjudgment ends right here.

Raynor :  Larson has already shown and grown so much from April. He’s gone above and beyond what was asked of him and really has made many efforts to educate himself and become a better man. There is a new maturity about him and he’s going to come back stronger than ever. He’s going to be amazing in that 5 car and contend for championships for years to come. 

Question 2
Could things get a bit hairy for our bubble Playoff racers? (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Could things get a bit hairy for our bubble Playoff racers? (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Martinsville could become a very interesting race for those vying for the final Championship 4 spots on Sunday. Which of the current, remaining Playoff contenders will secure their spots for a title fight at Phoenix?

Shoppe :  It looks like we will have to see some winning from below the cutline to really see some shake-up at this point. I expect two-time defending winner at Martinsville, Martin Truex, Jr., to have the best chance. 

While he might not have much of a Martinsville record, Alex Bowman and the 88 team have been one of the strongest teams at the backend of these Playoffs. So keep an eye on them too! 

Torres :  Kevin Harvick is an absolute no-brainer that he’ll get in because of his rather comfortable points cushion going into Martinsville. Another one I do see making the title fight at Phoenix may be a surprise. And that’s Brad Keselowski. He’s rather had a quiet but solid year with some of his most consistent runs in recent memory. He may not have the wins. But his consistency is strong enough to get him a step closer towards a second Cup title.

Jones :  I think Harvick secures a spot on points. Keselowski will have solid stages and also secure a spot on points, edging out Hamlin. Finally, Truex will remind everyone the Paperclip is currently “Martin’s Ville” with another win.

Conley :  Chase Elliott said it in his press conference on Friday, “If I’m in second at the end of the race, I’ll move him (the leader)”. I think Elliott races his way in to become the only Chevy replacing Keselowski and your two drivers in on points are the ones with the most wins this season – Harvick and Hamlin. 

Before we consider more of the XFINITY 500 at Martinsville, let’s step back to Wednesday’s better late than never Texas race with our reports from Round 34!
In awesome fashion, Marcheschi takes another win in 2020.

In awesome fashion, Marcheschi takes another win in 2020.

However, our machine has us at its mercy.

However, our machine has us at its mercy.

Next, Ashley Hobbs crunches the numbers that might actually prove important for today’s XFINITY 500 at Martinsville!
First, here's how your favorite team fares in the XFINITY 500 at Martinsville.

First, here’s how your favorite team fares in the XFINITY 500 at Martinsville.

It's a good day to be a Bowtie.

It’s a good day to be a Bowtie.

Since 2004, the XFINITY 500 race winner has an average starting spot of 8.6, led an average of 165.2 laps, started within the top-five 50 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 62.5 percent of the time.

Since 2004, the XFINITY 500 race winner has an average starting spot of 8.6, led an average of 165.2 laps, started within the top-five 50 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 62.5 percent of the time.

Can Kyle Busch make it two for two?

Can Kyle Busch make it two for two?

Here's the trends in the past 10 editions of the XFINITY 500.

Here’s the trends in the past 10 editions of the XFINITY 500.

Next, here's the trends for the XFINITY 500 since 2015.

Next, here’s the trends for the XFINITY 500 since 2015.

Our machine wants some FedEx love.

Our machine wants some FedEx love.

Last but not least, here’s our picks for today’s XFINITY 500 at Martinsville!
Well, one of these stock car heroes will win a grandfather clock, eh?

Well, one of these stock car heroes will win a grandfather clock, eh?

TPF Stats :  Second best driver this year, statistically speaking, and best driver at Martinsville (tied with Jimmie Johnson), statistically speaking, look for Denny Hamlin to put up a fantastic day and carry the momentum into the Championship race.

Hobbs :  It may have been a decade since Denny Hamlin has won at Martinsville in the fall, but this is one of his best tracks. Even though he did not have the best outing earlier this year, Hamlin will be the one to beat this weekend and have that momentum heading into the Championship race.

Torres :  Second best driver this year, statistically speaking, and best driver at Martinsville (tied with Jimmie Johnson), statistically speaking, look for Denny Hamlin to put up a fantastic day and carry the momentum into the Championship race.

Shoppe :  While he hasn’t been the strongest in these Playoffs, Denny Hamlin will remind everyone about the strength of the No. 11 team at one of his best tracks!

Jones :  Jimmie Johnson knows his way around the paperclip and he will sneak away with one more clock before hanging up the NASCAR Cup Series firesuit.

Lambeth :  Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will score the final victory of his NASCAR career at a track that he has won at nine times.

Raynor :  I’m going with Martin Truex, Jr. because he’s good at this track.

Tiongson :  This might seem like a desperate pick but I’m trying my best to make NASCAR better again with my pick. Alex Bowman, it’s your turn at bat, sir. Let’s swing for the home run at Martinsville!

Marcheschi :  Ryan Blaney is quick at short tracks, and Martinsville is no exception. In his last five races there, he has four top-five finishes, including a runner-up finish this June. Like Busch last weekend, Blaney has struggled to finish off races this season. However, Blaney will have his breakthrough with a victory at the paperclip!

Conley :  Chase Elliott is in a must-win situation. He doesn’t forget about being punted for the win by Hamlin. And he’s made it abundantly clear, he will move the leader to win this race. Plus he’s pretty good at Martinsville.

Sisoler :  Kurt Busch is in a must-win scenario and I believe he’s got a true shot to advance. He rises when faced with adversity. He’s a very solid short track driver. And I think that the elder Busch bro is gonna make it back-to-back weeks with a Busch in victory lane. Furthermore, he’ll stamp his ticket to the Championship 4!

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the XFINITY 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into this today’s race? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Let’s stay connected as we focus on getting back together on the track soon!  Please stay safe, wear a mask, and wash your hands often.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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