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Podium Preview: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville

Will we see another Elliott and Larson showdown at Martinsville? (Photo: Molly Gastineau | The Podium Finish)

Will we see another Elliott and Larson showdown at Martinsville? (Photo: Molly Gastineau | The Podium Finish)

The second short track race of the season kicks off with Saturday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville Speedway. Yes, indeed, that’s 400 laps instead of 500 for this springtime paperclip special.

While there’s 100 laps less of a sentimental showdown in western Virginia, it’s still a fun paint trading affair with these current Gen cars. As various drivers observed ahead of this weekend, Martinsville behaves a lot like a road course despite its short track layout.

With seven consecutive different race winners to start this season, one has to wonder if the streak continues. More than that, one must wonder if the young guns’ winning ways returns at Martinsville or if Denny Hamlin’s Richmond success is a sign of the times changing in the NASCAR Cup Series.

This weekend, Ashley HobbsCody ShoppeJasmine SharpeKobe Lambeth, Luis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorNathan SolomonTaylor Kitchen and yours truly think about the next older veteran driver to win and the implications of a shorter Martinsville spring race.

Podium Preview: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville
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Question 1
I finally beat Mega Man 2. (Photo: Molly Gastineau | The Podium Finish)

I finally beat Mega Man 2. (Photo: Molly Gastineau | The Podium Finish)

Denny Hamlin snapped a 12 race streak of winners who are ages 30 and younger. Who’ll be the next, older veteran racer who’ll drive into victory lane?

Kitchen : Given that Martinsville is the next race, I would say Martin Truex Jr. would be the next driver over 30 to win a race.

As others will mention, Truex is no stranger to success at Martinsville. Most impressively in the last 14 Martinsville races, Truex has finished inside the top 10 11 of those times!

Lambeth : After fighting for the win in the closing laps last weekend at Richmond, I think Kevin Harvick is itching for a return to victory lane. We don’t see Harvick contending for wins like we used to in the past. He hasn’t won a race since fall 2020. But he’s knocking on the door and I believe there’s potential that he’ll get a breakthrough victory soon!

Solomon : I feel like Kevin Harvick is due to return to victory lane soon. After a dominant 2020 season, Harvick completely fell short of a win in 2021 despite his consistency. 

With the Next Gen car, Harvick and Stewart-Haas seem to have a lot of speed. An upcoming win seems likely for Harvick after a second place finish at Richmond on Sunday. With how well-rounded he is, it wouldn’t surprise me if the win came Saturday at Martinsville. 

Tiongson : Well, this driver technically qualifies as the next, older veteran racer but by technicality. Joey Logano is due a win and he is a strong short track racer.

In his past six races, he’s finished 19th, eighth, fourth, third, sixth and 10th which results in an average finish of 8.3. He seemed like the man to beat in the spring 2020 race before Martin Truex Jr. got addicted to grandfather clocks.

Logano is essentially the lead, captain type racer for the Team Penske stock car program. If there’s a time to cement such status, it’ll be on Saturday night. Look for Logano to make a statement at the paperclip.

Torres :  Before Denny Hamlin had that superb run on the field, especially how he caught and beat William Byron, Martin Truex, Jr. was the only guy who had Byron’s number. Truex had his best overall showing all season and that’s the kind of momentum he’ll need at Martinsville.

In a track he’s won three times, Truex is going to be a stronger contender this weekend. In fact, he’ll be my favorite to win and continue the trend of the elder statement winning races after the past few months being the Sub-30 Club’s universe.

Shoppe :  I’d be looking no further than his JGR teammate of Martin Truex Jr. Last week at this time we all seemed to be leary of the Toyotas strength in 2022. Richmond showed us at short tracks, at least, the Gibbs guys still got it! The recent short track king MTJ will be the first to reach victory lane of the veterans!

Sharpe : To be fair, not many were expecting Hamlin to be the first winner of the aforementioned “above 30” group. His teammates, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, have had more promising chances to snag a win. This season overall has been full of surprises, twists, and turns that most were not expecting; even with the introduction of the Next Gen cars.

The start of the season made it appear that the RFK cars were going to win, but after several issues, those hopes have seemed to die down. Harvick over at HAAS finished this previous week quite strong, but with ¾ of the season left to go, anything is possible.

This weekend at Martinsville, Truex and Harvick will be the two gentlemen I’ll be keeping a close eye on.  

Question 2
100 less laps means more fun, right? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

100 less laps means more fun, right? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Saturday night’s race at Martinsville will be 100 laps shorter. What kind of immediate impacts will we see with this race after years of this race being 500 laps long?

Raynor : It’s all about strategy. We are going to see different strategies play out. Possibly shorter runs because tires could fall off if teams are staying out. I expect to see harder racing at the end of the stages and towards the end of the race. We might see fuel mileage come into play. 

Hobbs :  In a single word – strategy. The biggest impact will be how the teams sort out their pit strategy, followed by how they will tackle the stages with that strategy. Historically (although a slightly longer run to the finish), the last caution of the race comes out with around 10% – 15% of the race to go; this is a stat I feel can remain constant. It would mean that it will be a relatively short run (~50 laps) to that finish, and that too should play into some strategy.

Gastineau : Just as everyone else has said, it is going to be all about strategy. Teams are used to this race being 500 laps for so long. This causes teams to have to go back throughout the years and see where they were running at the 400 mile mark and see how much earlier they need to make those final adjustments to be in a winning position in the end.

Sisoler :  There are a lot of factors that play into a race being a full 100 laps shorter due to the less wear on tires and fuel, along with the cars. Teams can be a lot more aggressive with pit strategy around the time where they could make it on one final stop, and try to stretch it and put themselves ahead of the pack, and the inevitable chaos, as the race reaches its crescendo. 

Two laps around Martinsville goes by in a flash. Now, let’s rewind to last Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond with our race and points reports!
Cody Shoppe nearly won on Sunday at Richmond.

Cody Shoppe nearly won on Sunday at Richmond.

On the other hand, Taylor Kitchen's lead slims down a bit.

On the other hand, Taylor Kitchen’s lead slims down a bit.

Next, let’s consider some statistics by Ashley Hobbs for Saturday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville.
The Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 winner at Martinsville has an average starting spot of 9.6, led an average of 140.9 laps, started within the top five 38.89% of the time and within the top 10 66.67% of the time since 2004.

The Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 winner at Martinsville has an average starting spot of 9.6, led an average of 140.9 laps, started within the top five 38.89% of the time and within the top 10 66.67% of the time since 2004.

Is this Elliott's time to shine?

Is this Elliott’s time to shine?

Time to consider how the trends have been at Martinsville's spring race since 2012, the last 10 instances.

Time to consider how the trends have been at Martinsville’s spring race since 2012, the last 10 instances.

Now, the trends are presented for the past five Martinsville spring races.

Now, the trends are presented for the past five Martinsville spring races.

The machine likes its windows.

The machine likes its windows.

Here’s the top 10 starters for Saturday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville!
Row 1
Chase Elliott and Aric Almirola (Photo: Molly Gastineau and Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

Chase Elliott and Aric Almirola (Photo: Molly Gastineau and Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

Row 2
Cole Custer and Chris Buescher (Photo: Ryan Daley and Molly Gastineau | The Podium Finish)

Cole Custer and Chris Buescher (Photo: Ryan Daley and Molly Gastineau | The Podium Finish)

Row 3
William Byron and Kevin Harvick (Photo: Sean Folsom and Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

William Byron and Kevin Harvick (Photo: Sean Folsom and Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

Row 4
Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson (Photo: Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson (Photo: Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

Row 5
Brad Keselowski and Todd Gilliland (Photo: Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

Brad Keselowski and Todd Gilliland (Photo: Ryan Daley | The Podium Finish)

Lastly, here’s our picks for Saturday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville.
It's another six pack for Martinsville. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

It’s another six pack for Martinsville. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images)

Torres : The man who once couldn’t win at a short track to save his life was Martin Truex Jr. Once he got that style of racing down to where he’s won frequently, you can never count the 2017 champion out. I picked him last week at Richmond and while he came up short, he had a strong showing. I see the momentum continuing Saturday where he’ll bring Toyota back-to-back wins and for MTJ’s case, bring home his fourth Grandfather Clock.

Kitchen : I went with a risky pick last weekend and this weekend I’m playing it safe. With three Martinsville wins, I think Martin Truex Jr. will win again this weekend.

Hobbs : Why MTJ? Why not MTJ? He’s won the last two races here, he’s got a nice string on top-10s going, and he is hungry for victory!

Raynor : Martin Truex Jr is on the verge of winning a race and has been great here.

Shoppe : Martin Truex Jr. was the short track master the last few years, but with the slow start for Toyota, it seemed that may have ended. Last week at Richmond, Truex was perhaps the most dominant car. I expect more of the same at the paperclip!

Tiongson : OK, so I mentioned that Joey Logano will make a statement at Martinsville. However, if I have to go with my gut choice for Saturday night’s race, why not Ryan Blaney? In the past six races, Blaney’s finished fourth, fifth, second twice over in 2020 and 11th in last year’s races. If he can keep his nose clean, boom goes that dynamite.

Solomon : William Byron is off to a great start in 2022. He won at Atlanta and came close at Richmond on Sunday. Byron won Thursday’s Truck race at Martinsville and always seems to run well at the track, so expect Byron to head to victory lane Saturday night.

TPF Stats : The season is shaking out and the predications are shaken up. This season is seven for seven with different winners; this weekend will be eight for eight with Chase Elliott grabbing his first victory of the season (this giving Hendrick Motorsports a full, winning squad).

Sisoler : Chase Elliott is always a contender at short tracks like Martinsville. There’s just something about these tracks like Martinsville that seem to suit him, and he is one that kinda flies under the radar, in my opinion, when people look at short track guys due to his dominance in the past on the road courses of the Cup calendar. I think the guy who was fastest in both practice and qualifying will also be the first one to cross the line at the end of 400 laps Sunday.

Gastineau : Going with Elliott. It’s a good track for him and he qualified on the pole.

Sharpe : After a stunning win at the fall race, Alex Bowman has shown incredible skill and patience with Martinsville. So far this year he has proven himself with the Next Gen car, making him an excellent pick for this week’s race.

Lambeth : He’s been quiet in the win column since fall 2020. After a winless 2021, Kevin Harvick showed last weekend at Richmond that he’s ready for a return to victory lane. Expect a Happy Harvick style celebration under the lights at Martinsville!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the 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!  Stay safe and wash your hands often. Help yourself, your family and friends by getting the COVID-19 vaccine!

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.

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Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing. Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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