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Podium Preview: Xfinity 500 at Martinsville

Other than Kyle Larson and his No. 5 team, there's plenty on the line for the Playoff contenders for Sunday's Xfinity 500 at Martinsville. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Other than Kyle Larson and his No. 5 team, there’s plenty on the line for the Playoff contenders for Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

While Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville offers a different kind of tick tock than what youngsters know, the excitement for Race 35 holds as much excitement. After all, other than Kyle Larson and his No. 5 team locked in for Phoenix, seven determined racers want to make the Championship 4.

Not surprisingly, Larson and his team want a fourth consecutive win while riding on their incredible momentum. Then again, the likes of Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski want a grandfather clock and Championship 4 spot.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Ashley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe Lambeth, Luis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorNathan Solomon,  Taylor KitchenTerra Jones and yours truly consider Playoff racing protocol and the thriving success of Cliff Daniels.

Podium Preview: Xfinity 500 at Martinsville
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Question 1
Where's the line drawn on racing protocol during the NASCAR Playoffs? (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Where’s the line drawn on racing protocol during the NASCAR Playoffs? (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Following up with a question from the Kansas preview, will we see the non Playoff drivers cut some slack with the Playoff racers seeking Championship 4 spots at Martinsville?

Hobbs :  I do not want to see any driver cut any other driver any slack at any point in time. From the drop of the green flag in the Daytona 500 to the checkered flag flying at the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway. All drivers on track are there for themselves, their team, and their sponsors; period. However, the only real slack I see given to drivers is from teammates who are not in the Playoffs, giving way to their teammate who is in the Playoffs. As long as they are still giving the 100% rule…

Raynor :  I do not think we will see any drivers cut anyone much slack. Maybe when we get to Phoenix we will. I think some will be cautious around the Playoffs drivers but they want to win as much as the Playoffs drivers. 

Sisoler:  After last year where Erik Jones cut Denny Hamlin slack on team orders to give Hamlin another point (which I still believe was race fixing and JGR should have been punished for that), I am absolutely hoping no one cuts the playoff drivers slack. They are need to focus on going for the win or the best result possible. If that means a playoff driver, like Martin Truex Jr., gets sent into the wall by a non-playoff driver, like Daniel Suarez, because they’re battling for position late, then that is perfectly fine by me.

Lambeth :  Absolutely not! Playoffs or not, these drivers are paid to compete and fight for wins. Some competitors like Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Newman are fighting to continue their careers in the NASCAR Cup Series, so I bet they will not pull over for someone trying to advance to the Championship 4. Each driver is racing for something, big or small. The steering wheel and gloves will come off the closer we get to the checkered flag. On the final lap, all respect goes out the window and everyone will fight for themselves. Expect fireworks and lots of chaos!

Shoppe :  No. We haven’t seen that so far throughout these playoffs and I don’t expect that to change these next two weeks. Looking back at situations like Daniel Suarez and Martin Truex Jr. getting together at Texas and Austin Dillon sliding up taking out Ryan Blaney in Kansas. These aren’t drivers disrespecting Playoff drivers or disregarding their situations, they are simply doing their best every lap of these races regardless. That’s their job. If anyone pulls over to let a Playoff driver go just because of their situation, that shows why they didn’t belong in the postseason in the first place.

Solomon :  Non-Playoff drivers shouldn’t, and I don’t think they will cut Playoff drivers slack at Martinsville. Even though drivers aren’t racing for a championship, they still have a lot to race for, such as money and sponsorship incentives. Also, when you look at someone like Matt DiBenedetto or Ryan Preece, those two drivers are racing for their careers. So in short, no. Non-Playoff drivers shouldn’t and won’t cut Playoff drivers any slack.

Question 2
Cliff Daniels earned the praises of the panelists in terms of Kyle Larson's 2021 success. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Cliff Daniels earned the praises of the panelists in terms of Kyle Larson’s 2021 success. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

While Kyle Larson’s compiled a strong season in the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro, how impactful has crew chief Cliff Daniels been with this team’s success?

Torres :  More than anything, it spotlights what Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus saw in Cliff when he took over the helm as crew chief for the old No. 48 team. Reminder this current No. 5 squad was the No. 48 last year.

Daniels has worked for Hendrick at the tail end of Johnson’s prime and has grown over time. Now we’re just seeing him blossom because of Larson’s dominance. There was some of that last year, but luck and performance was just not there with Johnson.

Like many of the HMS greats behind the scenes, Daniels gets it. He knows there’s a lot of expectations and he’s adapted seamlessly. There’s no room for slowing down. They can win out in 2021 and that’s their mindset. Not just coast until Phoenix because if they do, it’ll bite them hard. They’re going for broke by simply winning. That’s a strong attitude and I credit it to Daniels.

Tiongson : I would say that Cliff Daniels is a brilliant, innovative crew chief who’s got a driver who’ll execute to his game plan to a tee. As Luis mentioned, Daniels understands what it takes to succeed. More than that, he’s had time to work with some of the best racers beforehand in Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.

Kyle Larson has a crew chief in Cliff Daniels that has that racer’s mindset. Having raced late models in the Southeast, his experience driving those and his engineering background pays off quite nicely. We’ll see a good example of such this Sunday at Martinsville where Daniels wheeled a late model in his youth. Remember that Larson drove to a fifth place result in the spring at what is arguably one of his worst Cup race tracks.

If Larson and the No. 5 team win the championship, you’ll have to attribute part of their success to Daniels getting the job done all year long. He’s got that Ray Evernham attitude needed where he can motivate Larson while getting him focused on the big picture.

Kitchen :  No team is successful without a strong leader, and Cliff Daniels has been that for this team. As others have mentioned, he has worked with past champions and that holds a lot of weight. Those past experiences carry over into how he handles tough situations and how he is able to connect with his driver. 

To add to the other examples about Cliff Daniels impact on the success of the No. 5 team, I want to mention how Daniels handles stressful situations. I notice week after week that he uses quick thinking and a calm demeanor over radio communications. This is so important because as soon as the crew chief shows a bit of doubt or fear, it trickles through the whole team and the driver and can affect a great performance on the track.

However, from what I have been able to hear from the No. 5 radio, the issues that arise on the track are met with positive reinforcement, calm problem solving, and urgency which is partially why this team is so successful.

Two laps around Martinsville can fly by in a hurry. Similarly, the race and points reports from Race 34, the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas, last Sunday flies by here in our preview!
Michelle Raynor nabbed a solid second place result with Chase Elliott.

Michelle Raynor nabbed a solid second place result with Chase Elliott.

Meanwhile, Ashley Hobbs closes in on another TPF Cup Series championship.

Meanwhile, Ashley Hobbs closes in on another TPF Cup Series championship.

Next, Ashley Hobbs crunches plentiful numbers worth considering for Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville!
First, consider how your favorite team fares in the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville.

First, consider how your favorite team fares in the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville.

Since 2004, the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville race winner has an average starting spot of 8.6, led an average of 169.4 laps, started within the top five 47.06% of the time and started within the top 10 64.71% of the time.

Since 2004, the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville race winner has an average starting spot of 8.6, led an average of 169.4 laps, started within the top five 47.06% of the time and started within the top 10 64.71% of the time.

Might things get Rowdy at Martinsville?

Might things get Rowdy at Martinsville?

Here, let's consider the trends for the Xfinity 500 since 2011 (past 10 races).

Here, let’s consider the trends for the Xfinity 500 since 2011 (past 10 races).

Now, we consider the trends of the past Xfinity 500 races since 2016 (past five races).

Now, we consider the trends of the past Xfinity 500 races since 2016 (past five races).

For real again.

For real again.

Now, let’s consider the top 10 starters for Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville!
Row 1
Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 2
Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Row 3
Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski (Photo: Stephen Conley and Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski (Photo: Stephen Conley and Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 4
Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 5
Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Most importantly, here’s our picks for Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville!
Magnificent seven for the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville.

Magnificent seven for the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville.

Tiongson : Remember how Chase Elliott showcased his evolution as a Cup racer last fall? To me, it wasn’t when he won the title at Phoenix. It was when he conquered Martinsville. I look for Elliott to repeat on Sunday.

Torres : If Chase Elliott wants to defend his title in two weeks, a win at Martinsville Speedway will do the trick. Like Denny Hamlin, Elliott is in a pretty comfortable spot to make it back to the Championship 4. However, there’s no promises that he’ll leave “The Paperclip” with a title defense at Phoenix. Therefore, a strong run will be vital and if he really wants to make it tough on Kyle Larson, he must come in clutch.

Elliott did exactly that this year and it wouldn’t totally surprise me if the No. 9 team have something up their sleeve this Sunday. A lot is on the line and if they stay out of trouble all across the board, especially in pre-race tech, it’ll be another victory for Hendrick Motorsports at Martinsville.

Jones : Brad Keselowski definitely knows his way around Martinsville. And if he wants to fight for a championship, he has to win at the Paperclip. I have no doubt he will pull this off and stand, locked in, next to a grandfather clock!

Kitchen : This one is a given. Martin Truex Jr. literally has part of his name in the title of this track. Having the best average finish amongst the drivers since 2018 and being a consistent winner at this intense short track makes me believe that he will win this weekend and lock himself into the Championship 4.

Solomon : Martin Truex Jr. has turned into one of the best at Martinsville and is hungry for a win to punch his spot in the Championship 4. Plus, Martin has to win a big race at Martinsville…..right?

TPF Stats : The only way for Joey Logano to (realistically) be in the Championship 4 next week is to win at Martinsville, which he did back in 2018.

Lambeth : This feels like a Joey Logano-type of race. Entering the race in a must-win situation and possessing the mentality to do whatever it takes to fight for a championship next weekend fits Logano’s style. He showed us several years ago what he is willing to do, shoving Martin Truex Jr. out of the way to advance. I expect the driver of the No. 22 Ford Mustang to do the same thing if he finds himself in a position when using the bumper is necessary.

Sisoler : He’s done it before and I believe will do it again. Joey Logano has gotten physical in the past to make sure he makes the Championship 4 at Martinsville, and you can never count out the driver of the No. 22 Ford Mustang when NASCAR makes its trip to the Paperclip.

Hobbs : I mean, come on, Denny Hamlin is the current Monarch of Martinsville. Winning another grandfather clock is great, but the momentum heading into the season finale is what will light a fire under Hamlin and the No. 11 crew.

Shoppe : William Byron has been on the cusp of winning so many times lately! If it wasn’t for slight mistakes and bad luck, the No. 24 team would have a few wins in the Playoffs and would still be alive. I see Byron winning the clock while the drama over the last championship spots takes place behind him!

Raynor : Christopher Bell I hope he has a great race.

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! Take the shot to save your life and others! Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

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.

Also, if you are shopping for NASCAR or racing die-casts, be sure to check out our friends at Circle B Diecast! If your order is $20 or more, be sure to use coupon code TPF2021 for free shipping! Tell them we sent you and buy some new die-casts now!

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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