Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Martinsville - First Data 500 Preview

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First Data 500

Martinsville Speedway at Martinsville, VA
Sunday October 28, 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time on NBCSN
1/2 Mile Flat Oval
Weather: Mostly Sunny, 60°F

Previous Five Winners and Pole Sitters

RaceRace WinnerPole Sitter
Spring 2018Clint BowyerMartin Truex Jr.
Fall 2017Kyle BuschJoey Logano
Spring 2017Brad KeselowskiKyle Larson
Fall 2016Jimmie JohnsonMartin Truex Jr.
Spring 2016Kyle BuschJoey Logano

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series returns to Virginia this Sunday with the First Data 500 at the "Half Mile of Mayhem", Martinsville Speedway. 40 cars are entered into the event with eight drivers remaining in the running for the Cup Series Championship race at Homestead. Who will take the checkered flag at the shortest track on the NASCAR circuit?

The Favorite

The final elimination round to determine who races for the championship at Homestead is now upon us and the eight drivers still in the running will be pushing hard to win this race. A victory this week guarantees a spot in Homestead and lets their team spend the next few weeks preparing for that race. It will be a huge advantage over the competition. The favorite to gain that advantage this week is Kyle Busch.

Busch finished second in the spring race at Martinsville earlier this year to continue his recent mastery of this track. In his last six Martinsville starts Busch has two wins, two runner-up finishes and six top-five finishes. He will be riding with the contenders as the race winds down and we all know he won't have any issues bumping somebody out of the way to claim the checkered flag.

"We’ve run well the last several times at Martinsville and we’re definitely pumped about getting back there. I’m hoping we can have a really good car there again," said Busch.

Busch won this race last fall to punch his ticket to Homestead, odds are he will do it again.

Other Drivers to Watch

Busch's Big Three compatriots Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have both finished in the top-five in their last two Martinsville starts, but neither has been especially strong on this track over the course of their careers. Harvick has one win, back in 2011, in 34 career starts while Truex is winless in 25 career starts. Yet they both know the advantage a win would give them instead of qualifying for Homestead based on points. Each driver is in a good position to advance, but if a playoff driver other than Kyle Busch wins they will lose some of that edge. Neither driver wants to be known as the Big Three member who missed the championship race, so both will be fighting hard to win.

Clint Bowyer won the spring Martinsville race after leading a race high 215 laps to snap a 190 race winless drought. He has finished in the top-ten in each of his three starts here since joining Stewart-Haas Racing last year. Bowyer squeaked into round eight and currently sits below the elimination line. He is well aware winning this race is his best opportunity to advance.

Chase Elliott is the hottest driver in the Cup Series after winning two out of the last three races. Martinsville isn't historically one of his better tracks, but he did finish 9th in the spring race when the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization was struggling. He has improved by leaps and bounds since then, winning three races and currently sitting right behind the Big Three in the playoff point standings. Elliott knows the value of winning instead of trying to advance on points.

"The points game is nice, I guess, to play," said Elliott. "Really, you just need to care about winning. If you're trying to win, putting yourself in position to win, that's way more important than just barely trying to squeak through. Having the ability to win, do it weekly, putting yourselves in those positions week by week is the most important thing. If we can do that these next three weeks, I think we can give ourselves a chance."

Joey Logano is the final Team Penske driver left in the playoffs, another organization that has gotten stronger as the year has progressed. Logano is winless at Martinsville in 19 career starts, but has four top-five and six top-ten finishes in his last nine starts. Logano currently sits below the elimination line and with the late season surge by Chase Elliott his best chance of going to Homestead is winning a race in this round.

Jimmie Johnson has been eliminated from the playoffs, but that doesn't mean he isn't going to make some noise before the season ends. Johnson has nine career wins at Martinsville, no other active driver has more than five, and he is still searching for his first win of the year. The combination of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have never gone winless over the course of a season, with Knaus leaving at the conclusion of this one the motivation to have one more victory lane celebration is high. Johnson's last win at Martinsville was in this race in 2016.

News Around the Track

A L1 level penalty following the race at Talladega put Kyle Larson into a win or be eliminated position at Kansas last week and Larson was knocked out of the playoffs despite his third place finish. More bad news came for the No. 42 team when one of the car's lug nuts was found to be unsecure during the post-race inspection after the Kansas race. Crew chief Chad Johnston was issued a $10,000 fine by NASCAR.

James J. Bender, a tire technician for the No. 31 car of Ryan Newman, has been indefinitely suspended by NASCAR for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy. No other details were released. I don't know why he was partying, Newman has had a lousy season. Then again dealing with the ever grumpy Newman could wear down anyone.

Enjoy The Race!

Author: @chops316
Editor: @liberty-minded


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