MOORESVILLE, N.C. – So, here we are.
After enduring a shutdown because of COVID-19, teams announcing closings, new ones forming, driver changes galore, rescheduling of races, mid-week races and more rain than Noah endured on the Ark, we are down to two races remaining in the NASCAR season.
And, the best part is about to happen. There’s one race to decide the Championship 4, and another to decide the last man standing with a nice big trophy above their head.
Good driving, drama and door-to-door racing awaits as all three series head to a historic short track.
This weekend at Martinsville Speedway, the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will all decide who the final Championship 4 drivers to go for the gold at Phoenix Raceway the following weekend.
Oh, what a time to be alive – if you are one of those four.
Wassup in Cup
Because of his win at Kansas Speedway, Joey Logano is locked in for Phoenix. Kyle Busch won at Texas Motor Speedway, but since he’s already been eliminated from Playoff contention, there are still three spots left to decide.
Looking good are Kevin Harvick, up 42 points with one previous Martinsville victory to his credit, and Denny Hamlin, who is up 27 markers with an impressive five victories at the track.
Brad Keselowski is also looking good to join his Team Penske teammate of Logano in the Champion 4. Being up 25 points with two previous Martinsville wins to his credit bodes well for Penske to own half of the possible championship contenders.
“Excited about Martinsville, I know we can win there and obviously we’ve shown that in the past,” said Keselowski, of his No. 2 Ford team. “It’s a new race and a new week. We have to figure out how to be better than we’ve been there and feel like everybody will get better.
“Looking forward to it, excited for the opportunity to get to do this. Hopefully, we’ll put ourselves in another championship race.”
Looking to put the kibosh to Kez are Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kurt Busch.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers Bowman and Elliott are both 25 markers from the cutoff, Truex is 31 and Busch trails by 81 points.
Bowman and Elliott have the least experience at Martinsville, but that doesn’t really guarantee they can’t produce for an upset. They are going to need some help if they don’t win to get in.
Truex has produced at the half-mile paperclip with some pretty strong runs. A win at Martinsville for the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team would be great redemption from some of the bodaciously bad luck the former champion has endured this year.
“I’m very much looking forward to Martinsville,” Truex said.” We just need to have a solid day at Martinsville. The two cars in front of us are real close in points.
“If we have a solid day, we’ll be just fine.”
The one driver who definitely needs more than a just fine day is Busch. Trailing by so many points means the No. 1 Chevrolet team of Chip Ganassi Racing has to channel some Al Davis mentality with a “Just win baby” day to make it in.
Here’s an interesting stat for perusing pleasure. Six times, the winner of Martinsville has gone on to win the Cup Series Championship that year. However, in 2014, eventual champion Kevin Harvick finished 33rd before earning his crown.
A quick look at the NXS ranks shows a wide-open battle for the three remaining positions. And, this is a first-ever visit to Martinsville for most of the drivers.
The only driver locked in is Chase Briscoe with his Kansas Speedway win. As the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s notoriety has grown, so has his following and fandom. There is a growing sentimentality for the former couch surfer turned full-time driver.
There are three drivers above the cutoff looking for some positive exposure of their own by making the Championship 4.
Austin Cindric sits 18 markers up in second, Justin Allgaier is eight up and Justin Haley a mere four. That leaves Brandon Jones at minus four and Ross Chastain at 15 back in a good position if any of the three above them have a bad day.
Noah Gragson was a Turn 4 and half a straightaway shy from punching his ticket last week at Texas before non-contender Harrison Burton passed him to take the checkers. Gragson sits 24 markers back needing some help from second to fourth, or just redeem himself from last week with a win.
Ryan Sieg is enjoying the best season of his career. However, being 43 points behind leaves him just one option to be eligible for Phoenix – win.
Inexperience, so much on the line and drivers with good memories from races earlier this season could make for an entertaining factor on Saturday.
Truck in, or Truck out
The NGROTS always produces some great racing on any track. For their race on Friday night, the drivers have an advantage over their NXS counterparts because they do, indeed, have Martinsville experience.
GMS Racing leads the way with two drivers locked in for Phoenix. Brett Moffit and Sheldon Creed put their Chevrolets in Victory Lane at Kansas Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, respectively, to punch their tickets.
As the standings sit now, Austin Hill is third 27 points above the Cutoff and Zane Smith is fourth just 12 above.
Looking up to get in is prior champion Matt Crafton and Grant Enfinger, who are 12 and 42 out. Ben Rhodes is third 45 points below the line Tyler Ankrum a substantial 79 out.
Needless to say, Enfinger, Rhodes and Ankrum need the win to get in, while Crafton needs some help from the drivers above the line.
When they take the green on Friday night, it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes with leftover paybacks dangling, an almost full moon and two open positions to make the Championship 4 when the checkers fly.
Yes, yes indeed…it is a great time to be alive.