Jake Ernst previews this weekend’s First Data 500 at Martinsville and explains why a strong finish on Sunday will be absolutely crucial for the remaining playoff drivers.
Location: Martinsville Speedway, VA
Date & Time: Sunday, October 27th at 3pm (ET)
TV Channel: NBC Sports Network
Race Sponsor: First Data
Lap Total: 500 Laps
With just four races remaining in the season (Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix & Homestead), the NASCAR season is quickly coming to a close and the stakes continue to rise. Following last week’s race at Kansas, the NASCAR playoffs transitioned from the Round of 12 to the Round of 8, meaning four drivers were eliminated (Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Clint Bowyer & Alex Bowman) and just eight drivers remain eligible to win the 2019 Championship.
Sunday’s race at Martinsville will begin the third-round of the NASCAR postseason, a three-race playoff round, with an additional elimination of four drivers following the third race (Phoenix). It’s imperative that the playoff contenders finish strong at Martinsville and begin this round off on a good note, but that’s of course, easier said than done. There are three drivers in the field this week however, that I feel very confident about and anticipate finishing near the front of the pack.
The End Of A Winless Streak?
He hasn’t always been this dominant at Martinsville, but after going winless in his first 20 races at the half-mile speedway, the 34-year-old now has two wins at the track in the last three years. In addition, in his last eight appearances at Martinsville, Busch has led a total of 677 laps and has finished inside the top-five in all of those races.
His last win came on June 2nd of this year (18 races ago) and while he’s in the midst of one of the longest winless streaks of his career, he has a combined eight wins at the next three tracks on the schedule.
“We can win at all of them, that’s for sure,” Busch said about the next three races on the schedule.NBCSports.com
Hamlin’s Got The Momentum
He’s had the momentum since the very first race of the season – when he edged out fellow teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones to win the inaugural race of 2019, the Daytona 500. Since then, he’s added four additional wins to his total (5) – a win total that he’s reached just twice before in his 15-year career when in 2010, he finished with a series-high eight wins and in 2012, with five wins.
Prior to this season, many critics and sources close to NASCAR believed that Hamlin could potentially be the odd-man-out of Joe Gibbs Racing’s future plans for the 2020 season, but Hamlin’s dominant season has quieted and essentially ended all of those rumors.
There are just two tracks on the schedule in which Hamlin has four-or-more wins at and it just so happens that Martinsville is one of them. With five wins at the Ridgeway, VA speedway, it’s tied for Hamlin’s winningest track (Pocono) and what bodes well for him, is that it’s a track that NASCAR travels to both in the regular season and the playoffs.
“Hey, I’m just really happy for this whole FedEx team; this has been great,” Hamlin said during his postrace interview. “Been running really good. Cannot wait to get to Martinsville.”NASCAR.com
Momentum has been a huge part of Hamlin’s 2019 season and after leading 153 laps and winning last week at Kansas, that momentum is still very much in play. Expect a strong finish out of Hamlin on Sunday.
He’s Only Getting Better
He’s never won at Martinsville, but try not to overlook this statistic because the 23-year-old only has a handful of attempts here and a win will come soon enough for one of NASCAR’s most talented drivers.
In his last five races at the Virginia-based speedway, Elliott has finished inside the top-10 in all but one and has impressively led laps on three separate occasions. He came up just short of his first Martinsville win earlier this season in March, when he finished second to Brad Keselowski. While it may not have been a win, it was another step in the right direction for Elliott, who is one of the favorites to win this week at Martinsville.
Despite the playoff points resetting after the Round of 12, Elliott still finds himself in a six-point hole due to the amount of stage and playoff points that some of the drivers ahead of him earned earlier in the season. It’s only the first race of the playoff round but Elliott has yet to reach the Championship 4 in his young career and I can assure you, he’ll be looking to lock himself into the next round with a win on Sunday.