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For over 75 years of NASCAR racing, tiny tracks to major speedways have come, gone and come back again. But what has always remained the same is Martinsville Speedway, a track that has linked generations of champion racers together in a small, humble, Southern Virginia town.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads just up the road from its hub in the greater Charlotte, N.C. area to Martinsville for the Cook Out 400, the first visit of the season to the one racetrack the sport has visited every year since its inaugural season in 1949. A special place for many in stock car racing, Martinsville's half-mile paperclip is humble in size and simple in shape, but it has nonetheless thrilled race fans for decades and glorified those fortunate few who are able to master it and claim one of its coveted grandfather clocks in Victory Lane.

How to Watch the NASCAR Cup Series at Martinsville

Date: Sun., Apr. 7
Location: Martinsville Speedway -- Ridgeway, Va.
Time: 3 p.m. ET
Stream: fubo (try for free)

What to Watch

The discourse surrounding NASCAR has been aflame this week over the final restart at Richmond, in which there was a no-call by officials on race leader Denny Hamlin jumping the restart by accelerating before the start of the designated restart zone. NASCAR has found themselves in a difficult position defending their call, a position that got much more uncomfortable when senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer intimated Tuesday on SiriusXM Radio that there was "no doubt" Hamlin rolled early, but that the call "could have been different" had the restart occurred earlier in the race versus a race-deciding overtime restart.

Sawyer would go on to clarify the sanctioning body's stance during an appearance on FS1's NASCAR Race Hub, noting that the end-of-race situation made it difficult for NASCAR to make a split-second judgment call that would have stripped Hamlin of the win in full confidence.

"I want to be clear: If we're at lap 50 and we officiate the races from lap 1 to lap 400+, if we end up in those situations in overtime, we're gonna officiate the race the same way," Sawyer said. "If this happens at lap 40 or 50 or 300, when we have the opportunity with more time to review it, look at it, and be 100% accurate and confident that we're making the right call, then we make the call. There's a sense of urgency at the end of the race obviously to get the winner correct, but also to get him to Victory Lane, things of that nature. 

"The sense of urgency is higher at the end of the race. It doesn't mean that we don't make that call, but we better be 100% confident when we make it."

While NASCAR isn't necessarily known to completely swallow their whistle when it comes to restart violations -- for instance, an emphasis was placed last year on calling drivers for intentionally laying back before the green to try and get better forward momentum -- they have generally erred on the side of not calling the front row cars for jumping the restart. With NASCAR officials now under increased scrutiny following the end of the race at Richmond, expect that to change starting this weekend at Martinsville and for there to be greater focus on exactly when both the leader and the second-place car accelerate.

As the beneficiary of the entire situation, Denny Hamlin has taken an unapologetic tone in regards to the final restart, conceding on his podcast that he left a few feet early but that his restart was influenced in part by his seeing Joey Logano laying back in third and Martin Truex Jr. creeping up on his outside to try and generate momentum of his own.

News of the Week

  • Richard Childress Racing has made a change at crew chief for Austin Dillon, replacing Keith Rodden with Justin Alexander and appointing Joel Keller as the team's lead engineer effective immediately. The move reunites Dillon with Alexander, who has been crew chief for all four of his Cup Series wins. Rodden has been reassigned to a different role at RCR.
  • NASCAR has indefinitely suspended driver Gray Gaulding, who was arrested Tuesday morning in North Carolina on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. The 26-year-old from Colonial Heights, Va. is currently without a ride after making 158 career starts across NASCAR's three national touring series, most notably at the Xfinity Series level.
  • After his viral throw of the entire rear bumper off his wrecked racecar at Dawson Cram, Xfinity Series driver Joey Gase has been fined $5,000 by NASCAR for what the sanctioning body deemed a safety violation. Gase is entered in this weekend's Xfinity race in his self-owned No. 53, while the No. 35 he drove last week is being driven by Akinori Ogata.
  • One week after discovering what may have been a moonshine cave below a sinkhole in its frontstretch grandstands, North Wilkesboro Speedway announced that they have begun foundation repairs by laying in concrete fill to stabilize the area. In a press release, Speedway Motorsports' Steve Swift says that following an examination, the cavern's origins and the matter of whether or not it was actually a bootlegger's cave remains uncertain.
  • MBM Motorsports has announced plans to field a Cup car in several more races this season following their season debut at Circuit of the Americas with driver Timmy Hill. The Carl Long-owned No. 66 Ford will run this weekend's race with veteran David Starr, and the team also intends to attempt the Coca-Cola 600 as well.

Pick to Win

Joey Logano (+1100) --A runner-up finish at Richmond offered ample evidence of progress by Penske's No. 22 team, which was attributed in part to their getting to participate in a recent tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway. I'm buying into the idea that Logano made significant gains during that test, and as such I'm betting on whatever he learned at North Wilkesboro -- a similar track to Martinsville – carrying over to this weekend.

Even without that, Logano's record in the Next Gen car at Martinsville has been terrific. Since 2022, Logano has two runner-up finishes at this track – including this race last year – as well as a sixth and a fourth to give him an average finish of 3.75. A Ford driver has yet to win so far in 2024, but I feel confident in saying that Logano could be the first this weekend.