The NASCAR playoffs are entering their final stretch this weekend at Martinsville Speedway for the first race in the Round of 8 on Sunday. If a playoff driver takes the checkered flag, they will automatically advance to the Championship 4, taking place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
The eight drivers include: Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Aric Almirola. Kyle Busch, Harvick, Truex and Elliott begin the round above the Championship 4 cutline, due to their wins and performance in stages throughout the regular season and playoffs.
Remember, while a win guarantees a playoff driver a shot at the title, four of the eight can advance on merit if none of them make a trip to Victory Lane over the next three races.
How to watch the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway
Location: Martinsville Speedway (Virginia)
Date: Sunday, Oct. 28
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
Length: 263 miles/500 laps
Stage 1: Ends on Lap 130
Stage 2: Ends on Lap 260
Final stage: Scheduled for Lap 500
Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Looking at the first race at Martinsville, history suggests some will have a better chance at clinching via the winners circle than others. Kyle Busch in particular is the defending race winner in addition to his win in April of 2016 at the track. Clint Bowyer won at Martinsville back in March with his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Harvick also winning once a piece over the past seven seasons.
Before Elliott's recent stretch of wins (we'll get to him in a second), the NASCAR community had dubbed Harvick, Busch and Truex "The Big Three" due to their dominance in the early part of the season. Truex has been cold as of late, failing to lead s single lap in the Round of 12, but has run well at Martinsville in the past. Despite never winning, the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion has three top-10 finishes in his last five races at the track and finished runner-up last year before inevitably claiming the title.
As for Elliott, he's unquestionably the hottest driver on the track right now. Elliott has won two of the last three playoff races and has the knack for the dramatic when it comes to Martinsville. NASCAR fans remember last season when Elliott -- still seeking his first career win and trip to the Championship 4 -- was, invoking both crews to mix words and even a fan to come after Hamlin.
As far as the others in the field we haven't mentioned yet, Aric Almirola may be looking to tread water as his average finish is 22.00 (albeit not with Stewart-Haas Racing equipment). Joey Logano's average finish in 13.79, and has led races in 9 of the last 10 races at the track.
Spoilers this weekend could include seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who is in the midst of a 55-race winless streak coupled with an incoming crew chief change and elimination from playoff contention. One of the primary reasons Johnson pulled in so many titles was because of his success at Martinsville. In 33 starts, Johnson has 24 top-10 finishes and a series-best 7.9 average finish. Oh and by the way, he leads all active drivers with nine wins there.
Joe Gibbs Racing veteran and Chesterfield, Virginia, local Denny Hamlin will also be a threat at his home track. Like Johnson, Hamlin hasn't won since last season and has had ample success at the track. Hamlin has five wins at Martinsville, which is second to only Johnson, in addition to 18 top-10 finishes in 25 starts.
Who does Vegas think will win?
Odds to win the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway
Here are the odds to win this weekend's race, according to VegasInsider.com
- Kyle Busch 5/2
- Clint Bowyer 5/1
- Brad Keselowski 5/1
- Martin Truex Jr. 11/2
- Chase Elliott 6/1
- Joey Logano 10/1
- Kevin Harvick 10/1
- Denny Hamlin 20/1
- Ryan Blaney 20/1
- Kurt Busch 25/1
- Aric Almirola 28/1
- Jimmie Johnson 28/1
- Kyle Larson 33/1
- Erik Jones 40/1
- Daniel Suarez 50/1
- Ryan Newman 50/1
- Alex Bowman 50/1
- Austin Dillon 60/1