For all sorts of reasons the NASCAR Cup Series’ smallest track, Martinsville Speedway has always maintained a super-sized profile and lots of intrigue. And yet for all the bumper-beating you would expect from a .526-mile short track, the last few races have been exercises in near-perfection.
Brad Keselowski is the defending spring-race Martinsville winner, leading 446 of 500 laps last April taking the trophy by .594-seconds over Chase Elliott. Martin Truex Jr. is the defending 2019 Martinsville Playoff race winner answering Keselowski’s impressive effort by leading 464 of the 500 laps and just edging another Hendrick Motorsports young talent, William Byron, by a mere .373-seconds.
But with no practice and qualifying for this week’s visit, Wednesday’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 (7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is a rare mid-week summer night special with a real sense of anything’s possible.
There are 10 former Martinsville winners in the field ranging from nine-time victor Jimmie Johnson to one-race winners Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.
Kyle Busch (a two-time Martinsville winner) and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr., are still looking for their first victories of 2020. Their JGR team set a Modern Era record for wins (19) last season and Busch won his second NASCAR Cup Series championship, but they only have two wins (both from Denny Hamlin) a third of the way through this season.
Busch has six top-five finishes, including three runner-up showings this season (at California, Darlington and Atlanta) and is ranked ninth in the series driver standings. Truex has five top-10s and his third place on Sunday was a season-best. He heads to Martinsville ranked fifth in the standings.
Both conceded the season’s new and unique competition situation – no practices or qualifying and fewer team members at the track – has certainly hampered the team’s trophy-hoisting norm. But they feel optimistic heading to Martinsville with some good momentum. Hamlin, who has two wins (at Daytona and a night race at Darlington) has five Martinsville victories, including three in a row during the 2009-2010 seasons.
“James (Small) first year as crew chief, I feel like he’s doing a great job, and I feel like the whole team is really doing a nice job, especially as things have changed with the smaller amount of guys at the track and no practice and all those things,” Truex said.
“Martinsville has been a good track to us the past few seasons and being the defending winner there last time feels great, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.
“Different rules package, lower downforce this time around and we’ll have to hopefully go there and have something that will work good off the trailer because again, no practice. We’ll see how it goes but excited about it and looking forward to a night race at Martinsville.”
The retiring seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson, is probably also among those eagerly anticipating the mid-week Martinsville show. His nine wins are not only tops among active drivers but he earned them with championship flair. Three times he’s won back-to-back races and he won three consecutively from (2006-07). He won both the 2012-Fall and 2013-Spring races from pole position – the last time a Cup race at Martinsville was won from pole.
Johnson is ranked 13th in the series driver standings after posting five top-10s; including a third-place finish at the series’ other famous short track, Bristol Motor Speedway last week – his best showing of the year.
The starting lineups for Wednesday’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway will be done by random draw this evening (June 8) and will be released live on FS1’s Race Hub (6 p.m. ET on FS1).
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!