The NASCAR Cup Series returns from Easter break refreshed and ready to restart its 2021 schedule at the oldest track on the circuit, Martinsville Speedway. For the first time in over 70 years, the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 will run as a Saturday night showdown under the lights at this .526-mile paperclip in southern Virginia.
Martinsville's oval, the smallest on the circuit, is the second in a three-week stretch of short track racing that also includes fellow Virginia destination Richmond next weekend. It's a flat track where passing often proves difficult and the leader can sneak away if you're not careful (two of the past four races here have featured just three lead changes).
It's no surprise, then that track position is key to success here: the last six Martinsville winners have all started inside the top 10. That gives a boost to those who ran well on the inaugural Bristol Dirt Weekend, as NASCAR chose to have no on-track qualifying for this event.
Under the no-qualifying system, drivers that crashed out at Bristol, like Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, will have to fight their way to the front from mid-pack. It's because NASCAR's qualifying metric, established during COVID-19, puts major emphasis on where you finished during the previous race.
Here's a reminder of how the starting lineup is set in this scenario. Each of the 37 drivers is assigned a number based on the following qualifying metric.
50% of the metric is their finishing position from the previous race (split between driver and owner).
35% of the metric is the team’s current position in the NASCAR Cup Series owner point standings.
15% of the metric is their fastest lap during the previous race.
The team with the lowest total starts on the pole, then the next lowest, etc. until all available spots are filled. It's the best compromise NASCAR could make while attempting to limit each team's at-track time during the pandemic.
Martinsville attracted the smallest field of the Cup season to date as just 37 cars entered the race, leaving three empty positions on this 40-car grid. The 36 teams who have guaranteed spots are entered along with just one "open" car: the No. 37 of JTG Daugherty Racing (Ryan Preece). For the first time in 2021, the No. 66 of MBM Motorsports chose to skip this event.
1. Joey Logano
2. Denny Hamlin
3. William Byron
4. Ryan Blaney
5. Chase Elliott
6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
7. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Ryan Newman
9. Kevin Harvick
10. Brad Keselowski
11. Daniel Suarez
12. Kyle Busch
13. Tyler Reddick
14. Michael McDowell
15. Chris Buescher
16. Erik Jones
17. Ryan Preece
18. Austin Dillon
19. Kyle Larson
20. Alex Bowman
21. Kurt Busch
22. Matt DiBenedetto
23. Christopher Bell
24. Chase Briscoe (R)
25. Bubba Wallace
26. Cole Custer
27. Ross Chastain
28. JJ Yeley (i)
29. Quin Houff
30. Justin Haley (i)
31. Aric Almirola
32. Cody Ware (i)
33. Josh Bilicki
34. Corey LaJoie
35. Anthony Alfredo (R)
36. BJ McLeod (i)
37. James Davison
(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points
- Joey Logano (pole) is starting up front for the first time since Michigan International Speedway last summer. The Bristol Dirt Race winner has one career win at Martinsville (Fall 2018).
- Denny Hamlin (2nd) is the highest-qualifying Toyota and the current Cup Series point leader (+58 over Logano).
- William Byron (3rd) is the best-starting Chevrolet, putting all three manufacturers inside the top three spots (Logano drives a Ford).
- Chase Elliott (5th) won here last November on route to the 2020 Cup championship. It's his last NASCAR win to date.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (6th) has his first top-10 start of the season.
- Martin Truex Jr. (7th) is the defending race winner.
- Daniel Suarez (11th) has the best starting spot ever for Trackhouse Racing's No. 99.
- Chase Briscoe (24th) is the highest-qualifying rookie.
- Justin Haley (30th) returns to the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet after Stewart Friesen ran the Bristol Dirt Race on a one-race deal.
- BJ McLeod (36th) returns to the driver's seat at Live Fast Motorsports after Shane Golobic jumped in the No. 78 for the Bristol Dirt Race.
- James Davison (37th) returns to his full-time ride with Rick Ware Racing after Chris Windom ran the Bristol Dirt Race. Davison ruled out running the Indy 500 this week, claiming he'll run a total of 26 races in this No. 15 car throughout 2021.
NASCAR RACE BREAKDOWN
Race: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500
Track: Martinsville Speedway (Martinsville, Va.)
Date: Saturday, April 10
TV: FOX Sports 1, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 500 laps (263 miles)
Stage 1: 130 Laps
Stage 2: 130 Laps
Final Stage: 240 Laps