Just two races remain in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. The shortest track on the circuit, Martinsville Speedway, will host a 500-lap race this weekend to determine which playoff drivers will compete for the championship in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway next Sunday (Nov. 7).
This Halloween edition of the Xfinity 500 will have seven drivers fighting for three championship eligible spots. Kyle Larson has already clinched his place in the final round by winning the last two races at 1.5-mile intermediates: Texas and Kansas.
Martinsville brings the sport back to its more popular 750-horsepower package utilized at the majority of racetracks. The low-downforce, higher-speed setup has provided plenty of fantastic finishes through the years at the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit. It’s a place rubbing fenders won’t often hurt you, contact the norm at a short, flat track with turns so tight it’s nicknamed the Paperclip.
The sport utilized its off-track qualifying formula to set the field for the final time in 2021 – and perhaps ever. Practice and qualifying are almost certain to return in what’s expected to be a (mostly) COVID-free environment by the time the Los Angeles exhibition opener comes around in February 2022.
To set the grid, NASCAR calculated a metric for each car based on the breakdown explained below.
50% of the metric is based on 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 based on the team’s fastest lap during the previous race.
The team with the lowest total starts on the pole, then the next lowest, etc. until the starting grid is complete. It’s how NASCAR is trying to limit track time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just 38 cars are entered at Martinsville, leaving this race two short of a full field. All 36 teams who have guaranteed spots are here along with two “open” cars: the No. 37 of JTG Daugherty Racing (Ryan Preece), and the No. 66 of MBM Motorsports (Timmy Hill).
1. Kyle Larson (P)
2. Chase Elliott (P)
3. Denny Hamlin (P)
4. Martin Truex Jr. (P)
5. Joey Logano (P)
6. Brad Keselowski (P)
7. Kyle Busch (P)
8. Ryan Blaney (P)
9. Kevin Harvick
10. Kurt Busch
11. William Byron
12. Christopher Bell
13. Alex Bowman
14. Austin Dillon
15. Chris Buescher
16. Ross Chastain
17. Bubba Wallace
18. Tyler Reddick
19. Michael McDowell
20. Daniel Suarez
21. Matt DiBenedetto
22. Chase Briscoe (R)
23. Aric Almirola
24. Cole Custer
25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
26. Ryan Preece
27. Ryan Newman
28. Erik Jones
29. Corey LaJoie
30. BJ McLeod (i)
31. Cody Ware (i)
32. Anthony Alfredo (R)
33. Josh Bilicki (i)
34. Joey Gase (i)
35. Justin Haley (i)
36. Quin Houff
37. Garrett Smithley (i)
38. Timmy Hill (i)
(P) – Playoff driver
(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points
- Kyle Larson (pole) now has a career-high nine wins on the year. He’s never won at Martinsville, so a victory here would be his first at the track while producing NASCAR’s first double-digit Cup winner since Jimmie Johnson back in 2007.
- Chase Elliott (second) is the defending race winner. He’ll advance to the Championship 4 regardless of what anyone else does as long as he earns 23 points or more.
- Denny Hamlin (third) is the highest-qualifying Toyota. He’ll also earn a Championship 4 spot, regardless of where any other driver finishes as long as he earns 25 points or more.
- Martin Truex Jr. (fourth) won the Cup race held at Martinsville earlier this year. He’s won three of his last four starts at the track overall.
- Joey Logano (fifth) is the highest-qualifying Ford. He’s last in the Round of 8, 26 points behind Kyle Busch for a spot in the Championship 4.
- Ryan Blaney (eighth) is the only playoff driver besides Larson who has never won at this track.
- Kevin Harvick (ninth) is seeking his first Martinsville win since 2011. Last season’s nine-race winner remains without a victory 34 races into 2021.
- Chase Briscoe (22nd) is the highest-qualifying rookie for this race.
- Garrett Smithley (37th) replaces Ryan Ellis behind the wheel of the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet this week. It’s his 26th start of the season.
- Timmy Hill (38th) replaces Chad Finchum in the No. 66 MBM Motorsports entry. Hill runs a limited schedule for the team.
NASCAR Race Breakdown
Race: Xfinity 500
Track: Martinsville Speedway (Martinsville, Va.)
Date: Sunday, Oct. 31
TV: NBC, 2 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
Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell stops by the Frontstretch Podcast to talk about hosting the penultimate race of the NASCAR Cup season. Then, host Davey Segal leads the discussion on what fireworks might ensue as the final short track race of the year unfolds.