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Xfinity 500 (Martinsville) NASCAR Preview and Fantasy Predictions

Can Martinsville deliver once again after an April race that fell short of expectations?
Martinsville Speedway

The NASCAR Cup Series' Championship 4 will be determined after the final short track race of the season at Martinsville Speedway.

Martinsville Speedway has delivered, time and again, some of the best races in NASCAR playoff history. So why has the week leading up to Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC) felt like a marketing campaign to lower expectations? Every interview, every conversation seems to be centered around “Please, still watch. It won’t be that bad. There might be no passing … but I could be wrong!”

Unfortunately, the sport’s new Next Gen chassis just doesn’t play well with old-school Martinsville. The race here in April was arguably the worst NASCAR’s had all year, producing only five lead changes and two cautions outside of stage breaks.

NASCAR went back to the drawing board, testing there and bringing a new Goodyear tire compound. Warmer weather should help with rubber buildup while daytime racing should make the track a bit slicker.

“After the test,” Kevin Harvick said this week, “I was like, ‘Man, we should’ve run this thing way earlier … when it’s hot.’ There was so much rubber on the racetrack, and we had tire falloff, and the group was spread out.

“Two-and-a-half, three lanes were caked up with rubber, and it just seemed a lot more racy when it was hot and we were able to lay rubber down.”

Harvick’s optimism is duly noted. But this oval, known for bumping and banging, was hurt substantially by the Next Gen chassis’ superglued grip on the racetrack. It’s now hard to nudge someone out of the way and borderline impossible to pass, period. The end result was a whole lot of cars running in place in a race that took just two hours, and 40 minutes to complete.

It’ll take an offseason car tweak to fix the problem. But one thing that should help for the fall race is desperation. Seven drivers are fighting for three remaining spots in the Championship 4: Ross Chastain, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe. In a track position-style race, they won’t be afraid to shove people out of the way, whatever the cost, with a title at stake.

They’re also all expected to run near the front. Elliott won a race as recently as two years ago here while Byron won Martinsville back in April. Hamlin’s won five Grandfather Clock trophies and was in the catbird’s seat last fall before contact with Alex Bowman ended his shot at a sixth.

“You just have to be mentally prepared to know,” Harvick added, “That there is going to be contact as you go through [this] race. You just have to try and stay as calm as possible. But, usually, if it’s the same guy that keeps having contact, then you know you have to do something different.”

Is it time for Hamlin to do something different with Chastain? He’s threatened all summer to even the score after the drivers had a series of run-ins, Hamlin mostly getting the short end of the stick. Byron could also be in danger of a bump from the No. 11 Toyota after intentionally spinning Hamlin out at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this month. It’s only a championship bid at stake amongst the trio…

And what about the rest of the field? Non-playoff drivers have dominated victory lane during this postseason and there’s plenty more itching to get a taste. As I wrote earlier this week, six drivers who won in 2021 have yet to do so in 2022, a list that includes former champions Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr. Both those men have won Martinsville within the last three years.

Can desperation save this race from disaster? Martinsville does always seem to find a way to deliver, from Jeff Gordon’s last Cup win in 2015 to the Hamlin-Elliott dustup two years later. History does seem to have a way of repeating itself.

Let’s hope.

Xfinity 500

Date: Sunday, Oct. 30
Time: 2 p.m. ET
Track: Martinsville Speedway (Martinsville, Va.)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90

Who's at the Front: Kyle Larson

Larson put together his strongest performance of the year last weekend at Homestead, leading 199 of 267 laps while establishing an advantage of up to 10 seconds. In the end, he needed to survive a late caution in the middle of green-flag stops, costing him track position, then fought through contact that spun rival Truex out on pit road.

But the end result gives Larson a shot at the owner’s title, even though the driver himself was eliminated after the Round of 12. It would be the first time in the sport’s modern era the owner and driver titles could go to two different teams.

Who's at the Back: Ty Gibbs & Noah Gragson

These two NASCAR Xfinity Series stars may be battling it out for a championship at Phoenix before moving up to Cup full-time next year. But in short stints subbing at the sport’s top level, both youngsters have struggled to adapt. In 31 combined Cup starts this year, these drivers have just two top-10 finishes compared to a whopping nine DNFs.

News Briefs

Alex Bowman will return to the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next weekend at Phoenix. The Arizona native has missed the past month with a concussion suffered during a hard wreck at Texas Motor Speedway, handing off driving duties to Noah Gragson in his absence.

Austin Hill will pair up with Beard Motorsports to run a limited schedule of races in 2023. The NASCAR Xfinity Series full-timer will run both Daytona and Talladega events along with the Chicago street course in July and Michigan in August. Beard’s No. 62 has collected a number of top-10 finishes despite its limited schedule as one of the sport’s small, underdog operations.

Kasey Kahne’s former crew chief is making a comeback. Keith Rodden, who last was a full-time head wrench in 2017 with Kahne, will climb atop the pit box for Austin Dillon in 2023. Rodden, who has one career win, had been working with General Motors and their motorsports strategy group since leaving Hendrick.

NASCAR by the Numbers

Top-5 finishes for AJ Allmendinger in Cup this year. That’s a new career high for him in any of the 14 Cup seasons in which he’s competed, many of them full-time.

Lead for Chase Elliott over Joey Logano in the point standings. Without a playoff reset, Elliott would have likely clinched the title a race early at Martinsville this weekend.

Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)

Top Tier

Of the eight playoff contenders, the safest bets have to be Chase Elliott and Joey Logano. Why? They’re the least likely to find themselves in the middle of payback that could wreck an otherwise quality performance.

Related: Best Martinsville Speedway Drivers for DraftKings

Go for consistency over risk on your roster this weekend considering the chaos we could see. Logano has top 10s in eight of his last nine Martinsville starts, including a win in 2018. And Elliott won here in the fall of 2020, the first of two straight victories to end the year as he earned a maiden Cup title.

To be fully transparent, I don’t think either driver wins this race. There’s more upside with Denny Hamlin, William Byron or Ryan Blaney … but also more risk. Desperation could lead to disaster in a heartbeat, turning a winning effort into a 30th-place finish that tanks your roster.

Middle Tier

Aric Almirola has quietly put together three top-10 finishes in his last four Martinsville races. An underwhelming season driving the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has continued during the playoffs: he’s without a top-10 finish since Richmond in August. But note the racetrack, another short oval, which could make Almirola a cheap option to deliver for you this weekend.

It’s hard to ignore the speed Martin Truex Jr. has shown as of late. The risk is that Truex was downright awful at Martinsville in the spring, qualifying poorly and stuck in midpack the entire race. But his 22nd-place finish, with no laps led, could be an anomaly considering he won three of his previous five starts at this paperclip-shaped oval.

Lower Tier

Can AJ Allmendinger keep the magic going? He’s got six straight top-10 finishes in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet as he prepares to drive it full-time in 2023. The ‘Dinger does have a decent Martinsville track record, posting seven top-10 finishes in 22 starts, and moved up 12 positions to 24th after starting at the rear back in April.

Speaking of position differential, Ty Dillon is plus-28 in his last three starts at this short track. He’s also got two career top-15 finishes in nine starts, not a bad resume considering how dirt cheap he is in most formats. Don’t pass up the opportunity.

What Vegas Thinks

Chase Elliott heads up the betting odds for Martinsville, sitting at +650. Denny Hamlin is next at +700 followed by April winner William Byron at +800.

Another playoff driver, Ryan Blaney, sits at +800 while teammate Joey Logano is +900. A little further down the list, Chase Briscoe sits at +3000 if you think the postseason longshot can win his way into the Championship 4.

What I Think

I have a feeling this race is Denny Hamlin’s to lose. But I also really like Martin Truex Jr. And the numbers on paper say William Byron. So who knows, really?

I feel confident about this much: Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe won’t make the Championship 4. It’s between Ross Chastain, Chase Elliott, Byron, Hamlin and Ryan Blaney for the final three spots. How the Hamlin-Byron-Chastain rivalry plays out in terms of contact will probably determine who gets in.

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site He can be reached at or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.