Race Weekend Central

The NASCAR Cup Series stays in the Commonwealth of Virginia for a second straight week but heads south to Martinsville Speedway, continuing the early-season short-track swing in 2022. “The Paperclip” marks the tour’s second such track of the year and first half-mile, on the heels of the 0.75-mile Richmond Raceway.

Joe Gibbs Racing may have finally found their stride, finishing Richmond with all four of its Toyotas inside the top 10 and visiting victory lane with Denny Hamlin. The win came after spending the first sixth of 2022’s races struggling to acclimate to the Next Gen car, and Martinsville presents a chance for the stable to further their success. While Hamlin hasn’t won there since 2015, he has five victories in southern Virginia, a tally that includes three straight between 2009 and 2010. Busch has a pair of triumphs as well, but it’s Truex who’s been dominant of late, winning one race at the short track in each of the past three seasons and leading 464 of 500 laps in the fall 2019 edition.

Outside of JGR, Ryan Blaney exited Richmond having led the first 128 laps and none of the remaining 272. The No. 12 was virtually untouchable early, but once pit stops shook things up and the afternoon wore on, Blaney’s Team Penske Ford Mustang slipped away from him and he was forced to settle for seventh. Martinsville has been good to Blaney as of late, with the third-generation racer finishing in the top five four straight times between 2019 and 2020 and leading 157 laps in this race last year.

The field of 36 cars undertook qualifying on Friday afternoon, with Chase Elliott knocking down a 19.694-second lap to beat out Aric Almirola by roughly one-tenth of a second. Josh Bilicki returns to Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 after Landon Cassill filled that seat last week, while AJ Allmendinger is back in Kaulig Racing’s split No. 16.

1. Chase Elliott

2. Aric Almirola

3. Cole Custer

4. Chris Buescher

5. William Byron

6. Kevin Harvick

7. Christopher Bell

8. Kyle Larson

9. Brad Keselowski

10. Todd Gilliland

11. Kyle Busch

12. Ryan Blaney

13. Austin Cindric

14. Joey Logano

15. Alex Bowman

16. Michael McDowell

17. Justin Haley

18. Kurt Busch

19. Chase Briscoe

20. Martin Truex Jr.

21. Bubba Wallace

22. Tyler Reddick

23. Austin Dillon

24. Erik Jones

25. Denny Hamlin

26. Corey LaJoie

27. Ross Chastain

28. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

29. Harrison Burton

30. Daniel Suarez

31. Josh Bilicki

32. JJ Yeley

33. BJ McLeod

34. Ty Dillon

35. Cody Ware

36. AJ Allmendinger

Pre-Race Inspection Failures

The following teams failed three times, were prevented from qualifying and must serve a pass-through penalty when the race begins.

  • No. 16 Kaulig Racing (AJ Allmendinger)

Qualifying Notes

  • Chase Elliott’s lap time was the only circuit under 19.7 seconds in the entirety of qualifying, with a 19.694-second trial. It’s also Elliott’s first pole in more than a year, having last led the field to green in 2020’s championship race at Phoenix Raceway.
  • Aric Almirola’s time clocked in a distant two seconds behind at 19.799 seconds, and he’ll make his second top-five start of the year.
  • Third-place qualifier Cole Custer tied his best starting spot of the season (Circuit of the Americas).
  • Chris Buescher hasn’t started in the top 10 since Daytona, where he qualified fourth. He’ll also start from that spot on Saturday night.
  • Front Row Motorsports’ Todd Gilliland put up the 10th-best time for what’s by far his best starting spot of his rookie season. He won the fall 2019 Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville.
  • Alex Bowman, who won last fall’s dramatic playoff race and drew the ire of Denny Hamlin, will roll off 15th.
  • Defending spring race winner Martin Truex Jr. qualified 20th.
  • Hamlin, less than a week removed from his Richmond triumph, starts 25th.

NASCAR Race Breakdown

Race: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400
Track: Martinsville Speedway
Date: Saturday, April 9
TV: FOX Sports 1, 7:30 p.m. ET
Distance: 400 laps (210 miles)
Stage 1: 80 Laps
Stage 2: 100 Laps
Final Stage: 220 Laps

Pre-Race Preview

Kevin Harvick is still searching for his first win in more than a season, but that didn’t stop him from joining the Frontstretch Podcast and host Davey Segal. Harvick discussed adjusting to the Next Gen car, races like Saturday’s at Martinsville being shortened, the youth movement within NASCAR and more.

Don’t forget about Athlon Sports’ 2022 Racing magazine. With 144 pages of racing content, it’s the most complete preview available today. Click here to get your copy or purchase the digital edition for instant access.

About the author

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Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he covered sports there and later spent a year and a half as a sports host on 910 the Fan in Richmond, VA. He's freelanced for Richmond Magazine and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and also hosts the "Adam Cheek's Sports Week" podcast. Adam has followed racing since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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