The previous NASCAR Cup Series event at Martinsville Speedway, a night race, was panned by fans. Will the change from a night race to an afternoon race improve the racing quality?
Amy Henderson: Given the weather forecast, I’m not sure the time will make a big difference. I hope the race will be better than the spring event, and what should make a difference is the sense of urgency. It’s the final championship elimination race and probably the last realistic chance for a winless driver to prove themselves. That may make the field a bit more willing to take chances than the spring.
Luken Glover: The factors in the spring race were the car, how cold it was and the amount of rubber being laid down. It will likely be warmer this weekend, but the Next Gen car was arguably the biggest issue. The drop gear used did not help matters, nor did having to shift every corner. Between a Goodyear tire test and data test this summer, it was decided no major changes would take place. Given the playoff dynamic and only two races left, Sunday (Oct. 30) should feature more drama, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the product wasn’t much better.
Jared Haas: 100%. Martinsville in the spring did not take rubber. The temperature in the spring was hovering between 30 and 40 degrees, while this weekend is expected to be warmer. When tires did not heat up and wear, the surface was not able to produce racing similar to previous Martinsville races. The Next Gen car is the other variable as the racing product has been less than ideal on short tracks. It’s a wait-and-see type of weekend.
Andrew Stoddard: Yes, the racing should be much better this time around. NASCAR has held tests and made tweaks to the Next Gen car to help cultivate better racing at short tracks. The cold weather was another factor that led to the poor racing in April. With a forecast of a high temperature of 63, it will be by no means warm at Martinsville on Sunday, but it will be about 15 degrees warmer than the April race, which should make it easier to pass. It will not be the best Martinsville race, but it will be made a better Martinsville race by moving to the afternoon.
Mike Neff: Could it possibly hurt it? Daytime racing is always better than nighttime racing. This car hasn’t shown a propensity for good racing on short tracks but teams have learned a lot about it over the last six months. Look for the race to be better, although it probably won’t be great.
Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney have won one Cup race for at least five straight seasons. Will any of them continue their streak with a win in the last two races?
Haas: Martin Truex Jr. has his best shot at Martinsville with three wins there, while Ryan Blaney has scored six top 10s in the last seven races at Phoenix Raceway. NASCAR could have 21 different winners by the end of the season.
Stoddard: You can rule out Brad Keselowski right out of the gate. While he has shown signs of improvement with three top 10s in the playoffs, he has still yet to truly contend for a win, so 2022 will be his first winless Cup season since his first full-time bout in 2010. Blaney’s winless 2022 will finally catch up to him with a playoff elimination this week. That leaves Truex, who has three wins in the past seven Martinsville races but settled for 22nd in the April event. However, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota have improved their short track performance in the Next Gen car, looking especially strong in the August race at Richmond Raceway. Truex will return to victory lane at Martinsville this Sunday.
Henderson: Given what we’ve seen in the finale the last few years, this weekend’s race at Martinsville is the last realistic chance for Truex or Keselowski to come through. After getting the rug pulled from under him at Homestead-Miami Speedway last week, it would not be a surprise to see Truex come out loaded for bear on Sunday. Keselowski will also be unloading with something to prove. Blaney’s got a better average finish at the Paperclip than anyone, but no win. That could change Sunday, or if he can pull a rabbit out of his hat and make the championship race without a win Sunday, he could get the win at Phoenix.
Glover: All three have the ability and strength to win in the next two weeks. Blaney was strong at both tracks in the spring, Truex has been strong at both tracks over the past couple of years and Keselowski has had speed on short tracks this year. The biggest thing is execution, something all three teams have struggled with this year. It is hard to pick a clear favorite with the Next Gen, but my pick goes to Blaney at Martinsville. He and the pit crew will need to put a full race together, however, not 80-90%.
Neff: Truex will have a good shot this weekend, and Blaney could very well win at Phoenix. Keselowski is not ready to win yet. RFK Racing has made strides, though, and last week’s top five finish was good.
Will JR Motorsports drivers fill all the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 spots? Who’s the favorite?
Stoddard: JRM will come close but will not quite sweep the Championship 4. Of course, Josh Berry and Noah Gragson are both locked into Phoenix with their wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Homestead, respectively. Teammates Justin Allgaier and Sam Mayer are currently both below the cut line. Even though Mayer was fifth in the April Martinsville race, he is likely in a must-win situation at 28 points below, and I do not foresee him taking the checkered flag this weekend. Allgaier is in a much different scenario. At five points back, he can easily point his way in, and he will be vying with Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Austin Hill for vital stage points in the early going. Though Allgaier was 29th at Martinsville this past April, his other three Xfinity starts there were all top 10s. Allgaier will grab the last spot in the Championship 4, with Gibbs being the lone driver breaking up the JRM sweep. Gragson is the unquestioned favorite among that Championship 4 with the roll he’s been on of late.
Haas: Mayer ran well at Martinsville in the spring with a fifth place, but he is in a must-win situation. Allgaier can point himself in but has to leapfrog Allmendinger and Gibbs. The two JRM cars that are already locked in will likely be the only JRM cars that make it to the Championship 4. Gragson has proved that he can be a threat to win this season with eight wins and is favored to win the championship.
Glover: Is it possible? Absolutely. Allgaier is only five points back of the cut line, and Mayer needs to focus on winning. Will it happen? I have a hard time seeing it. If Mayer were to win, Allgaier would not only have to outpoint Allmendinger but also Gibbs. Both of those drivers have run well at Martinsville in the past. Plus, Mayer still hasn’t won and may not be ready to step into that moment. Gibbs and Allmendinger will have great shots to advance.
Neff: Gragson is the favorite for the title. He has had an exceptional season. Gibbs and Allmendinger are in the top four now and they are both poised to advance into the Championship 4. JRM snagging all four spots would be an anomaly more than a certainty.
Henderson: It’s an interesting possibility, but I don’t see it happening. Allgaier only needs a five-point swing in his favor and Martinsville could certainly provide that, but Mayer’s 28-point deficit will almost certainly take a win. I’m not saying he can’t, but it seems unlikely. If it were to happen, I’d look for it to come down to Allgaier and Gragson given past performance at Phoenix.
How do you expect Daniel Dye to perform in his rookie NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season?
Glover: Daniel Dye had a really consistent year in the ARCA Menards Series in 2022, earning 13 top fives in 20 starts, despite not winning. He likely will not win a race next year but should contend for Rookie of the Year. If he can finish in the top 15 in points, earn a few top fives and reach double-digit top 10s, that would be a good start for him in his young career.
Neff: Dye is aggressive and will probably ruffle some feathers. That said, he will have success and maybe even win next season.
Stoddard: I expect Dye to have a similar rookie campaign to that of Ben Rhodes in 2016. Rhodes had no wins and five top 10s that season, showing flashes of brilliance while not making the playoffs. Dye will perform about the same, as it will take some time for him to adjust to the truck and the tougher competition in the Truck Series compared to ARCA. The dream scenario is that Dye steals a win to make the playoffs and gets eliminated in the first round. The nightmare is that Dye has trouble keeping the car on track and finishes outside the top 20 in points. Again, he will most likely be somewhere between that, finishing well at a few tracks and being one of the first two or three drivers outside the playoffs.
Haas: Last season in ARCA, Dye scored 13 top fives at a variety of tracks ranging from road courses to dirt tracks. GMS Racing has built a respectable Truck program, with its top prospect getting ready to race for the team. Dye has the potential to score multiple top 10s in 2023.
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