Race Weekend Central

Xfinity Breakdown: Aric Almirola Finds Redemption at Martinsville

It was quite the race at Martinsville Speedway in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Saturday (April 6), with the typical bumping, beating and banging throughout the field. 

Aric Almirola led most of the evening, but he lost the lead late to Chandler Smith and Sam Mayer. Then in overtime, Almirola surged though to the lead and won after the caution flew on the last lap. 

He also took home the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash prize, besting participants Smith, Parker Kligerman and Jesse Love.

Mayer was second, Smith took home third, Carson Kvapil was fourth and Justin Allgaier rounded out the top five.

Winners

Almirola first took the lead on lap 28 and held it for 38 circuits, winning stage one. Thanks to differing strategies in the first stage, Sammy Smith and Allgaier led most of stage two, with Allgaier taking the stage win. Almirola was just behind in second in his fast No. 20.

Almirola then led most of stage three, with just Kligerman and Chandler Smith taking the point for five and one laps, respectively.

Things changed with about 15 laps to go when a caution flew for a spun Ryan Sieg. Almirola lost the lead to Chandler Smith briefly, but was able to bump him and retake first. Mayer then used the same move on the No. 20 and took a lead he’d hold until the overtime finish. In the chaotic overtime restart, Almirola muscled his way out front and pulled away to win his first race of the season.

It was a redemption of sorts for the Florida native, as he lost the lead to Ryan Blaney with about 23 laps to go in last fall’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race. 

It’s also a win for Joe Gibbs Racing, and an interesting one at that. Back in 2007, Almirola started the race at the Milwaukee Mile when Denny Hamlin was late arriving to the track after flying in from Sonoma Raceway, where the Cup Series was racing. Almirola was out front for quite a few laps, but was taken out during a mid-race pit stop so Hamlin could drive as planned. 

Hamlin eventually won the race. But since Almirola took the green flag, he was credited as the winning driver.

Almirola mentioned during his post-race interview with FOX Sports that his first win with JGR had an asterisk. He was glad to finally get a true win of his own for the team.

Mayer’s second-place run was a bounce-back from a 30th at Richmond Raceway last week. He needed a good finish, but a win would’ve been sweeter for the JR Motorsports driver. Still, he showed he could race his way to the front and lead some laps. I think a win will come soon for the Wisconsin native.

Chandler Smith took the points lead and maintained his strong 3.3 average finish to start the year. That’s an astounding number in the first seven races of a season. During the broadcast, it was mentioned that aside from Austin Hill (who wrecked out early), only Kyle Busch had a better average finish through the first six events of the year. This was done many years ago, so for Smith to be able to continue this streak is quite the accomplishment. He’s also the only driver with seven top 10s in as many races.

And if there’s any other drivers looking to debut in Xfinity, then do it soon. From Austin Green at Circuit of the Americas, to Taylor Gray and Bubba Pollard at Richmond, to Kvapil at Martinsville, debuters are showing their strength this season. Kvapil was the second first-time driver in a row to earn a top five. But this shouldn’t be all that surprising; short tracks are Kvapil’s specialty. He won four CARS Pro Late Model Tour events in 2021 and two in 2022 in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour. I’m sure if JRM puts him in the car at another short track, he’ll contend for the win.

Some other drivers who had good days were Allgaier, Sheldon Creed, Love and Josh Williams, finishing fifth, sixth, ninth and 10th, respectively. Williams is particularly notable, as it’s his first top 10 of the season. It’s been a good couple of weeks for the Kaulig Racing driver, who had four poor results in the first five events in 2024. He’ll look to continue his top-15 streak at Texas Motor Speedway.

Losers

Riley Herbst is probably wishing his bad luck would end already. After starting the year with two top 10s in the first three races, Herbst has had three results of 24th or worse in the past four events.

This time, it was on the last lap when Herbst crashed out. The initial hit against the wall was hard enough to end his night, but Ryan Ellis was spun into him as well. Herbst’s car caught fire afterward. He told FOX Sports‘ Bob Pockrass after the race that he was fine after the hard wreck.

Can the bad-luck bug get off of Brandon Jones? First the team had to change a brake line after he won the pole, so he started he race in the back. Then, after getting to the front four rows thanks to an alternate pit strategy for the JRM cars, he had a shift issue and caused a major stack-up, eliminating a bunch of cars behind him. As if that wasn’t enough, Jones was caught up in another crash on the last lap and finished 27th. I don’t know what he did to the racing gods, but I’m sure he’s hoping for better luck at Texas.

Hill and AJ Allmendinger were two of the drivers caught up in that bunch up on the stage two restart. Both had some good speed early, but ended up with nothing to show for it, ending the race 34th and 36th, respectively. The same can be said for Jordan Anderson Racing’s Parker Retzlaff

Fuel for Thought

Martinsville is known for big crashes, despite its lower speeds. Stack-ups can happen at anytime on restarts, and can happen to anyone (just ask Jimmie Johnson, who had a shift issue at Dover Motor Speedway some years ago).

Bumping and banging is also quite common, as there’s not a whole lot of room to run the racing line on the track known as the “paperclip.” But unlike what Ty Gibbs did to Jones in the playoffs a couple years back, most bumps for the lead just move the car out of the groove.

I’d like to discuss the broadcast, though (sorry to our own Phil Allaway). I mean, there were battles all around the half-mile racetrack, and some weren’t shown in multi-screen. But the coverage of the accidents is what I’d like focus on.

This is a half-mile oval. It’s small. We should have a lot of coverage of accidents anywhere on the track. However, the first accident with Hailie Deegan was displayed mostly from the front; we didn’t see how she got to Brennan Poole‘s outside to begin with.

Also, the race ended because of Herbst’s hard crash. I get that it’s the last lap and part of the focus should be on the winner, but there should be another camera to look further back and stay on the incident at hand. Zoom out a bit rather than zooming in, so we can see how Ellis got into Herbst.

It’s not that great when a fan’s view from the stands is better than the broadcast, especially on such a small oval. Hopefully next week’s coverage is a bit better.

Where to Next

Next Saturday (April 13) Xfinity drivers head to the 1.5-mile oval down in the Lone Star State at Texas Motor Speedway. Chandler Smith, Creed, Mayer and Allgaier will battle for the Dash 4 Cash prize. The Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 is set to run at 1:30 p.m. ET and will air on FOX Sports 1.

About the author

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

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