Pain Relief 400 Preview: Short-Track Survival

Pain Relief 400 Preview: Short-Track Survival

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

The NASCAR Cup Series continues their short track schedule this week as the series pulls into the small town of Martinsville, Va., for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400. This Martinsville event marks the second short-track event in consecutive races. NASCAR has shortened this race from 500 to 400 laps and moved it from Sunday to a Saturday night under the lights. 

Martinsville Speedway is flat track with only 12 degrees of banking in the turns and is truly flat on the long straightaways. We just witnessed tire preservation and issues with tire wear at Richmond. We will see a similar game played at the Martinsville oval. Brake preservation is the name of the game in Martinsville, because you essentially have two long drag strips with hairpin corners on either end. The oval looks very much like a paperclip when viewed from above, thus the nickname "the paperclip" has taken hold over the years. Taking care of your brakes for the full 400 laps becomes as important as passing on this tricky short track. This will be our first punishing Martinsville race with the Next-Gen car, so the teams are sure to discover some durability issues.   

Like any bull ring in the Cup Series, not only is equipment preservation important but getting and maintaining good track position is of the utmost importance. If you get stuck in the back of the field here, you can find yourself a lap down in a matter of minutes from the start or

The NASCAR Cup Series continues their short track schedule this week as the series pulls into the small town of Martinsville, Va., for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400. This Martinsville event marks the second short-track event in consecutive races. NASCAR has shortened this race from 500 to 400 laps and moved it from Sunday to a Saturday night under the lights. 

Martinsville Speedway is flat track with only 12 degrees of banking in the turns and is truly flat on the long straightaways. We just witnessed tire preservation and issues with tire wear at Richmond. We will see a similar game played at the Martinsville oval. Brake preservation is the name of the game in Martinsville, because you essentially have two long drag strips with hairpin corners on either end. The oval looks very much like a paperclip when viewed from above, thus the nickname "the paperclip" has taken hold over the years. Taking care of your brakes for the full 400 laps becomes as important as passing on this tricky short track. This will be our first punishing Martinsville race with the Next-Gen car, so the teams are sure to discover some durability issues.   

Like any bull ring in the Cup Series, not only is equipment preservation important but getting and maintaining good track position is of the utmost importance. If you get stuck in the back of the field here, you can find yourself a lap down in a matter of minutes from the start or any restart, so teams must place high priority on getting and keeping good track position. You won't be able to race your way through traffic and back toward the front as easily here as last race at Richmond Raceway. Track position will become so important over the course of the race that you will see teams chose either not to pit certain cautions, or to take on two tires in order to grab valuable track position on pit road. All these factors make any Martinsville race a battle of survival and often times the best equipment preservation and pit strategy wins. 

Since Martinsville Speedway is like no other track on the NASCAR Cup circuit, we'll have to pay close attention to the loop stats this week. Recent historical statistics at Martinsville will be one of the biggest considerations in our weekly projections. Hot streaks go out the window to a certain extent when we visit this facility, so it's these recent numbers that require close scrutiny. The loop stats in the table below span the last 17 years or 34 races at Martinsville Speedway. 

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Denny Hamlin10.21,0841,1011,98712,917105.7
Kyle Busch11.81,0608981,42912,912102.5
Chase Elliott13.73604967184,66599.4
Brad Keselowski10.88496548918,92599.2
Ryan Blaney10.82982323724,33098.3
Joey Logano12.07834801,0989,42696.8
Kevin Harvick13.71,05357348112,02093.0
Martin Truex Jr.16.17196251,0169,64786.8
William Byron16.923211492,41183.8
Kurt Busch18.89202441819,86681.7
Kyle Larson20.64061071124,00277.4
Christopher Bell16.81301891,01477.0
AJ Allmendinger18.6562156505,54276.3
Alex Bowman19.9221169102,50772.5
Aric Almirola20.8566222755,01771.2
Greg Biffle19.046182393,92870.7
Austin Dillon19.1327100112,94370.4
Tyler Reddick16.511815072769.7
Erik Jones20.11552601,50868.6
Daniel Suarez22.91336201,34562.0

In this event one year ago we saw Martin Truex Jr. outmaneuver Denny Hamlin late and grab his third victory in the last five Martinsville races. That has been more the trend of late. Once a driver and crew chief figure out this small oval, they're usually set up to contest for multiple wins over a short span of time. We could be in store for another Truex or other recent Martinsville winner to pull into victory lane this Saturday night. The Next-Gen car is obviously a wrinkle in that trend that we'll need to take into account.

When the NASCAR Cup Series returned to Martinsville Speedway last fall, it would be Alex Bowman sweeping into victory lane for the first time at the historic short track and foiling Hamlin for the victory in NASCAR overtime. Once again, Truex would be in the mix and finish fourth in the Xfinity 500. We'll take a look at the recent track stats and hot streaks with the new stock car and give you the drivers you need to dominate your fantasy racing leagues at Martinsville Speedway in the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Martin Truex Jr. – The winner of three of the last five Martinsville races is fresh off his first Top-5 finish of the season last Sunday at the Richmond short track. Truex led 80 laps in the Toyota Owners 400 and it was his most complete performance to this point in the new Next-Gen car. The Joe Gibbs Racing star now rides a three-race Top-10 streak into Martinsville Speedway, which has been one of his favorite short tracks in recent seasons. Truex won this event one year ago and he's led significant laps in each of the last five Martinsville events. He'll look to build on the momentum of his fourth-place finish of this past week and rack up another victory and grandfather clock trophy in Saturday night's Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400.   

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin served notice with his shocking win at Richmond this past weekend that the No. 11 Toyota team are willing to do anything to get back into a groove and get Hamlin into victory lane. Alternate pit strategy last Sunday did the trick and helped the veteran driver upset faster cars for the win. Don't rule out Hamlin from pulling that feat again this Saturday night. No other driver has as much knowledge and success at Martinsville Speedway as does Hamlin. His five-career Martinsville victories, 16 Top 5's and close to 2,000 laps led lead all active drivers at this facility. In this event one year ago, the Joe Gibbs Racing star led 276 laps and finished third. He can never be ruled out for the win at this race track.

Chase Elliott – Elliott has been steadily improving at this oval with time. He collected his first-career Martinsville Speedway win two seasons ago and it propelled him to his first Cup Series championship. In this event one year ago, Elliott peddled the No. 9 Chevrolet to a dazzling runner-up finish. That was his fifth-career Top 5 at this track and boosted his Martinsville Top-5 rate to a strong 39-percent. Elliott has led well over 500 laps in his last three Martinsville starts, so he's become used to racing up front here. The Hendrick Motorsports star has been pretty consistent to start this season in the new car, but he's not been in race-winning form just yet. That could change this Sunday. Elliott could lead a lot of laps here and battle for the win in this 400-lap short-track brawl.

Alex Bowman – Bowman is our last Martinsville winner. He rose late in last fall's Xfinity 500 and foiled Denny Hamlin for the win. It was a bit out of character and a bit surprising for the Hendrick Motorsports driver, but it signaled a new trend for Bowman. He's quickly becoming quite a driver on the circuit's short tracks. He's fresh off a hard-fought eighth-place finish this past week at Richmond, and will be looking for more success as we change short tracks in Virginia. Bowman won't be high in the betting odds or high up many fantasy racing tip sheets, but we believe he could be a big factor in the outcome of the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet is not to be overlooked this weekend.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Ryan Blaney – Blaney is fresh off 128 laps led and seventh-place finish at Richmond this past Sunday and that sets him up pretty well for Martinsville Speedway this week. He's grabbed four Top-5 finishes in his last six starts at the half-mile Virginia oval. Those performances have lowered his career average finish at the facility to a strong 10.8. Blaney was a runner-up finisher in both Martinsville races in 2020, so he's painfully close to breaking through to victory lane at this short track. Blaney sits atop the championship standings as we come to Martinsville with three poles in the last four events, so it really wouldn't be any surprise to see Blaney surge into victory lane in this weekend's Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400.    

Kyle Busch – Busch has yet to completely get into a groove with the new Next-Gen car, but he did peddle to a respectable ninth-place finish this past weekend at Richmond. Things are gradually turning positive for the No. 18 Toyota team. Busch is a two-time Martinsville winner and he has 17 Top-5 and 20 Top-10 finishes to his credit. Those check in at a robust 52- and 61-percent rate respectively. Busch's last start at Martinsville Speedway netted a brilliant runner-up finish in last October's Xfinity 500. In summary, this is a great short track for the Joe Gibbs Racing star, but he's more likely a tail of the Top 10 driver than a top contender in this race.        

William Byron – The 2022 season is off to a great start for Byron and the No. 24 Chevrolet team. The young driver enters Martinsville weekend with one win and three Top-5 finishes to start the season. Byron is a lofty fourth in the championship standings and he's racing every bit the part each week. Martinsville Speedway has begun to yield some success to the Hendrick Motorsports youngster. Byron has collected three Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes in his last five starts at the paperclip-shaped oval. This driver and team are fresh off a strong performance at Richmond that saw Byron lead 122 laps and finish third in this past Sunday's Toyota Owners 400. He's racing extremely well right now and should be a Top-10 driver in the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400. 

Joey Logano – The Penske Racing ace has become a pretty dominant force at the Martinsville short track since 2014. His last eight seasons of racing at Martinsville has yielded well over 1,000 laps led, one victory, seven Top-5 and 12 Top-10 finishes. Logano rides a five-race Martinsville Top-10 streak with over 250 laps led coming into this weekend's action. The driver of the No. 22 Ford Mustang is looking to hit the reset button after a subpar Richmond outing this past week. With an average finish of 5.8 across his last four Martinsville Speedway starts, we're confident Logano will race with the leaders and forge a Top-10 finish in Saturday night's 400-lap battle.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Martinsville & solid upside

Kyle Larson – The Hendrick Motorsports star snapped a three-race Top-10 skid with his fifth-place finish at Richmond this past week. Short-track racing has really been a neutral type facility for the reigning champion over the past few seasons. Larson is much more skilled and dominant on the intermediate and larger ovals. However, Larson has been somewhat improving on the bull rings in recent years. Martinsville used to be a no-go fantasy weekend for the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet, but he has nabbed a pair of Top 10's in his last three starts in southern Virginia. This is not a track where Larson is likely to pop up and surprise win this Saturday night. However, it is more likely he'll overcome a poor qualifying effort and race hard to crack the Top 10 in the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400.     

Kevin Harvick – Harvick is fresh off his best performance of the season with a runner-up finish in this past Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond. The Stewart Haas Racing star hasn't led many laps this young season nor really contended for wins, but he's gradually improving in this new stock car. Harvick has the longest Martinsville resume of any active driver. In his 41 starts at the Virginia short track, he's nabbed one victory and 20 Top-10 finishes (49-percent). This track is not one of his better short tracks, but he's still pretty consistent here. Six of Harvick's last nine starts at Martinsville Speedway have netted Top-10 finishes, but he's led no laps during that recent string. We doubt any serious chance of an upset win, but Harvick should be good enough to forge a hard-fought Top 10.   

Christopher Bell – The driver of the No. 20 Toyota is quickly turning around a slow start to the 2022 season. Bell has posted three Top 10's in the last five events, including a two-race Top-10 streak heading into Martinsville. His 63 laps led and strong sixth-place finish this past week at Richmond is a real eye-catcher. Joe Gibbs Racing is beginning to get a handle on this new Next-Gen car and the results are starting to show. Bell is yet to make his mark on Martinsville Speedway with just four-career starts to this point. However, he did post his career-best Martinsville finish in this event one year ago. He peddled the No. 20 Toyota to a strong seventh-place finish last year, including 9 laps led. Bell looks poised to push for another potential career-best finish this Saturday night.

Chase Briscoe – Outside of the Top-3 Daytona 500 finish, the short tracks have really been Briscoe's best ovals to this point in the season. The driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet earned a surprising victory at Phoenix and registered a respectable 11th-place finish this past week at Richmond. Briscoe will seek more short-track success in Saturday night's Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400. The Stewart Haas Racing youngster has just two Cup Series starts at the track, so there's not a lot of experience to go on here. However, his one Xfinity Series start at Martinsville two seasons ago netted a strong seventh-place finish. Briscoe and his team have led a number of laps this season and have been quite impressive in their quick adaptation to the new Next-Gen car.       

Ross Chastain – Chastain had his hot streak cooled just a bit this past week at Richmond Raceway. The Trackhouse Racing veteran had a four-race Top-3 streak snapped with his 19th-place finish at Richmond. We're not at all deterred in staying on the Chastain bandwagon this week at Martinsville. Chastain and the No. 1 team have great chemistry and momentum right now. They should right the ship in 400 miles of racing under the lights at Martinsville Speedway. Chastain doesn't have a lot of career-long success at this half-mile oval, but that's all right. This team situation is the best the journeyman driver has had in his career. His current four-race tear is evidence of that. Considering he nearly won at the Phoenix short track, Chastain should be considered a dangerous driver with vast potential in the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400.

Tyler Reddick – The Richard Childress Racing driver wasn't a world-beater this past week at Richmond, but he still peddled the team's No. 8 Chevrolet to a respectable 12th-place finish in the Toyota Owners 400. Reddick will look to get back into the Top 10 this week at Martinsville Speedway. The young driver has three Top 10's thus far this season and comes to the Martinsville bull ring a respectable 12th-place in the driver standings. Reddick grabbed his first-ever Martinsville Top 10 in this event one year ago. He qualified well and put the No. 8 Chevrolet in eighth-place in last season's Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. That experience will serve the RCR youngster well this weekend.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Aric Almirola – After kicking off the season with three-straight Top 10's, Almirola has cooled a bit in recent weeks. He rides a four-race Top-10 drought into Martinsville this week after his subpar 21st-place finish at Richmond this past weekend. Despite making some recent gains at Martinsville Speedway (three Top 10's in his last six starts), Almirola still only boasts a career 23-percent Top-10 rate at Martinsville's short track. The move to the new stock car this season sort of trumps recent Martinsville performance to an extent anyway. That last look we have of Almirola on a short track in Richmond last Sunday is not a good look going into this 400-lap battle at Martinsville Speedway. 

Bubba Wallace – The runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 was a great way to kick off the season for Wallace, but it's been uphill skating ever since. The 23XI driver has just one Top-15 finish in the six races since the season-opening Daytona 500. In that interval Wallace has slipped from fourth- to 22nd-place in the driver point standings. He's coming off tough 38th- and 26th-place finishes the last two weeks at COTA and Richmond. Martinsville Speedway has been a tough nut to crack for Wallace in his Cup Series career. In eight-career starts he's only managed a pair of Top-15 finishes and an average finish of 21.4. In his last appearance at the half-mile oval, Wallace only mustered a 25th-place finish in last October's Xfinity 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – It's been a tough start to the season for the JTG-Daugherty Racing veteran. Stenhouse has labored to just one Top 10 through the first seven events. He's also posted three DNF's in this young season. Martinsville Speedway has always been a challenging short track for Stenhouse. In 18-career starts he's only mustered two Top-10 finishes and an inflated 25.2 average finish. More recent starts at the flat short track have been encouraging for the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet, but not overly impressive. This driver and team's current lack of momentum, and Stenhouse's shaky history at this facility are good reason to keep him on the fantasy racing bench this week.       

AJ Allmendinger – There are weeks to use the talented veteran driver and then there are weeks to pass on Allmendinger. This weekend happens to be the latter. While we love to use Allmendinger on road circuits and superspeedway ovals, he's a hard pass on these tough short tracks. The Kaulig Racing veteran has 21-career Martinsville Speedway starts to his credit and just seven Top 10's in those starts for a lowly 33-percent rate. The average finish isn't terrible at 18.6, but still lacks a bit to be desired. Allmendinger has been a tough-luck finisher in his three starts to this point in the season. Finishes of 20th-, 33rd- and 27th-place have been his body of work so far. The 27th-place was just this past weekend at the Richmond short track. It's best to pass on Allmendinger this Saturday night.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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