This past Halloween weekend (Oct 30-31), I had the opportunity to attend the three NASCAR races at Martinsville Speedway, which is one of the smallest and oldest tracks on the schedule. It was the final race before the championship where four drivers were determined for each series. What makes NASCAR different from other sports is that it allows all 40 drivers who began the season to participate in later races, even though only eight were competing for the four spots to race in the championship in Phoenix next week.
Before the first race on Saturday, my friend and I walked around outside the track and explored the merchandise and other venues that were set up, including a station for people to try the new NASCAR video game: NASCAR ‘21 Ignition. We also met with a reporter who covers NASCAR named Jeff Gluck. He was polite enough to talk with us about potential job opportunities and even told us some interesting behind-the-scenes stories that are not public. Once we finished exploring the facilities outside the track, we made our way to the grandstands to get ready for the truck race.
The truck race was the first one of the day, and it started around two in the afternoon. As the race began, the points leader and championship favorite, John Hunter Nemecheck was spun by a slower truck, which destroyed the nose of his truck. Luckily, he had enough of a points cushion to still advance to the championship race next week. The race came down to a two-lap shootout between Todd Gilliland, Zane Smith, and Stewart Friesen. Smith made a move to the bottom of the track, making it three-wide off the second turn. They remained three wide until turn four when Friesen hooked Gilliland into the outside wall, causing a caution to come out. Smith was the leader, so he was declared the winner and advanced to the championship race next week along with Nemecheck, Matt Crafton, and Ben Rhodes.
The second race of the day was the Xfinity Series, which started near dark around six. By this time, the temperature had dropped significantly. It was incredible to see a race during the day and another at night because racing under the lights is one of the best feelings in racing. The Xfinity race was a lot smoother than the truck race due to fewer wrecks, but the end was just as exciting. Daniel Hemric, who has not won all season and has finished second several times, was leading the race when a caution came out. On the following restart, Noah Gragson took the lead from him on the outside lane, which is difficult to do at Martinsville. Then another caution came out and set up another two-lap dash to the finish. Gragson and Austin Cindric were the front row for the restart, and Gragson got a great launch, clearing Cindric easily. Gragson’s car washed up the racetrack slightly heading into the final corner, which allowed for Cindric to get under him. The two were side by side coming to the finish line, and Gragson edged out Cindric by about half a car length. Gragson had to win to advance to the championship four, and he did just that. Cindric, Hemric, and AJ Allmendinger will join him in fighting for a championship next week.Before the final race of the weekend on Sunday, my friend and I stood next to the RV lot where the drivers stayed over the weekend. Because we were standing right next to the gate, we were able to see several drivers walk or ride to and from the lot, including all eight playoff drivers: Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano. We also saw drivers such as Bubba Wallace, Ryan Newman, William Byron, Christopher Bell, and several others. After we saw most of the drivers, we went into the grandstands to get set up for the race.
The Cup Series race was 500 laps, which was a lot more compared to the Truck Series’ 200 laps and the Xfinity race’s 250 laps. It was a long day, but there was plenty of action throughout the race. Chase Elliott dominated most of the race. He won the first two stages, which gave him enough points to clinch a spot in the championship four. The last 100 laps were when things started to get interesting because there were three drivers fighting for the one remaining championship spot and also a heated battle for the lead going on between all racers. With about 50 laps left, Elliott and Brad Keselowski were fighting for a place in the top five when Keselowski lost control of his car in turn four and bumped Elliott, causing him to spin. Elliott was starting to lose positions because his car was not handling as well as it was earlier in the race, but that incident took away any chance he had at winning the race. The battle for the lead was between Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin, while Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr, and Kyle Busch all fought for that final spot in the championship. Truex maintained a lot of damage late in the race and lost several positions, which allowed Busch and Keselowski to close the gap in points.
Meanwhile, Bowman and Hamlin were fighting hard for the lead when Bowman lost control of his car and wiped out Hamlin with seven laps left. When the cars were coming to choose what lane to restart in, Bowman took the bottom, Kyle Busch went to the outside, Keselowski went behind Bowman, and Truex went behind Busch. Truex put himself in a good points position because that forced Busch and Keselowski to win the race if they wanted to make the championship four. Bowman got a great launch on the restart and pulled away for his fourth win of the season. He was not in the playoffs anymore, so that did not impact the final four, but Truex was able to hang on and beat Busch by three points to advance to the championship race. As Bowman came to collect the checkered flag and celebrate, Hamlin came out of nowhere to show his displeasure after Bowman wrecked him with seven laps to go.
Hamlin parked his car next to Bowman’s, then Bowman half-spun his car around, and Hamlin ran into the nose of his car and did a “burnout,” shoving Bowman’s car before backing off and driving away. I was lucky enough to get all of it on video (right), which was incredible to look back at and watch.
Since Bowman winning did not affect who made it to the final four, it was Elliott, Hamlin, Truex, and Larson who advanced and will be racing for a championship next
My first trip to Martinsville Speedway did not disappoint. NASCAR’s decision to make this track the cutoff race to determine the final four might be the best decision they have ever made. There was a lot of drama, including Elliott vs Keselowski, Bowman vs Hamlin, and Busch had some words to say about Keselowski after the race too. Each race came down to a two-lap sprint to the finish, which made everything more exciting and intense. I would highly recommend for anyone to go to Martinsville whether they are a NASCAR fan or know someone who is.