AVONDALE, AZ (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – ISM Raceway outside Phoenix is Kyle Larson’s last chance to qualify for the NASCAR Championship 4.
Larson enters the race in seventh place in the points standings, 23-points out of the fourth and final playoff spot, tied with Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney.
The easiest way for Larson to qualify for the Championship 4 is to go out and win the race. Race winners automatically advance.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. won two weeks ago at Martinsville and Stewart Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick won last week at Texas locking both of those drivers into the Championship 4, which takes place Sunday November 17th at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Should a non-playoff driver win on Sunday then both the third and fourth place positions in the points standings would earn a position in the Championship 4.
Six drivers: Larson, Gibbs’ Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin along with Penske’s Joey Logano and Blaney as well as Hendrick Motorsports Chase Elliott, will be fighting for the remaining two Championship spots on Sunday.
Busch and Logano enter the race currently above the points cutoff line, +22 and +20 respectively. Hamlin sits 20-points behind the cutoff and Elliott sits 78-points below following mechanical issues at Martinsville and an accident at Texas.
“We all know one guy is going to move through on points and we have to do whatever we have to do in order to be that guy,” said Busch. “We’re two points up on the 22 (Logano), so it’s going to be a race between the 18 and 22, imagine that. We’ll look forward to the challenge and hope we have a strong run in order to make it through to Homestead.”
“It’s going to be a good battle for sure,” said Logano. “Obviously, the No. 18 team is good and Kyle (Busch) is a good driver, but I think we are a great team and they are beatable just like everybody else. We are racing for that last spot just in case someone behind us out the of the Top-4 wins.”
Larson hopes to be that driver. Larson’s best playoff showing is third place in 2016 and 2018. Larson’s best finish at ISM Raceway is a runner-up finish in the Spring race of 2017. He also finished in third place in the 2016 and 2018 playoff races. In 11-starts at Phoenix, Larson has three top-five and five top-10 finishes, with an average finish of 13.5. Larson has an average finish of 16.0 in the last five playoff events at the track.
Practice for the Bluegreen Vacations 500 starts Friday at 4:05 p.m. ET with the Final Practice scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET. Qualifying is scheduled to take place on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. ET with the race Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Martin Truex Jr Victorious At Martinsville Speedway
MARTINSVILLE, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Martin Truex Jr passed teammate Denny Hamlin on lap 485 and went on the win the rain-delayed NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The victory was Truex’s second of 2021 and 29th of his Cup Series Career.
“He (Hamlin) started getting tight, our car was getting better and better,” said Truex of the late race pass. “We were able to take advantage of it. Really happy. For whatever reason our car really turned on when the lights went down. Always good when a plan comes together and it works out the way you hoped it would.”
Hendrick Motorsports Chase Elliott finished second, his seventh top-10 finish in 13-races at Martinsville and fourth top-10 of 2021.
“Really, really hard-fought second actually for us,” said Elliott. “We were not great, but had some, I guess our strong suit was kind of early on in the run, then really faded hard, too hard there in the latter part of a run. But we never got one of those super long runs, which is probably a good thing for us because we were struggling on that end. But, yeah, proud we could fight back.”
Hamlin settled for third after leading the most laps in the race (267).
“Had a really good car on the short run all day,” said Hamlin. “Got great restarts. Was fast for 25, 30 laps. Then it seemed like guys would start catching us. Unfortunately it was just too many laps there at the end that we couldn’t hold those guys off.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson finished fourth and fifth respectively, giving HMS three cars in the top 5.
The race featured 18-lead changes among 7-drivers and was slowed by 15-caution flags for 105-laps.
The next NASCAR Cup Series race is April 18, 2020 at Richmond Raceway.
Josh Berry Gets First Career Xfinity Series Win At Martinsville Speedway
MARTINSVILLE, VA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Josh Berry passed Ty Gibbs for the lead on lap 223 and stayed out front for the final 27-laps to get his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win in the rain-delayed Cook Out 250 at Martinsville Speedway. The victory was the first career victory for Berry in 13 Xfinity Series starts.
“Man, I wanted to win so bad for these guys,” said Berry referring to his No. 8 JR Motorsports team. “They’re such a great group. I knew this would be a good opportunity to win. (Crew chief) Taylor (Moyer) called a perfect race. The car was good, and we just kept tweaking on it. The tires were pretty worn out there at the end. I was struggling a little bit with wheel-hop. This is just unbelievable.”
Berry’s JR Motorsports teammate Noah Gragson finished second and picked up a $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus, which eased the pain of being the runner-up.
“One hundred thousand dollars richer,” said Gragson. “Great 1-2 finish for our team at JR Motorsports. I really wanted to win there, but I was having to protect the bottom to keep the guys behind me from moving me out of the way. I couldn’t open up my arc the way I needed to and make speed.”
Daniel Hemric finished in third position followed by Gibbs, who faded to a fourth place finish. Gibbs’ teammate Brandon Jones finished fifth. Jones was the leader Friday night when storms red-flagged the event after completing 91-laps.
The race featured 13-lead changes among 9-drivers. The race was slowed by 12-caution flags for 75-laps.
The next race for the NASCAR Xfinity Series is April 24, 2021 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Mother Nature Wins At Martinsville Speedway
MARTINSVILLE, VA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Mother Nature is throwing a wrench into this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series Schedules at Martinsville Virginia.
Friday’s Xfinity race is under a red flag following 92-laps of the scheduled 250-lap event after rain showers put an end to NASCAR’s attempt to get the event finished. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones is scored as the leader of the race.
NASCAR has rescheduled the remainder of the event for Sunday at Noon ET.
The Cup Series race was red flagged on lap 43 because of showers. JGR’s Denny Hamlin is scored as the leader. Hamlin has led 38-laps. Team Penske’s Joey Logano started on the pole position and led the other laps.
NASCAR will restart the event on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.
Per NASCAR rules, an event is considered official after half of the scheduled distance has been completed.
Both races will be broadcast live on FS1, the Motor Racing Network (MRN) and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.