With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heading to a certain paper-clip shaped venue this weekend, we’d be remiss to remind you that we have seen drivers get very aggressive in the playoff race at Martinsville before. It seems like the last few seasons, the aggression has been escalated just a bit. That leads us into this weekend with the Martinsville race and the beginning of the Round of 8.
How aggressive will drivers become? Is the package a reason for the aggression as well?
While he was more than comfortable heading into Kansas in the elimination race, Kyle Busch had his second-best race of this season’s playoffs this past weekend. However, that has not been a theme for the driver throughout the past month. It is no question he is searching for his first win since June and it has been a little bit of a struggle for him.
Now, though, the stakes are a bit higher. If the win comes in the next three races, it will guarantee him a spot at Homestead.
Has this been Busch’s worst playoff run in several years? What has been his main struggle and can he fix it? Will he make it to Homestead easily or will he be challenged heavily?
Q: How much do you think drivers will risk this weekend at Martinsville? As much as a Truex/Logano or Elliott/Hamlin, or more than that? Gregory S., Mechanicsburg, PA
A: Martinsville could be the race we see drivers be the most aggressive they have been at a racetrack in a very long time. There are several reasons why.
Number one, it’s the final short track of the season. We know how much drivers and fans love them some short track racing, and the show the drivers put on is always phenomenal. Every year, no matter the package, the best races are always at the short tracks throughout all three series.
Number two, it’s a playoff race and the start of the round before Homestead. If one of those eight playoff drivers wins, they go to Homestead with a chance to compete for the championship. The fact that Martinsville could serve as a last-ditch effort for teams whose mile-and-a-half program is not up to snuff, this is their chance.
Martinsville is a mini-wildcard being such a close-quarters track and really, anyone who stays on the lead lap all day can have a shot at the end with the help of a few cautions.
Last but not least, the package. Even though I mentioned before that the package typically does not matter on this type of configuration, it could this weekend. Back in the March race, many drivers complained of aero push, a factor not previously present at the half-mile track. Drivers know going into the weekend that passing could be at a premium and they must take advantage of every shot they are given, especially with the way the package has worked this season. Look for that to be a huge component in the race.
All three reasons listed above will contribute to the excitement the race will give us this weekend. In fact, I expect this to be the best short track race of 2019, even better than Bristol in August.
With a championship berth on the line, expect to see one of the best Martinsville races in recent memory.
Q: Do you think Kyle Busch has had his worst playoff run in the last few seasons this year? Do you see him making Homestead? Travis R., Rock Hill, SC
A: Busch has not made much noise in the playoffs this season, which is extremely unlike him. Every year, we expect the No. 18 team to step up to the plate and win races and easily advance all the way to Homestead. It has not been that easy this season.
From the time the playoffs started in Las Vegas until now, Busch has really only been in contention twice out of the six races so far, those being Richmond and Kansas. Other than that, he has struggled to find success. Does that worry me? Not terribly, because based on history, they will figure something out in the remaining four races.
This may be the toughest road to Homestead for Busch, though. He has won several races the last few seasons in the closing months of the season. He has not won in 2019 since June at Pocono. Though this is worrisome and frustrating for Busch fans, he can easily point his way into the championship race. However we have seen that a win in the last round always is the safest way to get to Homestead.
There are a few teams that are stronger than his at the moment. His teammates Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. come to mind. Those two should make it to the Championship 4 based on their performance in the playoffs and this year overall, which leaves only two more spots open.
What about a dark horse like Kyle Larson? He could definitely follow up his Dover win with another victory this round and advance to Homestead. That leaves one final spot between five drivers.
Do I see Busch making it? Honestly, yes. Busch will compete for a title at Homestead. Why? He’s Kyle Busch and his team is the strongest team over the last few seasons with consistency and multiple trips to victory lane. He should find a way to win one of these next three races, which could very well be Martinsville this upcoming weekend.
Overall, there is no need to worry about Busch. He will be fine, even though this has been his worst playoff run in several years.
And it sure will be fun to watch.