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NASCAR DFS Race Preview: Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on DraftKings & FanDuel

Phillip Bennetzen

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NASCAR DFS DraftKings FanDuel Xfinity 500 this week Martinsville Speedway Chase Elliott

Following Kyle Larson‘s third-straight victory, and ninth of 2021, NASCAR heads back east to Martinsville. The final race, in the third round of the playoffs, will settle the four participants in the championship, in the Xfinity 500.

NASCAR DFS Race Preview: Xfinity 500

Larson Wins Again

Whatever questions there were about motivation on Larson’s part or attention being diverted to Phoenix by crew chief Cliff Daniels, were both overblown as Larson proved to be the class of the field once more. By the end of the 267 laps, Larson stood in Victory Circle again after leading the most laps once again. His performance was not nearly as dominating as last weekend at Texas, but what mattered the most was that Larson was in the position to secure the win late and that is precisely what he did following the final caution flag on lap 225 when Austin Dillon got loose and put Ryan Blaney into the wall. In all, it was a dominating performance by Hendrick Motorsports to close out the 550-horsepower package in 2021. Larson, Chase Elliott (second), and William Byron (fifth) combined to lead 229 laps or 86%.

Those that want to comb through the loop data, have at it, but not much else about this race really needs to be rehashed. The final two races on the schedule will feature the high horsepower aero package, unlike this past weekend’s race at Kansas. The next time NASCAR will see this package will be in 2022 at Fontana, California, and then the following week at Las Vegas. Just how different this horsepower package races in the new generation car is to be determined though.

The Playoffs “As They Run”

Larson’s victory means that at least two drivers are making the championship race, via points, and if Larson wins again, it will be up to three. Considering Larson’s subpar history at Martinsville, it makes sense that someone is going to win their way into Phoenix, and two drivers “point” their way into Phoenix.

Larson, of course, is locked into the championship race. With a 34-point cushion over the cutoff point sits Chase Elliott, looking to repeat as the Cup Series champion, a feat that has not been done since Jimmie Johnson won five straight titles from 2006 through 2010. Trailing Elliott by two points, with a 32-point cushion himself over the cutoff is Denny Hamlin, looking for his own first championship. After the duo of Elliott and Hamlin, who were both in the championship four at Phoenix in 2020, comes a gaggle of drivers who are all separated by fewer than double digits.

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Sitting in the final spot is Kyle Busch, with a one-point gap between himself and Ryan Blaney. Despite a terrible afternoon that saw Busch multiple laps down, after hitting the wall, he was able to maintain his position in the playoffs thanks to Ryan Blaney’s late wreck. On what should have been the final restart, Austin Dillon got loose and made contact with Blaney — sending the No. 12 into the wall. Blaney ground his way through the entire turn-two wall before finally coming to rest on the backstretch. Blaney’s day saw him finish in 37th and suddenly a very similar 30+ point cushion evaporated and now Blaney is on the outside looking in. In fifth, trailing Kyle Busch by three points is his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr., the winner of the spring race here at Martinsville.

In seventh is the ascendant Brad Keselowski, who fought circumstances at Kansas to finish 17th. A disappointing result for box-score readers but considering he, like Kyle Busch, spent the majority of his day fighting to get back to the lead lap, ending his day in the top 20 was a minor victory. Keselowski trails Busch by just six points now as Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney’s bad days helped to keep Keselowski within grasp of making the championship race. With just seven points separating four drivers, expect NBC to exhaust their playoff graphic as spots four through seven should shuffle quite a bit. Finally, with the lowest shot of sneaking his way into the playoffs, sits Joey Logano 26 points behind Kyle Busch. While the gap is not insurmountable, Logano is truly the only driver who needs to win to punch his championship ticket.

Short Tracking in Virginia

As the third round of the playoffs comes to a close, NASCAR will conclude this round at the flat, half-mile oval in Martinsville. This truly paperclip-shaped oval, with long straightaways and tight corners, paired with 500 laps provides the ultimate test of patience, attrition, and horsepower for Sunday’s field. Things have settled down a bit compared to the past, but the last two Martinsville races have seen double-digit real-life yellow flags. In the spring seven drivers retired early due to wrecks. In that spring race 13 separate incidents occurred in which one or more vehicles ended up spinning and brought out the yellow flag including a 12-car accident on lap 387.

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In 2019, when the Cup Series splits tracks up by differing horsepower packages, Martinsville was an unfortunate victim of the initial high horsepower, high downforce setup. Both races saw their respective winners lead nearly 90% or more of the race en route to victory. They were the very definition of lap turners. Since then, races have been a bit more competitive as downforce was reduced, however, these three past Martinsville races have seen the top lap leader lead at least 234 or more laps while the secondary dominator has led at least 132 or more laps. With 500 laps on tap, it makes sense that this should be a three-dominator build but the history of this track suggests it is more likely that just two drivers lead the bulk of laps as opposed to three or more. That was the case in last fall’s race here and it happened again in the spring.

NASCAR DFS DraftKings FanDUel Xfinity 500 this week Sunday October 31 Martinsville Laps Led

Martinsville Laps Led Graph

In conclusion, do not be shocked to see a fast driver ascend to the lead and sit on it for a while. The surprising number, since the 2019 season, has been each race having at least 14 lead changes. With the laps led numbers in mind above, it suggests, the lead changes during circumstances like green flag pit stops or on initial restarts but once the ascendant car establishes the lead, it is hard to wrangle it away.

The Curious Case of the Pole-Sitter

With all of this in mind, it is perplexing just how little the pole-sitter has led at Martinsville. With numbers averaged out, the pole-sitter has a somewhat respectable laps-led average of 71.3 per event. However, a few races are skewing these numbers and making them look better than they actually are. Zoomed out and just looking raw totals, 10 times out of the 17 races at Martinsville since 2013, have seen the pole-sitter lead fewer than 50 laps. Perhaps more notable is the fact is that since 2017, the polesitter has led fewer than 50 laps in seven of those nine races. Since the split in horsepower packages was introduced, the most laps led by the pole-sitter is 34, back in the spring race of 2020. In back-to-back races at Martinsville, the two pole-sitters have combined to lead just nine total laps.

If anyone should be set up for lap-leading success, at a track like Martinsville, it should be the polesitter, yet that has been anything but the case of late. It is a larger picture of just how much the pole-sitter has disappointed in the high horsepower package this season with just one race out of 10, where the pole-sitter led more than 20 laps. Even then, that was Martin Truex Jr. at one of his better statistical tracks (Richmond).


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Phill Bennetzen is a father, husband, and Catholic as well as a self-professed annoying fitness guy. Phill heads up NASCAR content at Awesemo.com. You can contact Phill by emailing [email protected].

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