After the excitement that was in Homestead, the NASCAR Cup Series set their eyes on Martinsville. The shortest track in NASCAR. A fitting cutoff for the Round of Eight for the NASCAR Playoffs. For years, Martinsville has been a fan favorite track to watch on TV and to watch in person. But the past few trips for the NASCAR Cup Series to Martinsville have been a letdown. This is due to the poor performance of the Next-Gen car on short tracks. This was not the case this past weekend. The Fall Martinsville race has never been a disappointment, there is drama, excitement, and on occasion, tempers flaring. Thankfully, this past weekend was a great race in Martinsville. As previously said, it was the cutoff race for the Round of Eight, which set the Championship Four. Who got in and who was eliminated?
Blaney Advances to Phoenix:
Throughout the past few years, there has been one driver that has been sneakily good at Martinsville, but never won. That was Ryan Blaney. Coming into the day, Blaney was 10 points to the cutline above Tyler Reddick. A solid gap above the cutline, but nothing is safe with this points system. Right away from the start of the race, it was made apparent that it was going to be difficult for the field to go through Denny Hamlin. Hamlin came into the race not necessarily in a “must win” situation, but Hamlin did call it a “must win” situation. He was 17 points below the cutline entering Sunday. With a fairly clean stage one, Hamlin would get the stage win after flat-out dominating the stage, gaining maximum points. For the second stage, is when Martinsville started to come alive.
Throughout the second stage, there was classic racing at Martinsville with Blaney winning the stage. After a few cautions early in the final stage, this set up the strategy game for some drivers. Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott stayed out under the final caution with 172 laps to go, in hopes that there would be another caution. There was not a caution, and Blaney finally caught and passed Almirola for the lead with 23 laps to go. Ryan Blaney would play the fuel game to perfection and win at Martinsville for the first time in his career, as well as advance to the Championship Four. But the question was, who got the final transfer spot on points?
Who Advanced to the Championship Four:
So, who’s in and who’s out of the Championship Four? The three drivers who punched their tickets to Phoenix on wins were Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, and Ryan Blaney. The one driver that made it in on points was William Byron. But it wasn’t an easy path for Byron. As previously said, Hamlin won stage one, and finished second in stage two, while Byron didn’t score any stage points. This made the situation all the more difficult for Byron. The situation was simple for Hamlin, win and get in. Even if Hamlin finished in second place, it wasn’t enough to get into the Championship Four. It was a very up-and-down day for Byron. Throughout the early portions of the race, he ran in the back half of the field.
But with a few adjustments from Crew Chief, Rudy Fugle, Byron made his way back through the field up to the 13th position. After a long 186-lap green flag run to the finish, the Championship Four was official. Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, and William Byron will fight for the title in Phoenix next Sunday. This was a Championship drive by Byron. On a hot afternoon, Byron and the team never gave up and earned enough points over Hamlin to advance. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr, Tyler Reddick, and Chris Buescher are the four drivers who were eliminated from Championship contention.
What to Expect from Phoenix:
The entire season has led up to this. 35 races up to this point of the season from mid-February all the way to early November. Four drivers with an equal opportunity to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Last season, it was Joey Logano flat-out dominating Phoenix to win his second Cup Championship. This year, who knows what’ll happen? Tony Stewart famously said that he would wreck his own mother if it meant winning a Championship. These drivers will do anything to raise the Bill France Cup in Phoenix. There is a case for each of the Championship Four drivers as to why they could win the Cup in Phoenix. But it would not be a shocker if Ryan Blaney hoists the Cup on Sunday. Blaney has been very fast at Phoenix the last few races, and he is riding momentum from his win at Martinsville.
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