Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – MARTINSVILLE, VA – When will it end? The first seven races of the NASCAR Cup Series season have produced seven different winners, and there’s a good chance that streak will survive Saturday night’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Only twice before in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972-Present) has a streak of different winners to start a season reached as many as eight—in 2000 and 2003. In the latter year, the string reached nine before Kurt Busch ended it with his second victory of the season at Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.).
The 2000 season produced a record 10 different winners before Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke the streak by winning for the second time that year at Richmond.
On the surface, the numbers would seem to favor an eighth different winner in the 145th Cup event at the .526 mile track, whose races in NASCAR’s top division date to 1949, when Red Byron triumphed in the inaugural event there.
After all, seven of the 10 active short-track winners in the Cup series have yet to take a checkered flag this season, a group that includes Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott.
The first five drivers on that list also are the top five active drivers in career short-track wins, led by Kyle Busch with 16. Denny Hamlin, a seven-time winner last year, has five victories at Martinsville, but he hasn’t claimed a grandfather clock trophy since 2015.
Elliott, the reigning series champion, has only one short-track win on his resume, but he’s the most recent victor at Martinsville, where he won last fall to advance to the Championship 4 race at Phoenix.
Keselowski won the spring races at Martinsville in 2017 and 2019, and he’s optimistic as the schedule turns to back-to-back races at two of his favorite tracks—Martinsville and Richmond.
“I’m pumped,” Keselowski said. “When we got out of Bristol, I left with a smile on my face, knowing that we had Martinsville, we had Richmond—those are two of my best race tracks. At Martinsville, we’ve been just so solid the last few times, and then Richmond was kind of a dominant race for us last fall.”
When it comes to snapping the streak of different winners, the most likely candidate is Martin Truex Jr., who triumphed in the fifth race of the season at Phoenix. In the fall of 2019, Truex got a breakthrough victory at Martinsville and backed that up with a win in last year’s June race.
“Martinsville has become one of our better tracks,” Truex said. “I just feel like, working with the same group for so long, we’ve hit on something the past few years and been able to keep fine-tuning that and put ourselves in position to run up front.
“We have a lot of confidence going into this weekend that we can put ourselves in contention again, if we can avoid mistakes and stay out of trouble.”
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES RACE AT MARTINSVILLE IS ALL ABOUT THE BURTONS
The NASCAR Xfinity Series returned to Martinsville last season after a 14-year hiatus, with Harrison Burton taking the victory.
Given the gap between races, it’s not surprising that Burton is the only former Martinsville winner in the field for Friday night’s Cook Out 250 (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Burton’s father, South Boston, Va., native Jeff Burton, won an Xfinity Series race at Martinsville in 1990 and a NASCAR Cup Series event there seven years later. Ward Burton, Harrison’s uncle, triumphed in the Xfinity Series at the .526-mile track in 1993.
That leaves Jeb Burton, Ward’s son, seeking his first victory at the legendary short track. Driving full-time for Kaulig Racing, Jeb started the 2021 season with five straight top-10 finishes (three of them top fives) before running 25th at Atlanta.
“I’m really excited about going to Martinsville,” Jeb Burton said. “I’ve always run really well there, and the last time I was there in the Xfinity Series, I finished fourth. It’s a hometown track for me… I think we will have a really good run this weekend.”
But it’s Harrison Burton who will start on the pole on Friday night, with Jeb taking the green flag from the 13th spot on the grid in the first Xfinity Dash 4 Cash event of the season. Harrison Burton, Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson and AJ Allmendinger are the four drivers eligible for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus that goes to the top finisher among them.
“Martinsville is a special place for me and my family,” Harrison Burton said. “It’s one of my home race tracks, I would say, so it’s always a great place to go and race. My family is from the area and the fans there are great, so it’s always a special weekend for me.
“We have a little extra incentive on Friday night with the Dash 4 Cash event going on. I know my Joe Gibbs Racing team is ready, and I’m looking forward to going out there, putting on a good show for the fans and hopefully coming back home with some cash and another grandfather clock.”