The Left Turn

NASCAR heads to Martinsville to kick off round of 8

Jerry Markland/Getty Images


This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Martinsville, Virginia for the First Data 500. This is the first race of the round of eight and a win for any of the drivers that made it to the next round automatically earns a trip to Homestead-Miami for a chance at the championship. This track is no stranger to controversy considering how narrow it is and how there isn't much room to pass. Over the past two fall races here, there has been a conflict of some sort, in 2017 Denny Hamlin rooted Chase Elliott out of the way for the lead with two to go then last year, Joey Logano gave Martin Truex Jr the chrome horn for the lead on the final corner to win and move on to Homestead. If one thing is for sure, this is a can't miss race and should play a huge role in who gets to contend for a championship.

Last week, Denny Hamlin went on to win his 36th career win at Kansas after fending off Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch. The race was relatively clean until a caution came out for Ryan Blaney. This completely bunched up the whole field and led to three more cautions including a multi-car incident involving Daniel Suarez, Daniel Hemric and playoff contender Joey Logano. As Denny Hamlin was about to cross the finish line to take the white flag and make the race official, the yellow light came on and forced another restart. This was important for a number of reasons considering it gave Chase Elliott and the rest of the field a chance to overtake Hamlin but in the end, it made no difference because there was no stopping the Virginia native as he led a race high 153 laps.

While Hamlin might have won the race, the focus was on both Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski as they were the final two cars battling for the last spot in the round of eight. While Brad's car was good early, he faded towards the closing stages and went one lap down but in the final twelve laps it looked like Brad was going to do just enough to move on to the next round but after multiple cautions, it appeared that Chase Elliott was going to be able to gain the spots needed to overtake Keselowski but then unexpectedly, Joey Logano was involved in a late race caution which would put him in the final spot. When it was all said and done, Brad was not able to beat neither his teammate Joey Logano or Chase Elliott and was eliminated from championship contention. It was definitely a tough break for the 2012 champion considering it has been a good season for him. On the flip side, it was a huge shot in the arm for Chase Elliott and Joey Logano as they were able to overcome adversity and keep their championship hopes alive.

Coming into this next round, many would consider Hamlin the odds on favorite at Martinsville. And while he hasn't won here since 2015 this is still a track that Hamlin has dominated in the past. Overall, he has five victories here and has led over 1,000 laps and while a lot has changed since his last victory here, it is obvious that Hamlin knows how to get around this place. Over the years, Hamlin has done everything but win a title. This year has been easily his best season since 2010 and now he appears to be the championship favorite going into the next four races. I look for Hamlin and his Fedex Camry to be one to watch on Sunday.

The driver that I predict will win come sunday is Martin Truex Jr. Over the course of Truex's illustrious 13 year career, it is hard to believe that he has only won one race at a short track when he won this year at Richmond in May. As I wrote earlier, Truex was a corner away from claiming his first short track win here at Martinsville but was knocked out of the way by Joey Logano. I think come Sunday, Truex will get his redemption and take his seventh victory of the year and will be the first driver to clinch his ticket to Homestead. It will be interesting to see what he does should be in a position to where he would have to move someone out of the way considering he has gone on record by saying he isn't that kind of driver but I don't know if he will have too. Look for Truex to take the Bass Pro Shops Toyota to victory lane.

The eight drivers still alive are Kyle Busch, Truex, Hamlin, Logano, Kevin Harvick, Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Getty Images

As the Ronaverse continues, emotions are high. People are getting upset over the dumbest things. Maybe it is simply because Twitter has the worst people in the world, but endless topics are being "debated" that really have no reason to be questioned.

One of the oddest of these is starting to pop up as athletes opt out of returning to play among the Covid-19 shortened seasons. People are actually critical of athletes who make these decisions.

Those people are simply what we call "dumbs."

It doesn't matter what their reasoning is. Athletes - like all of us - have the option to worry about things other than their job. Simply because they have the wherewithal to take time off without pay is no reason to be critical. David Price became one of the latest this week and explained his decision well.

But they owe it to us, the fans.

Sports is not life. These athletes do not owe you anything. You choose to buy their gear and wear their numbers. That's your right. It's also their right to be concerned for their own health and that of their families.

They are young. The disease barely affects young people.

True. But if you are the one young person it does impact? And what about your parents and grandparents? Are we to fault players for caring about things like that? They are people. There are those who dehumanize them because they are famous, make a lot of money and live lives most people will never have. But that does not mean they aren't real people with real life concerns.

They make millions. It is worth the risk.

What good are those millions if you are dead? Or a family member becomes gravely ill? This should not even be a debate. Players have the right to make up their own minds, just as you do. I am not one of the Rona Paranoid Crew, but I don't rip people who are overly careful. We should all deal with this in ways we think are best. Everyone loves to throw out terms like "personal freedom" and "it's my right" when it suits their needs. In this case, it applies to the athletes.

The sad thing is not everyone can afford to stay away from work in order to survive. Many waiters, cooks and bartenders were forced to go back to work to pay bills. Many were not comfortable doing that, but they had no real choice. That sucks.

But those who do have a choice should be able to make it without facing criticism. Maybe it costs your team a World Series if a key player opts out. Or an NBA title. So what? There will be other years, other chances. That won't be the case for a lot of high school and college athletes who may never get to play again. Sure, they might be bitter that pros can sit out, while they have been robbed of one last chance at the game they love. But the Rona is not their fault. Neither is the fact that these athletes have the means to follow their principles.

What will their teammates think of these players abandoning them?

That's a fan argument. Most players will completely understand, because they, too, are human. If the season winds up shutting down halfway through or never getting started, no one will remember who wasn't there. Nor should they care.

But for some reason, people do. They have the right to choose whether toplay or not. You have the right to choose whether or not you will keep buying their jerseys. That is how freedom works.

It would be nice if we would all just allow people to make the best decisions for themselves without turning it into a stupid debate.

In today's world, I realize that is not reality. The dumbs are inheriting the earth.

So memo to athletes: If you want to be on the field, awesome, we will be rooting for you. If you believe it is not worth the risk to you or your family? Stay safe and we will see you when you feel comfortable again. Simple, right? That really should be the end of it.

Sadly, it won't be. That's not the world we live in anymore, if it ever was.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome