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Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway

So how about that Richmond race? What a race… but not necessarily in a good way.


NASCAR and NASCAR race control acted like it was their first day on the job all night long, and in the end it was Denny Hamlin that earned his second victory of the season.


There were so many story lines that I guess it’s best to start at the beginning. NASCAR rushed the start of the race so that rather than taking their time to get the track and pit road dry, they started the race in wet weather conditions. That’s all well and good, but to throw a competition caution 30 laps into the race and then mandate when drivers switch from wet to dry tires? Isn’t that part of the fun? Shouldn’t that be part of the strategy? That’s what makes wet weather racing enjoyable. Why even race in wet conditions if every aspect of the race is going to be mandated?


Anyway, the wet conditions led to extra pace laps in the first stage of the race to get pit road dry enough to be “safe” for pit crews. All this wasted time and non-competitive pit stops in a point race could have been avoided in multiple ways. Just get pit road dry before starting the race. Seems simple enough to me.


Then we have the Kyle Busch caution which seemed like another slap in the face to fans that were enjoying the strategy of the race. Busch barely brushed the wall, but the quick trigger to throw a caution ruined the races of some drivers who had just pitted such as Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson.


And if all that wasn’t enough, we get the overtime restart line drama with Denny Hamlin. He obviously went early, and I don’t understand why NASCAR won’t just admit they messed up and move on. Instead, it’s been a week full of fumbling and backpedaling statements like “well if it happened earlier in the race, we would have done something… But don’t do it again.”


In my opinion, the restart zone is black and white, you either launch while you’re inside it, or there should be a penalty enforced. Not enforcing a penalty because it was borderline, or you didn’t have time to review it is a complete joke.


I’m definitely fed up with the sport right now, but I’ll still be watching this weekend. From the stands! I’m hitting the road to Martinsville, a track that Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson picked up wins at last season.


I don’t know that we’ve heard what tire compound was being brought to the track this weekend, but I’m hoping it’s some sort of happy medium between last fall’s race and this spring’s Bristol race.


Last year in the spring, tires did not matter at all, and late race strategy won the race rather than the fastest car on the track. Last fall, the tire fall off was a little better, but I still don’t think it was enough to matter over the long run. Hopefully, we see the track take on some rubber this Sunday and we see some passing. If not, it has the potential to be quite a boring race, as evident from last year’s Jeff Gluck “Was it a good race” poll.


I’m likely not placing any bets before practice this week, but if I do, make sure to follow me on Twitter @WKFCody for my most up-to-date bets. I’ll tweet out my full card Sunday morning before the green flag.


One more quick plug, make sure to sign up for our NASCAR One & Done. Pick a driver to win every week and accumulate points all season long. Even if you missed the first handful of races, it won’t be impossible to catch up!


Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk. Let’s move ahead to Martinsville.

 

Track Facts

The Cookout 400 is a 400-lap (210.4-mile) race around the 0.526-mile paper clip oval at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Martinsville is one of NASCAR’s original tracks, having been on the Cup Series schedule every year since NASCAAR’s inception in 1949. The winner of the original Martinsville race was Red Byron, who won by three laps over runner-up Lee Petty in a 100-mile race. Byron would go on to win the championship in NASCAR’s inaugural 1949 season. More recently, Richard Petty earned the first 500-lap race at Martinsville in the fall of 1969. Petty leads all drivers in victories at Martinsville, racking up 15 over the course of his career. Recent winners over the past three seasons include Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., and Alex Bowman. Last spring, Kyle Larson earned the victory on a late-race strategy call. Larson led the final 30 laps in a race where passing was at a premium to earn the win. In the fall, Ryan Blaney earned a dominating win to punch his ticket to the final four, enroute to his first Cup Series Championship. NASCAR and Goodyear brought two different tire compounds to Martinsville last year, so I’ll be intrigued to see what tire they bring this week. I’d imagine it will be something more similar to last fall when tire fall off was somewhat important compared to the spring race where tires didn’t have much of an impact on the race.

 

Who’s Hot?

Denny Hamlin is one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR right now, having won two of the last three races, both on short tracks. Fortunately for the #11 team, NASCAR heads back to another short track this weekend in Martinsville. Hamlin was fast there last fall, perhaps having the second fastest car to eventual winner Ryan Blaney in the series latest trip to the track. Hamlin has multiple career victories at Martinsville, having won five times at the paper clip. Hamlin is overdue for a win at the track, as his last victory at Martinsville came all the way back in the spring of 2015. Since that victory, Hamlin has finished top-10 in 10 of 17 Martinsville races and led over 1,000 laps at the track. He leads all drivers with 774 laps led in the last six Martinsville races. Last spring, Hamlin is currently on a streak of three consecutive top-5 finishes at Martinsville. I could easily see him going back-to-back and earning his third victory of the season.





Martin Truex Jr. put all the pieces together last week in a performance that should have netted him his first victory of the season, however a late-race caution foiled his runaway victory after a slow pit stop handed control of the race to his teammate Denny Hamlin. Truex has been incredibly hot this season. He’s the current points leader and has finished top-10 in every non-superspeedway race this year. At Martinsville, MTJ is a three-time winner, with his most recent victory coming back in 2021. He had arguably the third-best car behind Hamlin and Blaney last fall and finished third here last spring. If everything lines up correctly for Truex, he could easily find his way to victory lane this weekend in Martinsville.


Kyle Larson is another driver that has run up front quite a bit lately. He won earlier this year at Las Vegas and had a strong car this past weekend at Richmond. It’s hard to say Larson isn’t hot after he spun out with two laps to go and ended up with a better finish than he would have if he didn’t spin out. Larson won this Martinsville race last spring after a strong pit stop put him out front with 30 laps remaining. That was Larson’s one and only Martinsville win, but he does currently ride a string of three consecutive finishes of sixth or better at the track. He has also led laps in two of the last three Martinsville races. If Larson finds himself out front, he will be a tough pass, especially late in the race. 

 

Drivers I Like

Joey Logano proved to have short track speed last weekend, piecing together a solid run at Richmond. Even with the late caution thrown into the mix, Logano came home with a second-place finish. That was only Logano’s second top-10 finish of the season, but the door is open for him to pick up another solid finish at Martinsville this weekend. Logano finished runner-up to Larson here last spring and finished fifth in the fall race after being eliminated from the playoffs in the early going. Despite having only one career Martinsville win, Logano is currently riding a nine-race top-10 streak at Martinsville. He has finished top-10 in 16 of his last 20 career Martinsville races. Logono currently boasts the best average finish at Martinsville among all active drivers over the last six races at 5.2. After showing speed at Richmond, Logano may be a serious threat to pick up a win this weekend.





I’m sticking with Team Penske here and looking toward Logano’s teammate and defending Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney. Blaney is the most recent Martinsville winner, having won the fall race by a large margin after leading 145 laps. Blaney currently holds the second-best average finishing position at Martinsville behind Logano over the past six races at 6.2. Much like Logano, Blaney is on a long string of good finishes at Martinsville, having finished 11th or better in 10-straight Martinsville races. Blaney hasn’t had a top-10 finish since Phoenix, but back on one of his better tracks statistically, I’m expecting a bounce back for the driver that currently sits fifth in points despite not yet earning a win this season.


Chase Elliott has some surprisingly good Martinsville numbers. For whatever reason, Chase Elliott and Martinsville doesn’t correspond to me as an elite driver/track matchup, however Elliott has led the second most laps (611) at Martinsville over the last six races behind Denny Hamlin. Elliott won at Martinsville back in the fall of 2020, but the spring of 2021 was his last finish of better than 10th at the track. I think Chase is a dark horse to earn a win this Sunday, but I’m sure the books will be on top of his potential.

 

Drivers to Avoid

Brad Keselowski has had some recent struggles at Martinsville despite having multiple victories at the track in the past. Keselowski has not finished better than 17th at Martinsville since coming over to RFK Racing and has led just 15 laps here since the fall of 2019. Brad’s average finish of 24.6 over the last six Martinsville races is fourth worst among active drivers, ahead of just Justin Haley, Corey Lajoie and Daniel Suarez. Brad is talented enough to turn things around at any time, and does have top-10 finishes at Phoenix, Bristol, and Richmond this year. Maybe this is the race he turns things around here. Keep an eye on practice to see what the No.6 Mustang looks like this weekend.


I’m picking on Tyler Reddick in back-to-back weeks after his struggles at Richmond came to fruition once again. Reddick needed a late-race caution to sneak his way into the top-10 after earning just one stage point in the race. Reddick also struggles at the paper clip, carding just one top-10 finish in his last seven Martinsville races. Since joining 23XI Racing, Reddick’s best Martinsville finish is 22nd in last spring’s race. Reddick has never led a lap at Martinsville and finished two laps down here in the fall while racing for his life in the playoffs. Reddick’s team rarely hits on a Martinsville setup, and I’m banking on it carrying over this coming weekend.


Daniel Suarez has found himself on my list quite a bit recently. Maybe we’ll find a track soon that suits his driving style and gets him out of my drivers to avoid, but that is not going to be this week. Suarez has not been great at Martinsville to say the least. As you read above, Suarez has a less-than-impressive average finish at Martinsville over the last six races (25.3). He hasn’t finished top-10 at Martinsville since he raced for Stewart-Haas Racing back in 2019 and has only led seven career laps at Martinsville in 14 career races.

 

Keep an eye on…

Josh Berry remains on the list this week after his impressive performance at Richmond last Sunday. Berry returns to the track where he shocked everyone in 2021 by winning his first Xfinity race as a part-time driver for JR Motorsports. Berry is yet to take to Martinsville in a Cup Series car, but in six Xfinity Series starts, Berry has three top-10s including his 2021 victory. Berry is a short track guy and had a really strong run in the middle portion of the race last week. He ended up finishing just outside the top-10 in 11th, but at one point in the race he was up battling inside the top-5. If Berry and crew chief Rodney Childers can carry that strong performance over to Martinsville – a track that SHR had success at last spring – Berry could be a factor.


Ryan Preece is also staying on the list thanks to his impressive performance at Martinsville last spring. In that race, Preece qualified on the pole and led the first 135 laps of the race before a pit road speeding penalty dropped him deep in the field where he would never recover, eventually finishing 15th. Last fall he also qualified inside the top-10, so he has had speed here recently. It will be tough for Preece to put a full race together. He has struggled to do so since joining SHR with just two top-10 finishes in 43 races, but he has a short track background. Perhaps things could fall in his favor this week.





It’s a Stewart-Haas Racing sweep in this section of the article, as Noah Gragson is another one of my guys to keep an eye on this week. Gragson battled to a 12th-place finish at Richmond last week, and I’ve already mentioned SHR’s success at this track last spring. Back in his Xfinity Series days, Gragson was rather good at Martinsville. He earned one win, and four top-10 finishes in five attempts at Martinsville. If that success carries over to a fast Cup car on Sunday, Gragson could be a sneaky good play.

 

Current Bets

I’ve got nothing on the book yet, and I’ve been too busy to even look at any odds yet. If I had to guess, you’ll see a similar cast of characters at the front as last week with maybe the addition of Ryan Blaney who goes from one of his worst tracks (Richmond) to one of his best (Martinsville).

 

Be sure to follow Cody (@WKFCody) on X for his most up-to-date NASCAR bets and weekly NASCAR betting card posted on Sunday mornings. Also, listen to the WKF NASCAR Podcast anywhere you get your podcasts. The WKF NASCAR Podcast comes out at 7 a.m. every Friday morning over the course of the season.


Don’t forget to join our WKF Fantasy NASCAR One & Done! For more information, DM @WKFCody or @WKFNate on X.

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