This Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway will mark the final event before the four drivers who will compete for the season title next weekend in Phoenix. When the checkered flag waves on Sunday, there will be four drivers to be eliminated from contention while the remaining four will punch their ticket to the Championship 4 finale.
As it stands going into the Martinsville event, Joey Logano is locked into the Championship 4 by virtue of his win two weeks ago in Las Vegas. Since Kyle Larson, who had already been eliminated from the Playoffs, won last weekend at Homestead, there are still three remaining spots with just this one race to go before the final cut.
Right now, Ross Chastain along with Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and William Byron sit above the cutline. Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe are currently in need of good fortune if they are to race for the Cup Series title.
Trailing Byron by only five points and Elliott by 11, Hamlin could easily race his way into contention without a win on Sunday. Blaney is in a bit more of a precarious position as he sits 18 below the cutoff point. Finally, being 33 and 44 markers in the hole respectively puts Bell and Briscoe very near to must-win territory.
Anytime drivers are put into a “must win” situation, one has to wonder just how far a competitor will be willing to go to advance to the next round.
Remember that last year in this race Kevin Harvick showed exactly how far he was willing to go to advance in order to place himself in championship contention when he attempted unsuccessfully to gain a position and a much needed point by spinning Kyle Busch as those cars came to the checkered flag.
The reality is that even though Chastain, Elliott and Byron will enter Sunday’s race with an advantage, the action could play out in such a way as to put them in the same position Harvick was in back in 2021. Stage points as well as the normal course of events in a motor race such as spins, pit stop issues, pit strategies, unexpected front runners and any number of other possibilities could put any of the seven drivers not already locked into the Phoenix championship finale in a situation of desperation.
Who might be willing to make the same move Harvick made last year?
A driver in that situation has more to consider than just his own feelings. Team members, sponsors, fans, and fellow competitors will all be impacted by the decisions made in those closing laps. Would it be worth potential long term issues with others to gain entry into the Championship 4 on this one occasion?
Passing proved to be a bit difficult back in the spring when the NASCAR Cup Series last visited Martinsville Speedway. Extreme measures might have to be taken late in the going when the checkered flag is about to wave over the paper-clip shaped half-mile.
If you were in that position, would you spin another driver out intentionally to gain a spot or even win the race?
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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