Chris Buescher enters the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway 43 points below the NASCAR Playoffs cutline in the ‘Round of 8’ finale. Basically, the Roush Fenway Keselowski driver will need a win or the other current championship contenders to experience a disaster for him to advance to the Championship 4. Unfortunately for the driver of the No. 17 Ford, he has not shown an ability to run up front or win on the half-mile track.
That said, the real contest to stay alive in the Playoffs will likely come down to William Byron(+30), Ryan Blaney(+10), Denny Hamlin(-17) and Martin Truex Jr.(-17).
With Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell already locked into the finale at Phoenix as the result of earlier ‘Round of 8’ triumphs.
With a do-or-die race taking place at Martinsville, it would seem logical to think that Hamlin and Truex would be the favorites to advance. Two drivers who have a combined eight wins and 28 top-5 finishes on the paper clip could surely overcome the 17-point deficits they face, right?
Hamlin has won at Martinsville a total of five times and has led over 2,200 laps. Truex has three victories on the Virginia track with more than 1,000 laps pacing the field. What better track for these Joe Gibbs Racing teammates to come to in a time of need, right?
In reality, however, Byron and Blaney have their own reasons to feel confident, especially with the cushion they will have when taking the green flag on Sunday afternoon.
Byron’s 30-point advantage puts the Hendrick Motorsports racer in a strong position going in. Scoring stage points during the first two segments of the race would make it very difficult for either Hamlin or Truex to pass by the No. 24 Chevrolet.
But Byron has the ability to score more than just stage points at Martinsville. He has one grandfather clock trophy in his collection. A top-10 finish would likely be enough to secure his spot in the Championship 4 and he has scored six of those during his career. As a matter of fact, until the spring race earlier this year, he had earned four consecutive top-10s at Martinsville.
Based on those numbers, Hamlin and Truex may have to rely on topping Blaney if they are to stay alive. However, that may be easier said than done.
Despite the fact that he has never won at Martinsville, Blaney has recorded seven top-5 and nine top-10 finishes during his career there. He has a very solid average finish of 9.5 over the course of his 15 starts which is better than any of the other Playoff contenders. Depending on the number of stage points collected during the race, a finish near his average would make the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford difficult to pass considering his 10-point cushion.
Even though Hamlin and Truex may seem like odds-on favorites going into a NASCAR Playoffs cut race at Martinsville despite their points deficits, the past performances of Byron and Blaney show that such may not be the case.
But of course, an unexpected win by Buescher would completely upend the situation.
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