By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Reporter
MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Much of the talk in NASCAR has focused on how the Next Gen car’s ruggedness allows for more physical racing, a point the first six winners — all 30 and under — celebrated with fans. playoff spots probably secured.
That physics is likely to be more evident than anywhere at Martinsville Speedway, the circuit’s shortest track at 0.526 miles and oldest at 75 years.
The race is always up close and tempers flare up frequently.
Ross Chastain has become, in some circles, something of a poster boy for aggressive driving. Two weeks ago, he bumped and slammed his way into the final lap of overtime at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas for his first career win.
Last week in Richmond, he ticked off Ryan Blaney by moving him down the track.
“Other than coming to COTA and my momentary little lapse in judgment last week in Richmond, I feel like I did a better job,” Chastain said Friday. “And then two weeks in a row I put myself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. So yeah, I mean, people are going to gravitate quickly and pass judgment very quickly on major sporting events, and that’s not no different.
It hasn’t helped his popularity that he and his team seem to have figured out the Next Gen car pretty quickly, with four top-three finishes while others are struggling.
For the second consecutive season, the first seven races were won by seven drivers. Denny Hamlin ended a streak of 12 consecutive races won by the Under-30 crowd at Richmond Raceway, and leads the active drivers with five wins at Martinsville, although his last of those wins came in 2015.
Alex Bowman won one of the sport’s most unique trophies – race winners here receive a grandfather clock – last fall in the penultimate race of the season. He spun Championship contender Hamlin out of the lead and then won in overtime, perhaps a harbinger of what racing fans will see this time around.
“Obviously it’s a really special trophy,” Bowman said. “We had some controversies, but it’s still super cool to be able to win here. It means a lot to me.”
Joey Logano picked up a victory at Martinsville and said the focus on the durability of new cars – and to some extent a shortage of spare parts if you damage the ones you have – might be overdone.
“My level of aggression, to be honest with you, is the same all the time whether we have a bunch of coins or not or whether we got 10 wins or no wins,” he said.
“I will win. That’s the goal.
The historic 500 lap race has been reduced to 400 laps this season, and Blaney expects that to produce more bumps and bangs on Saturday night.
“I feel like it’s going to be a bit more physical tomorrow night, not just because it’s 100 laps less. Cars can take more,” Blaney said.
“That’s what Martinsville is, and I think if you’ve got a car that can handle it, you’ll see more of it. I don’t see anything silly or aggressive, but I think you’ll use the bumper shocks a little more, and you could use it a little faster than you would with the previous car,” he said.
Defending series champion Kyle Larson is the betting favorite according to FanDuel Sportsbook. … Just like last week in Richmond, Martin Truex Jr. arrives having won three of the last five races here. … Blaney said he hadn’t been bold enough to figure out where to put the grandfather clock trophy if he won one, but “I’ll put it in the center of my living room, if anything. , but you have to get it first, then you will somehow understand it.
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