Can Martin Truex Jr. be a part of the final four for the fourth consecutive season? He may have to win at Martinsville on Sunday to make it happen.
Truex enters Sunday’s penultimate race of the Cup Series season as the betting favorite at BetMGM (+350). Truex has won the last two races at Martinsville and his win at the track in June is his only victory of the season.
He finished second to teammate Kyle Busch on Wednesday night in the rain-delayed Cup Series race at Texas. Had Truex won on Wednesday, he wouldn’t have to worry about a Martinsville three-peat to race for the title.
Instead, he’s 16 points back of fourth and 18 points back of third ahead of the final semifinal race. That deficit to third is pivotal. If Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman or Kurt Busch wins on Sunday, then Truex would have to pass two of Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski to race for the title. If either of those three drivers win, then Truex would only have to be ahead of one of them to make the final four.
The simplest route of all of them is a win. If Truex wins on Sunday then he doesn’t have to think about the standings.
“A must‑win at any track, no matter how good you've been there in the past, I think is a challenge,” Truex said after Wednesday’s race. “The last race there that we ran and to lead all the laps that we did, whatever, it's no guarantee. We've got to work hard this week to make sure we're prepared. I know the guys have already been doing that.”
One of the guys working on the car was crew chief James Small. He was ejected from Texas on Sunday after NASCAR penalized Truex’s team 20 points because of a spoiler problem. Small’s ejection from the track meant that he could go back to Joe Gibbs Racing’s shop and help tweak Truex’s car for Martinsville. Will that pay off on Sunday? We’ll find out.
1. Joey Logano [Win at Kansas]
2. Kevin Harvick, 4,137 points
3. Denny Hamlin, 4,122
4. Brad Keselowski, 4,120
5. Martin Truex Jr., 4,104
6. Chase Elliott, 4,095
7. Alex Bowman, 4,095
8. Kurt Busch, 4,039
Sunday, Nov. 1, 2 p.m. ET (NBC)
The favorite: Martin Truex Jr.
Best bets among the favorites
Chase Elliott +900
Elliott finished 36th in this race a year ago thanks to a broken axle. Don’t let the part failure dissuade you from betting on Elliott. He’s finished in the top 10 in four of his last five Martinsville starts since his infamous run-in with Denny Hamlin in 2017. Elliott doesn’t have to win to make the final round of the playoffs for the first time, but he needs a lot of help to race for the championship if he doesn’t. I’d be shocked if Elliott doesn’t have serious speed on Sunday.
Kevin Harvick +1000
It’s been a long time since you could get odds this good on Harvick. That’s because Harvick hasn’t been that good at Martinsville relative to his performance at other tracks. Harvick has finished no lower than 20th at Martinsville since he was 33rd in the fall of 2014, however, he’s also finished no higher than fifth and hasn’t led a lap since the 2016 spring race. That said, we’ve reached the point where you can’t count out Harvick anywhere. Would you really be that surprised if he won on Sunday?
Best bets among the long shots
Clint Bowyer +3500
Bowyer’s odds aren’t great because he’s struggled since he won at Martinsville in the spring of 2018. His finishes in the four races since have gone 21st, seventh, 35th and 17th. The crop of picks is pretty thin outside the drivers in the playoffs and Bowyer has show some short track speed throughout 2020. There are far worse drivers to place a few bucks on.
Jimmie Johnson +3500
This is a nostalgia pick. How fun would it be to see Johnson get what would likely be his final win at a track he’s dominated through the years? Johnson has nine wins and 25 top-10 finishes in 37 career starts at Martinsville. But, here’s the catch: He hasn’t been great lately. He’s finished no better than 10th — and that’s his only top 10 — since he won in the fall of 2016 on the way to his seventh Cup Series title. Maybe the magic can return for one final time.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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