“In the Know”
This Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race is the last chance for the eligible postseason contenders to earn a spot in the 2021 Championship 4 Round. Catch all the action at 2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Saturday’s Xfinity Series race will also see 8 playoff contenders fighting for a spot in the Championship 4 Round. You can follow the action at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and MRN.
NASCAR Cup Series Overview
● Event: Xfinity 500 (Round 35 of 36)
● Time/Date: 2 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Oct. 31
● Location: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway
● Layout: .526-mile oval
● Laps/Miles: 500 laps/263 miles
● Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 130 laps / Stage 2: 130 laps / Final Stage: 240 laps
● TV/Radio: NBC / MRN Radio / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
What Our Drivers are Saying:
Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Unibet Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing
How are you approaching this Sunday’s race at Martinsville, where you’re racing the track and those eight drivers still in the playoffs? More specifically, do you approach this race differently than you did when you raced at Martinsville back in April?
“It’s pretty much the same. You have to be on the offensive a lot of the time, but you also have to put yourself in good positions defensively, as well, to make sure you don’t get your car torn up, or get it torn up as little as possible as you go through the day. It’s definitely a little bit different at the end of the year just because of the fact that everybody’s agenda is different. You have eight guys who are left racing for a championship. You’ve got guys that want to win races and you’ve got guys who just want to have a good finish. So, there are a number of different agendas that, really, we’re dealing with all the way through the playoffs.”
Aric Almirola, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield/IHOP Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What does it take to run well at short tracks?
“No matter what the situation is, we as racers always love going to short tracks. It’s what we grew up doing and it puts the outcome in the driver’s hands more than the superspeedway races. You can’t pass much, so it’s extremely important that you stay mentally and physically focused throughout the entire run.”
Chase Briscoe, Driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Martinsville doesn’t really compare to any of the other short tracks you race at throughout the year, so how do you feel about going back there as the season winds down?
“I’m not really sure what to expect. I have a hard time at these short tracks and you could see that at Richmond, too. I just didn’t grow up doing this kind of racing and there isn’t anything I can apply from my background that works at these places. It’s good that I’ve at least had a chance to run Martinsville in the Cup car this time around, but I’m honestly still kind of lost with what to expect. We’re not going to have the best starting spot, which isn’t great because that means it’ll be easier to get caught up in something early on. But, I think it will be an exciting race. Martinsville has always been one of my favorites to watch as a fan and, with the way the points are right now, I would expect it to be entertaining. Everyone is going to be mad by the end of it and fighting for whatever spot they can get.”
Cole Custer, Driver of the No. 41 Dixie Vodka Peach Cocktail Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What would it mean to you to win one of those grandfather clock trophies?
“I’d have to figure out somewhere to put it. (Laughs.) I’d probably put it somewhere in my kitchen, or in the middle of the living room or something, because it would be probably the biggest and best trophy I’d ever gotten. That’s one every single person wants. It’s so unique, it means so much in our community in NASCAR to win that trophy. At the end of that race, everybody wants to get that clock and they’re going to beat and bang for it.”
Kevin Harvick has made 40 career starts at the .526-mile oval and recorded 20 top-10s, the second-highest tally among all active Cup Series drivers. Only Hamlin has more top-10s (22). Among those 20 top-10s earned by Harvick is a win in April 2011. He defeated Dale Earnhardt Jr., by .727 of a second to win the Goody’s Fast Relief 500. It was Harvick’s 20th NASCAR Cup Series start at the track and his 16th career Cup Series victory. Harvick now has 58 career Cup Series wins and is alone at 10th on the all-time win list. Harvick’s best Martinsville finish since joining SHR in 2014 is a pair of fifth-place results – Oct. 29, 2017 and March 20, 2018. He finished ninth in his most recent visit to the track in April.
In 26 starts, Aric Almirola has earned one top-five finish, five top-10s, and has led 75 laps. Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz visited victory lane at Martinsville in March 2018 with former Stewart-Haas Racing driver and current FOX analyst Clint Bowyer after leading 215 laps. “Buga” is in his sixth fulltime season at SHR and his second with Almirola.
Chase Briscoe’s first trip to the track affectionately known as “The Paperclip” back in April was the first true short-track test for the Cup Series rookie. The No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team finished 27th after sustaining damage in multiple incidents. When the Xfinity Series made its return to Martinsville in the fall of 2020 after a 13-year hiatus, Briscoe finished seventh.
Sunday’s 500-lap race around the .526-mile, paperclip-shaped Martinsville oval will be Cole Custer’s 74th Cup Series start and his fourth at Martinsville. The 23-year-old had a best Martinsville finish of 13th last October before returning this past April and recording an 18th-place finish. Custer had solid runs among his six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Martinsville from 2014 through 2016. He qualified on the pole and led a race-high 96 of 200 laps before finishing fourth in the October 2015 race, when he drove the No. 00 JR Motorsports entry.
Of Special Interest
Be sure to check out our merch hauler at Martinsville Speedway this weekend! If you can’t attend in person, you can shop anytime at store.stewarthaasracing.com