Critical Race: Martinsville’s Place on Schedule has Drivers’ Attention in 2018 Playoffs
In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, there are goals each and every driver aims for every year. After Monday’s race at Indianapolis, 16 drivers checked off one of those goals by qualifying for the NASCAR Playoffs, giving them a shot at the 2018 Championship.
How each of those 16 drivers attack the next 10 races will determine who accomplishes the biggest goal of all – winning the title. How each driver plans to go about that, however, differs.
One thing the drivers seemed to agree on is the First Data 500 at Martinsville is a critical stop in the Playoffs. The winner of the October 29th race could be the first to lock himself into the Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“It’s really important,” two-time Playoff contender Ryan Blaney said of the First Data 500. “If you can make it to that Round of 8, with Martinsville being the first race, it’s super important to try to get out ahead. If you can win the first race of each round, it makes you sleep so much better at night the next two weeks knowing you are in the Championship round. So it’s very important to start that round off well so you aren’t coming behind the 8-ball. It can definitely make you when it comes to getting to Homestead, but it can break you just as easy.”
The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, Martin Truex Jr., agreed.
“It’s really critical you can lock yourself in and not worry about Phoenix,” Truex Jr. said. “Last year, we saw what happened there (with two big wrecks in the closing laps.) It’s good old short-track racing. You want to get the best finish you can and lock yourself in, but you’ve also got to put yourself in a good position to get to the next round. It’s certainly a pivotal race. All the races are important but certainly the first race of each round guys are feeling the pressure.”
Clint Bowyer, who won at Martinsville in the spring, said past success gives confidence, but he can’t take it for granted that he will repeat.
“First you’ve got to get there and be alive in the Playoffs,” Bowyer said. “But, to be able to lock yourself into the Championship is huge. It’s certainly a place we’ve won before and as the most recent winner there, makes us one of the favorites to win there again. But, there’s no guarantees in this sport, so we’ve got to go back and make sure the car’s right and that we’re right and hopefully we can do it again.”
Denny Hamlin, who has made the playoffs 12 times in his 13 year career, said rule changes made him change how he approaches the Playoffs with Martinsville playing a critical role in the current format.
“It’s a different format now, so you’ve got to play the format,” Hamlin said. “It used to be it was a body of work over ten weeks and then it became the stage format, where you’ve got three races to perform or you win and you move to the next round. It all changes, so you’ve got to change your approach and hopefully you’re prepared to go on a run and then do what we did last year, where we weren’t that spectacular during the regular season, but we performed well when it counted.”
Truex Jr., who’s making his sixth Playoff appearance, said while his opponents may change, he’s going to try to do the same thing that had him hoisting the Cup last year after a second-place run at Martinsville.
“I don’t think (we change our approach). It’s obviously a different year and there are different challenges, but and there are different guys you look at you have to beat each week,” Truex Jr. said. “For me, I think we just approach it the same way: that we’re dialed in, we’re up to the challenge and make sure we’re focused on what it takes.”
The First Data 500 weekend is October 26-28.
Advance ticket prices for the First Data 500 begin at just $46 with youth tickets for fans 17-and-under costing just $25 regardless of location. Youth 17-and-under will be admitted free to the Texas Roadhouse 200 presented by Alpha Energy Solutions NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race as well as Friday’s practice day.
The weekend starts with a practice day for the truck series on Friday, followed by the Hauler Parade.
On Saturday, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is in action with the Texas Roadhouse 200 presented by Alpha Energy Solutions. Following the race the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will qualify for Sunday’s First Data 500.
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