Examining NASCAR post-Martinsville

Chaos reared its head Sunday at Martinsville Speedway as a first-time winner in the Xfinity Series occurred and numerous cautions, heated tempers and even the dreaded “Big One” made their appearances in the Cup race that followed. 

Through it all, we have some takeaways to discuss following the wild weekend on the paper clip. 

Martin Truex Jr. is the Cup Series title favorite

When we all believed Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin would be first to assert their dominance over the Cup field, it was Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 19 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing to be the first multi-time winner of the season. To top it off, what better tracks to win at then the hosts of the final two races of the season in Martinsville and Phoenix. 

Not only has Truex proven to be a factor to win the title come late Oct.-early Nov, but he’s also shown his talent on short tracks and road courses recently. He’s won the last two races at Sonoma Raceway. He’s finished no worse than seventh in every race at Watkins Glen since 2016, which includes either a win or runner-up finish from 2017-2019. He swept the Richmond races in 2019 and has won three of the last four races at Martinsville.

With the Cup Series adding Road America, Circuit of the Americas and the Indianapolis Road Course to the schedule, it opens the door for Truex to have a Harvick or Hamlin-esque year from 2020. 

Until proven otherwise, Truex should be the favorite to win his second Cup Series championship. 

Everyone should be eligible for a championship

Kyle Busch won his first career Cup Series championship in 2015. While many people outside of NASCAR will look at that on the surface, they fail to realize that he only ran 25 races that season after breaking his leg in the Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona. In the summer when he returned, Busch rattled off four wins in five races and went on to win the championship race at Homestead. He was granted a medical waiver to be eligible. 

Sunday, Josh Berry won his first-career race in the Xfinity Series and conversations were brought up about playoff eligibility again. Now, he hasn’t had the best of luck this season with three DNFs, but in the races he’s finished, they’ve all been top-10 finishes. 

Sure, Berry may only be scheduled to run 12 races for JR Motorsports, but shouldn’t that be fluid depending on his success? What if Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants Berry for more races? NASCAR should allow that opportunity. It’s time for NASCAR to loosen the reins on the definition of playoff eligibility and start granting these part-time drivers playoff eligibility if they can string together a win or two or can point their way in the races they run. 

More short tracks > More road courses

I’m not saying road courses are bad because they aren’t. However, NASCAR and stock-car races were built on local short-track racing. Annually, Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville bring out the personality and assertiveness of every driver and we see their passion after the race whether it be the glory of victory, the dread of losing or the frustration of getting into an altercation with another driver. Short tracks provide the entertainment NASCAR is looking for and these races are usually fast paced with their short lap times. 

Leave the road courses at the international level. Personally, I love Formula 1 and Australian SuperCars, but that doesn’t mean NASCAR needs to become those great racing leagues and insert more road courses. I am open to every new road course this season being awesome, and if they are, leave them on the schedule for a foreseeable future. Maybe, even bring back Circuit Gilles Villenueve or Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico to give NASCAR an international appeal. 

For now, let’s focus on NASCAR being NASCAR and not trying to make it something it is not. What the league needs is more short tracks.

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