Apr. 8, 2021
NASCAR Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 Analysis
It seems like forever since NASCAR last ran a race, but in reality, they only took Easter weekend off. Perhaps it seems so long because the last race run was on dirt at Bristol, something the series hasn’t done in over 50 years. More on that coming up, but let’s hype the excitement we’re about to see Saturday night at Martinsville Speedway’s flat half-mile paperclip layout.
Saturday’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 will be the 145th Cup race held on Martinsville's storied grounds. They’ve been racing there since 1949, and it still might produce the best brand of NASCAR racing twice annually because it gives us a feel of how things used to be. Cars bumping and banging at slow enough speeds make drivers feel comfortable knocking each other out of the way with little fear of hurting the other driver.
It gives most of us fans something we want to see weekly. We want to see new rivalries created and it happens in every race at Martinsville.
It’s been a track over the years where payback is exacted because of the slow speeds and/or driver’s paths crossing often over the course of 500 laps and 1,000 turns. The heat alone inside the car gets drivers antsy and it doesn’t take much to get their tempers flaming hot.
Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 Betting Resources
That is the NASCAR I want weekly. In fact, I want more short tracks more than I want more road courses, more than I want races on 1.5-mile tracks, and certainly more than I want dirt track racing.
I realize most of the drivers say they loved the dirt race at Bristol two weeks ago, and Bristol seemed to like it as well because they already announced dirt is back at Bristol for next season. NASCAR thinks they’re onto something here that will create new interest from another set of racing fans.
What’s so exciting about a 250 lap race where there are only five lead changes among five drivers? Worse off, it took away a Cup race on the high-banked concrete bullring from one of my favorite venues. I was thinking If you want to do a dirt race, go to a new/old track like North Wilkesboro or Rockingham where the racing of any type there would be a welcomed sight for most fans.
With NASCAR being impressed with itself on the dirt, what is next? Will we have the 750 horsepower engines and all the colorful cars of the Cup Series strapped onto Monster Truck tires. How about a Figure 8 race? That’s something that is sure to create some intense action. Or how about something really new thinking that we all remember, a good old-fashioned Demolition Derby? That’s forward-thinking, right?
Or how about we just put the drivers in Indy cars and run a street circuit race in downtown Las Vegas? Or how about we put all the cars in Indy-style wheels. No more five lug nut nonsense. Just one hub, and erase all the importance of strategy from a fast pit crew. Oh wait, that’s the Next-Gen car that will be used next season in the Cup Series.
I realize I'm in the minority here on not liking a points race held on dirt. Many of my friends did like it, and that's cool for them. I can only be honest about how I felt about it from my own process. I wasn't excited about it beforehand like I am most weeks. I've been watching every NASCAR race since the late 1980s and felt no NASCAR enthusiasm before, during practices, qualifying, the race itself, or afterward. I felt NASCAR took a step back.
Martin Truex Jr. captured last year's playoff race in Martinsville and he's expected to contend again at the venue on Saturday. (AP)
Handicapping NASCAR at Martinsville
Anyway, enough about the Bristol Dirt Race, which ironically is the only race through seven this season I cashed an odds/win ticket with Joey Logano catching 30/1 odds. And for the same reason I bet Logano on the dirt, I’m betting him again this week.
It all starts with Logano because he’s been the most consistent in the three 2021 races with the package using the 750 horsepower engines. He was runner-up at the Daytona road course, runner-up at Phoenix, and the winner of the dirt race. He led laps in all three.
He’s also led 1,083 laps in 24 Martinsville starts averaging a 12th-place finish with one win (2018) and eight top-fives, two of which he gained last season. In the June race, he led a race-high 234 laps and finished fourth. In the fall he finished third after leading 19 laps. No changes to the 750 HP package this season and he’s doing the same thing or better with it in 2021. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has him posted 7/1.
Chase the Contenders?
The Westgate Las Veags SuperBook has Martin Truex Jr. listed as the 7/2 favorite based on Truex winning two of the last three at Martinsville, including a 2019 fall win that was the most dominant win in Martinsville history when he led 464 of the 500 laps. Truex won the Phoenix race last month using this week’s race package. Seven races have produced seven different winners.
Some of the drivers listed as SuperBook favorites to win still have no wins yet in 2021 such as Chase Elliott (5/1), Brad Keselowski (5/1), Denny Hamlin (8/1), and Kyle Busch (10/1).
Elliott captured the fall Martinsville race during the playoffs last season leading a race-high 236 laps. It was one of five wins Elliott had last season using the 750 HP package, but he cautions about relying on the past.
“Last year’s win at Martinsville was huge for us,” Elliott said. “It’s great to know that we’ve had some good runs there, but you always have to keep in mind that your past success doesn’t equal success in the future. It never has and I don’t think it ever will - that’s just racing. So, I think for us, we will have some good information from last year and I look forward to getting to Martinsville this weekend and seeing what we can do.”
Keselowski had the second most dominant win at Martinsville I had ever seen in the spring of 2019 when he led 446 laps (Elliott runner-up, led 49 laps). Half of his 22 starts have resulted in top-fives at Martinsville. All three Penske drivers had top-fives in both Martinsville races last season. Again, same package in 2021. Keselowski scored top-fives in two of the three races using this week’s race package.
Logano has top-fives in all three this season. Only Hamlin can make that claim -- he’s been third-place in all three. He’s looking for his first win and he knows Martinsville is a place he can get it at.
“Absolutely,” Hamlin said. “We’re obviously on a strong run with all the top-fives we have, so we’re doing a lot of things right. It’s just a matter of time before we get ourselves upfront at the checkers. In the meantime, we’re going to keep working on collecting stage points and growing our lead any way we can.”
Six top-fives through seven races is definitely going to score points and also gives him a great start position. He is on the front row next to Logano who is on the pole.
With Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon both retired, Hamlin takes on the active leader role in many Martinsville categories such as wins (5), top-10s (21), average finish (9.9), and laps led (1,608). But his last win there was in 2015. You can’t leave him out of your Martinsville betting strategy this week.
Martinsville Value Bets
And then we have Kyle Busch who grabbed both his Grandfather clocks (Martinsville trophy) in two of the last 10 races there. He leads all active drivers with 16 top-fives. He has a 12th-place average finish, and 1,429 laps led. He also has a couple of Truck Series wins.
Oddly enough, neither Hamlin and Busch have a win yet, although their Joe Gibbs Racing teammates already do with Truex and Christopher Bell both winning with this week’s package. Just on Gibbs equipment alone, Bell should be a small play at 60/1 odds to win. He’s got all the shared information from his three teammates who have nine Cup wins alone at Martinsville.
Two other drivers I’m seeking the best prices on this week are William Byron and Alex Bowman who William Hill sportsbooks both had at 30/1 odds. The SuperBook has each 40/1 which appear to be the best odds so far. Hendrick cars were great for Elliott using the 750 HP package last season. Hendrick drivers have 25 Martinsville Cup wins, they know what they’re doing here and Byron has a runner-up (2019) there already and Bowman was sixth in both last season.
Kyle Larson has never done much at Martinsville. Too slow, not his style. But then again, he’s never had a car set-up for Martinsville as good as he will Saturday night. The SuperBook has him listed at 18/1 odds to win.
Enjoy the Saturday night special, I know I can’t wait.
Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500