Martinsville: One More Shot at the Championship 4 for JRM

Ron Lemasters | 10/29/2020

Jeb Burton Justin Allgaier Martinsville Speedway Michael Annett NASCAR Xfinity News Noah Gragson Playoffs

This weekend's Round of 8 finale carries with it enormous impact: the smallest track on the schedule will provide the biggest news of the season so far in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 29, 2020) – The last time JR Motorsports—or any other NASCAR Xfinity Series team—competed at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, George W. Bush was in the White House. That’s how long it’s been.

In fact, it’s been 14 years, three months and five days since July 22, 2006. JRM has made 1,290 starts in that time, won 52 races, three NXS championships and a ton of other awards. Kevin Harvick, owner of six of those 52 victories, won that day over Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin. Mark McFarland drove the No. 88 U.S. Navy Chevrolet for JRM that day, finishing 16th. Regan Smith, also a six-time winner for the team, was two spots better in 14th.

Returning to the .526-mile oval on Saturday carries with it a bit of fanfare: Martinsville is a popular track for those who enjoy short-track racing. It’s also the last chance that Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson and the No. 8 team at JRM with driver Jeb Burton will have to compete for the championship, as it is the cutoff race for the Championship 4.

In other words, the smallest track on the schedule will provide the biggest news of the season so far.

The weather report calls for temperatures on race day in the low 50s, and there won’t be any rubber down by the time the 250-lap race begins, so that’s another angle, along with the fact that the closest analogue to Martinsville’s track this year is Richmond.

Allgaier swept both Richmond races this year, by the way, in the No. 7 Chevrolet, and he has run at Martinsville in a NASCAR Cup Series car. Burton, who will try to get the No. 8 to the Championship 4 on the owner’s side, has the most laps among the JRM contingent on the track and he’s also a native Virginian. Gragson won in the Truck Series at Martinsville, and Michael Annett has run in the Cup Series at Martinsville as well, so there’s a lot of experience to draw on.

Allgaier is above the cut line for the Championship 4, though not comfortably so. The Illinois native is eight points over the cut line heading into Saturday’s race. Gragson is in must-win territory, sitting 24 points off the cut line. Burton is in similar straits, 50 below the cut line in the owner’s standings.

While the series hasn’t been to Martinsville in more than a decade, the crew-chief roster has been many times as part of Hendrick Motorsports. Taylor Moyer, crew chief for Burton and the No. 8, said that was a benefit.

“I’ve been there and the driver (Burton) has been there a lot,” Moyer said. “Compared to the competition, this organization has enough information and enough knowledge to where we should be fine. Our short-track program is probably the best we have here, along with superspeedways, so I expect we will stick to the basics. With no practice, at a track like Martinsville in the situation we’re in, most of us are going to go with what we know.”

The NXS machines are different beasts than the Cup cars, Moyer said, and they use essentially the same tires, so there are some assumptions that can be made.

“We have certainly seen in this series this year and last year, the tires NASCAR is giving us are essentially the same as the Cup cars and they’re built for high downforce,” Moyer said. “They’re pretty hard for our cars and they don’t grip into the track a lot, so it is going to be grip-limited. From what I saw in simulation, it was the same old Martinsville traces, where you brake, turn and get off the corner, slowly. It will be a little skatey for the first three laps until the tires get built up and then you’re pretty good.”

Moyer said the key was being able to adjust to changing conditions in the relatively short event. “I’m definitely building some adjustability into our car so you can audible if you need to in the limited number of pit stops we’re going to have,” he said. “Nobody really knows what you’re going to need until we get there. This is a finesse track, so you can’t just pound it in there like you can at Bristol. We as a group are pretty experienced there.”

Those 250 laps at Martinsville on Saturday will determine the Championship 4, and JRM has had at least one driver and team in the mix every year since 2016. The team’s chances will depend on who has prepared the best and who has the right ideas.

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XFINITY Series Schedule

XFINITY Series Standings

After Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200*

Phoenix Raceway | 11/7/2020
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Austin Cindric (P)40400
2Justin Allgaier (P)4032-8
3Justin Haley (P)4029-11
4Chase Briscoe (P)4028-12
5Noah Gragson2306-1734
6Brandon Jones2273-1767
7Ross Chastain2270-1770
8Harrison Burton #2248-1792
9Michael Annett2202-1838