Back to “The Paperclip”
The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series makes its return trip to Martinsville Speedway for the second race in the Round of 6 in the Playoffs. Kyle Busch took the checkered flag in the first race there earlier this year.
Three former Martinsville race winners are entered in Saturday’s showdown – but only one is a championship contender.
Johnny Sauter leads the field – and drivers overall – with four wins (Fall 2018, Fall 2016, Spring 2013, Spring 2011) at the half-mile circuit and will be looking to play the spoiler as he was eliminated from the Playoffs after the opening round.
His ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton is still in championship contention and has a pair of wins himself (Fall 2015, Spring 2014) at Martinsville.
John Hunter Nemechek, who is declared for points in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, won at Martinsville in the spring of last year. He is scheduled to drive the NEMCO Motorsport’s No. 8 this weekend.
The race on Saturday is scheduled for 200 laps with stage breaks at 50 and 100 laps.
The Championship 4 grid is still blank
With non-Playoff contender Spencer Boyd taking the win in the opening race of the Round of 6, that means all four spots in the championship battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway are still up for grabs with Martinsville and ISM Raceway looming.
Defending champion Brett Moffitt sits in the best position – holding a 45-point advantage over fifth-place Tyler Ankrum, one spot outside the Championship 4 cutoff.
After that, however, the cushion diminishes significantly – making each of the next two races especially important.
Stewart Friesen is in second, 22 points ahead of Ankrum, while Austin Hill is third – 12 points ahead of the cutoff. And just one point separates Matt Crafton in the fourth and final championship-contending slot from Ankrum.
And despite a late-race crash from the lead at Talladega, Ross Chastain is only two points behind Crafton.
How they have fared at Martinsville
With the points standings so tightly bunched after the opening race of the second round of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs, the six drivers still in championship contention have their sights set on the NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Here’s a breakdown of the Martinsville track record for each of the six drivers, in order of points standing:
Brett Moffitt – No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet: The leader of the points has competed four times at Martinsville, never finishing worse than sixth – which he did in his first trip to the track in the spring of 2017. Since then he put up finishes of third and second last year and was third again earlier this season on the half-mile circuit. Moffitt also competed in two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Martinsville during his Sunoco Rookie of the Year season in that series.
Stewart Friesen – No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet: Friesen, an ace on the dirt short tracks, has raced five times at Martinsville, putting up mixed results. He’s had two finishes of 20th or worse alongside a pair of top 10s (sixth in the fall of 2017 and fifth earlier this season). Friesen started from the pole in the spring race this year.
Austin Hill – No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota: In eight starts at “The Paperclip,” Hill has managed just two top-10 finishes – 10th in the fall of 2016 and ninth in the spring race last year. He has posted an average finish of 16.2 at Martinsville.
Matt Crafton – No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford: Crafton is the lone remaining Playoff contender who has recorded a win at Martinsville – in fact, he has two – in the spring of 2014 en route to his second series championship and then in the fall of 2015. In 35 starts at Martinsville, Crafton has recorded nine top-five and 20 top-10 results, as well as an impressive average finish of 10.2. He’s suffered only two DNFs there, both a result of mechanical issues.
Tyler Ankrum – No. 17 DGR-Crosley Toyota: Ankrum has the smallest sample size at Martinsville out of the Playoff drivers, having competed in just two races at the short track. He finished 18th last fall and was 19th earlier this season.
Ross Chastain – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet: Chastain has made seven starts at Martinsville, posting a 12.7 average finish at the track. His best finish, and his lone top-five result, came earlier this year when he crossed the line fourth. He also had three top 10s, two of them coming in the most recent two races. Chastain has also competed in three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Martinsville.
The remaining Round of 6 tracks
After opening with the high-speed, high-banked, 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway the Gander Trucks head to the much shorter and flatter 0.52-mile Martinsville Speedway this Saturday after taking a week off.
With two races to go to determine the four drivers who will race for the championship in Miami, here’s a look at the two tracks remaining in the Round of 6:
Martinsville Speedway – Saturday, October 26: Martinsville, affectionately known as “The Paperclip” due to its shape, is a .52-mile short track. It has 12 degrees of banking in the turns and is perfectly flat in the straights. Each straightaway is 800 feet long. The race will be 105.2 miles (200 laps) long. Johnny Sauter won this race last year while Kyle Busch won the spring race this season. Matt Crafton has two wins at Martinsville (Spring, 2014; Fall, 2015) and is the only remaining Playoff contender with a win at “The Paperclip.”
ISM Raceway – Friday, November 8: ISM Raceway, located near Phoenix, Arizona, is a one-mile track that was recently reconfigured (prior to the 2018 fall race) to move the start/finish line to the former backstretch, just before the dog leg. The banking in Turns 1 and 2 are 11 degrees while it’s nine degrees in Turns 3 and 4. The frontstretch is 1,179 feet long and banked at three degrees and the backstretch is 1,551 feet long and has nine degrees of banking. Brett Moffitt won this race last year. He is the only remaining Playoff contender with a victory at the track.
Look for Tanner Gray to make a fast start
If it appears the No. 15 DGR-Crosley Toyota has considerable straightaway speed, there’s a reason for it.
The driver behind the wheel is the 2018 NHRA Pro Stock champion.
Tanner Gray will be making his NASCAR national series debut on the half-mile Martinsville short track, a mere eight months after making his first stock car start in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series at New Smyrna Speedway during Speedweeks.
And if there’s anything that the 20-year-old Gray has shown in his short racing career, it’s that he adapts quickly. He started in the NHRA Pro Stock division in 2017 and became the youngest NHRA national event winner in April of that year. He then won the championship in 2018, his second year in the division.
After making his stock car debut in February, Gray then earned his first pole and first victory while making left turns in just his third race – at another Virginia track, South Boston Speedway, that is just shy of Martinsville in length.
Gray is scheduled to finish up the 2019 schedule in DGR-Crosley Toyotas, running at Martinsville, ISM Raceway and Miami.
K&N Pro Series East champ to make second Gander Truck start
After winning the 2019 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship and rookie of the year on the strength of four wins, Sam Mayer is set to take on his second NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race.
The 16-year old will be behind the wheel of the No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet this weekend once again, having made his NASCAR national series debut earlier this year at Bristol. He started 18th and finished 21stt after being involved in a crash just shy of the finish.
This year in the K&N Pro Series East, Mayer swept the series’ pair of visits to Bristol, won the Iowa stop in July and concluded the season in Victory Lane at Dover. And he was extremely consistent while driving for GMS Racing – finishing in the top-five in 11 of the 12 races this season. His worst finish this season was an 11th-place result in the second stop at South Boston.
Mayer also made eight ARCA Menards Series starts this season, finishing in the top five in seven of those efforts. That included a second-place finish in his second start at Salem Speedway.