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NASCAR Martinsville preview: Elliott returns, how to watch

NASCAR Martinsville preview: Elliott returns, how to watch

Chase Elliott celebrates his season championship in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Phoenix Raceway, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

Chase Elliott celebrates his season championship in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Phoenix Raceway, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

AP

It’s about time we hit another short track.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Martinsville Speedway at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Fans can catch the season’s second short-track points race on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.

Here are four story lines to keep you up-to-date on all things NASCAR ahead of Sunday’s race.

Chase Elliott is back. NASCAR’s most popular driver is making his long-awaited return to the Cup Series at Martinsville. The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports car and 2020 Cup champion has missed the past several races after sustaining a fractured tibia in his left leg back in early March. The injury was caused by a snowboarding accident and required immediate surgery. Elliott told reporters on Friday that he expects Martinsville to be a “tough” race considering the short-track’s demands on a driver — particularly on his left foot which controls the brakes — but Elliott is excited and optimistic for the race after a few sessions in the Chevy simulator.

There’s an update involving Cody Ware. The Cup driver for Rick Ware Racing was indefinitely suspended from all NASCAR events on Monday after he was charged with felony assault by strangulation — inflict serious injury — and misdemeanor assault on a woman. On Monday, two more charges surfaced: Ware was charged with assault — inflict serious injury — and was issued a criminal summons for communicating threats. Truck Series star Zane Smith will drive in the No. 51 car in Martinsville.

FILE - Cody Ware listens during driver introductions before the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 19, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. NASCAR has suspended Cup Series driver Ware indefinitely after he was arrested for assault on a female and assault by strangulation. The Iredell County Sheriff’s Office in Statesville, North Carolina indicated Ware’s bond was set at $3,000 after his arrest, per NASCAR.com. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
FILE – Cody Ware listens during driver introductions before the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 19, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. NASCAR has suspended Cup Series driver Ware indefinitely after he was arrested for assault on a female and assault by strangulation. The Iredell County Sheriff’s Office in Statesville, North Carolina indicated Ware’s bond was set at $3,000 after his arrest, per NASCAR.com. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File) John Raoux AP

Will we see another successful short-track race? Drivers had a lot of positive things to say about the Next Gen car’s new short-track package that debuted at Richmond Raceway a few weeks ago. But even last year, Martinsville was the site of some magic: The penultimate race of the 2023 season featured Ross Chastain sliding up against the wall, locking into fifth gear and scraping his way to the Championship 4 and ultimate glory.

Ross Chastain (1) reacts with fans before the race during the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Ross Chastain (1) reacts with fans before the race during the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports John David Mercer John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

Who is looking to go on a run? Sunday marks a new season for a lot of drivers who thrive at traditional ovals on pavement, particularly after a stretch that saw a road course and a dirt race in two of the past three races. There are no novelties coming up at the next few racetracks, though, and that excites Denny Hamlin — who claimed on his podcast that this was when he and his 11 team will start getting “white hot” — and should excite Bubba Wallace, who has a great track record at three of the next four racetracks on the schedule.

As for Sunday? William Byron (+600) and Kyle Larson (+650) opened as the favorites to win at Martinsville, but Christopher Bell — last fall’s winner at Martinsville and the circuit’s new points leader after his win last week at Bristol — isn’t far behind at +650.

There are 10 drivers who have won Cup races at Martinsville who’ll be active on Sunday. Hamlin has notched five wins. Martin Truex Jr. has notched three. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch have two apiece. And then Bell, Byron, Elliott, Alex Bowman, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick each have one.

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday, May 23, 2019.
NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

How to watch Cup race at Martinsville

  • Race: NOCO 400
  • Place: Martinsville Speedway
  • Date: Sunday, April 16
  • Time: 3 p.m. ET
  • Purse: $7,324,203
  • TV: FS1, 2 p.m. ET
  • Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
  • Distance: 210.4 miles (400 Laps around 0.526-mile track)
  • Stages: Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 80), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 180), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 400)

Starting lineup for NOCO 400: Ryan Preece wins pole

Ryan Preece earned his first career pole on Saturday. JJ Yeley’s No. 15 car will start in the back after failing pre-race inspection twice, per NASCAR. That also means a crew member’s ejection and a loss of pit selection.)

Position Driver Car No.
1 Ryan Preece 41
2 Daniel Suarez 99
3 Aric Almirola 10
4 Chase Briscoe 14
5 Martin Truex Jr. 19
6 Tyler Reddick 45
7 Kevin Harvick 4
8 William Byron 24
9 Bubba Wallace 23
10 Chris Buescher 17
11 Denny Hamlin 11
12 Ty Gibbs 54
13 Todd Gilliland 38
14 AJ Allmendinger 16
15 Joey Logano 22
16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 47
17 Kyle Busch 8
18 Austin Dillon 3
19 Kyle Larson 5
20 Michael McDowell 34
21 Brad Keselowski 6
22 Christopher Bell 20
23 Alex Bowman 48
24 Chase Elliott 9
25 Austin Cindric 2
26 Justin Haley 31
27 Corey LaJoie 7
28 Erik Jones 43
29 Noah Gragson 42
30 Anthony Alfredo 78
31 Ryan Blaney 12
32 Harrison Burton 21
33 Zane Smith 51
34 Ross Chastain 1
35 Ty Dillon 77
36 JJ Yeley 15

This story was originally published April 16, 2023, 7:00 AM.

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Alex Zietlow writes about NASCAR, Charlotte FC and the ways in which sports intersect with life for The Charlotte Observer, where he has been a reporter since August 2022. Zietlow’s work has been honored by the N.C. and S.C. Press Associations, as well as the APSE, which awarded him with a Top 10 finish in the APSE Long Feature category in its 2022 writing contest. He also earned two Top 10 distinctions in the APSE Beat Writing and Short Feature categories in 2021. Zietlow previously wrote for The Herald in Rock Hill (S.C.) from 2019-22.
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