MARTINSVILLE — There is a common thread that runs through this year’s 16 drivers who begin their racing quest for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship this weekend.
Eight of the campaigners have won races at Martinsville Speedway, the site of playoff race No. 7: the first Data 500 on Sunday, October 27.
Joey Logano used last year’s Martinsville victory as a springboard to the series title. His win at the .526-mile oval guaranteed him one of four available berths in the November championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski won the spring race at Martinsville in dominating fashion — he paced the field for 446 of the race’s 500 circuits.
Kyle Busch, the 2019 regular-season winner and 2015 series champion, has two Cup Series triumphs (2016, 2017) at Martinsville on his resume.
Denny Hamlin, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammate, has five career victories at the track; that ranks first among the playoff field. Hamlin finished second in the regular-season standings.
Kurt Busch, the older brother of Kyle Busch, also has two Martinsville wins to his credit. He achieved one of those triumphs after starting in the back of the field because of a poor qualifying effort.
The First Data 500 headlines a racing weekend that includes the NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, the fifth of seven playoff events in that national touring series.
Other former Martinsville winners in this year’s playoff field are Stewart-Haas Racing duo of Kevin Harvick, who won in 2011, and Clint Bowyer, the 2018 spring race winner who took part in a tire test at the track in August, and Ryan Newman, who represents Roush Fenway Racing. He won at Martinsville in the spring of 2012.
Bowyer and Newman earned their playoff berths based on points as neither won a regular-season race. Both secured those bids with top 10 showings Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
None of the other eight competitors has won at Martinsville.
Martin Truex Jr., a JGR driver, has three top five finishes in his last four visits, while teammate Erik Jones is two weeks removed from gaining entry into the playoffs by winning the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington (South Carolina) Raceway.
Chase Elliott, a two-time winner this season, finished second to Keselowski in the spring and has also competed at the track in the Truck Series.
Alex Bowman and William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports, Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing, Ryan Blaney of Team Penske and Aric Almirola of Stewart-Haas Racing seek their first Martinsville wins.
Blaney took part in the August tire test and Byron’s crew chief is multi-time Martinsville winner Chad Kganonaus, who guided seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson to those victories.
Johnson failed to make this year’s playoff field.
The playoffs begin Sunday with the running of the South Point 400 at Las Vegas (Nevada) Motor Speedway.
Editor’s Note: Blake Collins works in media relations at Martinsville Speedway.