Martinsville is a land of chaos. The flat, half-mile short track has just enough room to get alongside someone on corner entry and far too little room to give an inch if someone is trying to pass you, the perfect recipe for the high-contact racing that has helped keep the track among the classics of the Cup Series. It is a major reason that races here average some nine cautions a running, but outlier races certainly do appear. Today's 400-lapper was an outlier race.
Every NASCAR race run under the current rule set mandates at least two cautions at the end of the first and second stages. This race also had two brief cautions for cars slowed on track. None of the four involved contact between other cars. Up front, a lack of chaos meant relatively smooth sailing for Hendrick Motorsports. Their Chase Elliott led the first 185 laps, winning the first and second stages over teammate William Byron. During the pit stop at the second stage break, Byron beat Elliott out of the pit lane. He would not look back, leading 212 of the remaining 218 laps to take his second win of the season.
The second win makes Byron the first driver that is certain to make the 2022 playoffs if eligible, although in every prior season of the current rule format all eligible drivers with at least one win were able to make the field. He, Alex Bowman, and Kyle Larson have now combined to win four races for Hendrick Motorsports in the year's first eight races, and an additional win for Trackhouse driver Ross Chastain means that Chevrolet has won five of those eight races. Elliott, who came home a relatively disappointing tenth after fading out of contention in the final stage, is the only Hendrick driver without a win this season.
Next weekend, chaos is a guarantee. The series heads back to Bristol for its second attempt at a race on a temporary dirt surface over the high-banked short track's permanent concrete. Last year, the first attempt at this event was a track prep catastrophe that marred stretches of excellent dirt racing. That was the first Cup dirt race in decades, but it was building on a foundation of successful races on dirt by the Truck Series that had fundamentally similar cars. This year, teams will have to contend with the second draft of a Bristol dirt track in a Next Gen car that has never seen a dirt surface in race trim.