MARTINSVILLE, Va. — (Photo Credit: NASCAR) — The thrill and competitive tension for this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship doesn’t get much tighter than this.
The two season-long top trophy contenders – Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick – are separated by a single point as the series heads into Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) to start the final three-race Round of 8 that sets up the championship finale. Busch retook the points lead from Harvick with his runner-up finish Sunday at Kansas and holds a 37-point edge on eighth place Aric Almirola – the final member of the championship-eligible field.
A win this round automatically earns a driver a position in the Championship 4 for the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And despite each driver’s seven-victory total and sizable points advantage, Busch and Harvick would still like to head to the grand finale with another win in the season’s final weeks.
Busch has a pair of victories at this week’s Martinsville venue, including this race last year when he led 184 of the 505 laps. It’s been five races since his last victory (at Richmond) of 2018. He’s led multiple laps in only two of the six Playoff races.
It’s been ten races since Harvick’s last win (at Michigan) – the longest time between wins for him this year. He has led laps in five of the opening six Playoff events and started from the front row three times. He’s still looking for his first Playoff victory of 2018, however. His best post-season showing was a runner-up – to Busch – at Richmond.
Tale Of The Tape
The notoriously tough Martinsville half-miler has been the scene of two different recent resumes for the two championship leaders, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.
Busch is not only the defending winner of this fall race, but finished runner-up in both the 2017 and 2018 spring races at the track. He has finished in the top five in the last six races at Martinsville – winning two and finishing second in two.
He’s led more than 100 laps in three of those races – 352 laps in his 2016 spring victory, 274 laps in in last spring’s runner-up showing and 184 laps in winning this Playoff race last year. In all, he’s led 1,324 career laps at Martinsville compared to Harvick’s 628 laps led.
Harvick’s only win in 34 Martinsville starts was in the spring of 2011 while he was still driving for Richard Childress Racing (RCR). His best showing with his current Stewart-Haas Racing team was fifth, where he’s finished the last two races. He hasn’t led a lap at the track since April, 2016. However, it’s worth noting, Harvick finished 33rd in the Martinsville Playoff race in 2014 and still won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
CREDIT: NASCAR PR