Round of 8 Kicks Off at Martinsville

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase started with 16 drivers, and the field has now been trimmed down to eight. With four races remaining in the season, the action is picking up.

Coming from Talladega Superspeedway, the largest track on the circuit at 2.66 miles, the NSCS heads to Martinsville Speedway this weekend, the shortest and oldest track in NASCAR at 0.526 miles.

Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch are the remaining drivers. One can punch their ticket to the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a win at “The Paperclip.”

However, we’ve seen non-Chasers spoil the show before. And if there’s any time for it to happen again, it’s this round. With the surprise elimination of Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski last week, that puts two of the most dominant drivers throughout the 2016 season on the outside looking in. But that also means they can go all out for wins.

Truex Jr.’s No. 78 will lead the field to the green flag for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Logano, Johnson, AJ Allmendinger and Chase Elliott round out the top five starters, with Tony Stewart, Edwards, Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon rounding out the top ten. Yes, you read that right—THAT Jeff Gordon.

That Jeff Gordon won this race one year ago, which was his final NASCAR win (to date). This weekend marks his final scheduled Sprint Cup Series start. Then again, so did the season finale last season. When asked whether or not this will actually be his final race, he chuckled, smiled and told the reporter to “Ask Rick (Hendrick, team owner).”

Kenseth will roll off P17, Harvick P20 and Kurt Busch will start in the rear after going to a backup car thanks to a practice crash. Some other notables include Kyle Larson in 12th and Jamie McMurray in 14th. The Chip Ganassi Racing teammates led both practices on Saturday afternoon, and will be tough to beat once race No. 33 of 36 goes green.

The No. 18 of Busch won at “The Paperclip” earlier this season to claim his first grandfather clock. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammates always run well here, specifically Hamlin. The No. 11, who got into the Round of 8 by a mere two feet, has five wins at Martinsville. The only drivers ahead of him on the wins list at the track are Gordon and Johnson.

A couple more storylines to watch: will revenge happen again? Remember what happened last year in this race between Logano and Kenseth? Two Stewart-Haas Racing teammates got into a little feud last week. Could that possibly boil over into short-track tempers?

Can Gordon rekindle the flame and find victory lane one last time? What about the driver of his famed No. 24 car, Chase Elliott? Can he get his first career win? I say no.

I’m picking Matt Kenseth to win this race. As stated in Victory Lane this week, the dude is a quiet assassin, and that’s a recipe for success in this Chase format.