When Tommy Joe Martins announced the return of his family-owned Martins Motorsports team for the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, there was cautious optimism that the Mississippi-native could really make some noise. When the No. 44 team missed the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway, the optimism, for many, diminished. Turns out, writing off the little team that could was a huge mistake for many.
Martins finished an impressive 15th in Friday night’s GoBowling 250 at Richmond Raceway, which marks his fourth top-15 finish in the last six NASCAR Xfinity Series races. It’s been one heck of a stretch for the driver and team, which don’t often get much television air time despite often punching above their weight.
Martins’ great run came after rolling from the grid in 21st. For the first portion of the race, the driver of the No. 44 slid back to about 24th, where he would ride until a caution on lap 15.
When the race resumed, Martins charged back into the top-20 before the competition caution at lap 40. With a few laps remaining in Stage 1, Martins had worked his way to 17th-place, but contact from behind sent Martins dropping in the running order like a rock to 27th. He would rally to finish Stage 1 in 21st.
In Stage 2, Martins came alive with a car that excelled on the long run and in a race that was void of calamity, that turned out to be a perfect recipe for success. Martins would finish Stage 2 in 14th.
In the final Stage of the race, Martins would drop to 17th in the early laps, but just as was the case in Stage 2, his car came to life over the long run, and he charged back inside the top-15. When the checkered flag was given to the field, the No. 44 car was sitting solidly in 15th.
This latest impressive performance means that Martins will start on the pole after an invert of the top-15 finishers for Saturday’s NXS Virginia is For Racing Lovers 250 at Richmond. While it is’t an official pole earned by turning a fastest single lap in a standard qualifying session, the No. 44 machine rolling from the top spot is a huge deal for the underdog driver and team.
P1. Surreal. https://t.co/My4NJ8crCJ
— Tommy Joe Martins (@TommyJoeMartins) September 12, 2020
A season that started with such promise, which turned to disappointment in Daytona, followed by hard luck in several events afterward, has turned into a career-year for the 33-year old driver.
Martins now sits inside the top-20 of the NASCAR Xfinity Series point standings (20th) and if he can keep the pace he’s had so far this season, he’ll record his career-best average finish over the course of a season. Currently, Martins is averaging a finish of 22.6. This is without a doubt the best season in Martins’ Xfinity Series career.
In his first 57-career NXS starts, Martins recorded a total of two top-15 finishes, he already has six top-15s in 23 starts this season. He is closing in his first-career top-10 finish and realistically, it could happen Saturday at Richmond.
Martins has had an abysmal starting position all season long, due to the random draws and new NASCAR performance metric that has determined starting lineups while NASCAR continues to work through the Coronavirus pandemic. Martins’ average starting position (28.7) is 6.1 spots lower than his average finish. With him start from pole on Saturday, Martins will have a huge track position advantage as he chases that career-best finish.
But even if Martins fails to capture that first-career top-10 finish at Richmond on Saturday, it’s very clear that one — or more — top-10 finish is just around the corner.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.