Stateside Round-Up: NASCAR returns and IndyCar preview

Martin Truex Jr. (19) celebrates with the winners' trophy after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va., Sunday, April 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) Indycar

Martin Truex Jr won for the third time in the last four races at Martinsville when NASCAR returned last weekend, while IndyCar gets underway in Alabama on Sunday.

Truex was engrossed in a tight battle with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, making the pass for the lead stick with 15-laps to go. Hamlin fell off the pace and got caught up in a fight with Chase Elliott for second place, with 2020 champion Elliott coming home runner-up at the flag.

Speaking in Victory Lane, Truex said: “This place has become a playground for us I guess. We didn’t have the best car all day, but we just kept working on it and never quit on it.”

The race was rained out on Saturday night after just 42-laps at the 0.526-mile oval. Action at the ‘Paperclip’ was instead finished a day later on Sunday afternoon.

Hamlin, who led 276 laps, was not the only dominant driver to leave Martinsville feeling cheated. Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney led 157 laps and swept Stages 1 and 2. An issue in the pits cost the #12 a chance at the win, dropping to 19th and climbing to 11th at the finish.

Lap 387 saw a major pileup on the backstretch when Kyle Busch and Chris Buescher came together, blocking the straightaway. A dozen cars were left with nowhere to go ending the day for championship hopefuls Alex Bowman and Brad Keselowski.

In the Xfinity Series, Josh Berry claimed a first series victory with another move for the win in the closing stages of the race. With 28 laps to go, Berry passed rookie Ty Gibbs and controlled the race to the end.

“I had a good gap that allowed me to be patient and not panic,” Berry said.

“It’s unbelievable, man. It really is. It’s really going to take a while to soak this in.”

Berry races on a part-time deal for Dale Earnhardt Jr’s JR Motorsports.

The 2021 IndyCar season gets underway this weekend with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama taking place at Barber Motorsports Park. The race will kick-start an IndyCar triple header with races at St. Petersburg and Texas Motor Speedway to follow, of which Texas is a double-header itself with races on Saturday and Sunday.

The Month of May takes the series to Indianapolis for the GMR Grand Prix on the road course ahead of the Indy 500 on May 30th. Detroit also gets a doubleheader at Belle Isle ahead of Road America and a July 4th event at Mid-Ohio.

Nashville Street Circuit makes its debut in August preceding the Bommarito 500 at WWT Raceway. Races at Portland and Laguna Seca wind down the series before the finale at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

It would be hard to to top this seasons driver lineup with seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson making the switch to IndyCar, alongside former F1 driver Romain Grosjean and three-time Supercars champ Scott McLaughlin.

Juan Pablo Montoya will return to the Indy 500 with Arrow McLaren SP. James Hinchcliffe returns to a full-time seat alongside IndyCar icons Scott Dixon, Will Power, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and youngster Colton Herta.