By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
After completing a trip out to the West Coast, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back east this weekend and straight to the first short track race of the season, with Sunday’s running of the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
A mainstay on the schedule since 1949, the historic half-mile, which is also the smallest on the circuit, will test both man and machine over 500 grueling laps.
The track has basically one groove, meaning the only way to pass will be the move we all know and love: the bump and run. Of course, that type of racing leads to a lot of bent sheet metal and tempers flaring, which is always entertaining.
To be successful at Martinsville, drivers have to have a special skill set that will let them be able to navigate the treacherous track and avoid trouble that is almost certain to happen around them at some point during the race. There are those who have taken to the track and excelled and those who have trouble each and every time they visit the track.
By the Numbers
What: STP 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 6 of 36
Where: Martinsville Speedway – Martinsville, Virginia (Opened: 1947)
When: March 25, 2018
TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 2:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 0.526 mile oval
Banking: Turns banked 12 degrees, flat straightaways
Race Length: 500 laps, 263 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages: 130 laps, Final stage: 240 laps
Pit Road Speed: 30 mph
Pace Car Speed: 35 mph
October 2017 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started 14th, 184 laps led)
April 2017 Race Winner: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (Started fourth, 116 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (18.898 seconds, 100.201 mph – March 28, 2014)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at Martinsville:
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 115.8
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 106.2
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 102.6
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 96.0
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 93.7
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 92.0
- Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 89.4
- Ryan Newman – No. 31 Chevrolet – 85.8
- Jamie McMurray – No. 1 Chevrolet – 84.7
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 83.7
From the Driver’s Seat
“Martinsville Speedway is one of those racetracks where until you cross the finish line, anything can happen,” said AJ Allmendinger. “Whether you have a great racecar or you’re struggling, if you’re in it at the end of the race you have a shot at the win. I love Martinsville Speedway, but it’s definitely an exhausting place both mentally and physically. It is one of those racetracks where mentally, you know up until the last lap anything can happen. I’ve had races where I’ve felt like I’ve run 490 perfect laps there, and on the final restart you can get taken out and feel like you’ve wasted a whole day. It’s a challenge but a place where I feel like if we get our stuff right, we’ve got a chance to go win.
“Getting prepared for Martinsville Speedway is similar to preparing for a superspeedway race. If you do everything right, and you get caught in a wreck or someone gets into you the wrong way, then it’s something you can’t control. It’s when you force yourself into those mistakes or early in the race you start bouncing off a guy and eventually they come back and pay you back. Those are things that you can control. For me, that’s what I do. If I can run my own race and everything goes right, then it’s not meant to be, then it’s not. It’s the times where you force something too early or you make a mistake and it causes your own issues, then that’s when I’m mad at myself.”
Last Time at Martinsville
It’s safe to say things go a little wild at Martinsville the last time the Cup Series paid the track a visit.
Kyle Busch would lead for 184 laps, but it was the last lap that mattered the most. Taking advantage of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin on the final restart, Busch took over the lead on the last lap and held off a hard charging Martin Truex, Jr. to score the win, his second at Martinsville.
While Busch’s win was big in terms of the championship picture, it was the contact the preceded the final restart that had everyone talking.
Chase Elliott, who led 123 laps on the day, looked to be in the catbird seat for his first career win and a ticket to Homestead as he led with four laps to go, but Hamlin put the bumper to him entering Turn 3, sending his car spinning driver’s side into the outside wall. He would get the car re-fired and finished the race in 27th, but the contact still had him angry after the checkered flag flew, and he was quick to let Hamlin know.
On the cool down lap, Elliott pulled up alongside Hamlin and sideswiped him into the wall, but the fireworks weren’t done between the two yet. The two drivers then pulled onto pit road and had a heated conversation for a few minutes before being separated.
Elliott could be seen telling Hamlin “You wrecked me!” a few different times and then not accepting his excuses by replying “C’mon man!” before they walked away from each other.
“My Momma always said if you don’t have anything nice not to say anything at all. So, it’s not even worth my time. We’ll just go on to Texas,” said Elliott.
“It’s just not necessary. We had a great restart and there was nobody pushing him into Turn 3. So, I wanted to see the replay. That’s what I thought happened and that’s what happened. And it’s definitely 100 percent unnecessary and uncalled for.
“We had a great car today and we had an opportunity. We had a good restart there at the end and felt like I was doing what I needed to do. And I can’t control his decisions and whatever the hell that was.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, March 24
- MENCS Practice (10:05 am to 10:55 am – FOX Sports 1)
- MENCS Final Practice (12:30 pm to 1:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)
- MENCS Qualifying (5:10 pm – FOX Sports 1)
Sunday, March 25
- MENCS STP 500 at Martinsville (2:00 pm – 500 laps, 263 miles – FOX Sports 1)