By David Morgan, Associate Editor
After weeks of aero package this and aero package that, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to some normalcy this weekend as they head to Martinsville Speedway for the first short track race of the season and Sunday’s running of the STP 500.
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 facility.
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 24, 2019
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 2018 Race Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started 10th, 309 laps led)
April 2018 Race Winner: Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford (Started ninth, 215 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 – 113.3
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 107.0
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 104.2
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 96.8
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 94.9
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 94.0
- Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 91.5
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 87.1
- Ryan Newman – No. 6 Ford – 85.7
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 84.8
From the Driver’s Seat
“Martinsville is one of my favorite races on the circuit,” said David Ragan. “There’s a lot of history at that place and it’s the kind of racing that NASCAR was built on. It can be such a tough track for drivers mentally and physically, running in traffic for pretty much all 500 laps. But that’s what makes it exciting for fans to watch and I’m looking forward to putting on a good show for them.”
Last Time at Martinsville
It always seems that if the spring race at Martinsville is a tame affair, the playoff race in late fall is going to have some drama to go along with it and that was exactly the case last year.
With Joey Logano in the race lead in the waning laps and Martin Truex, Jr. slicing through the field like a man on a mission, the two were on a collision course, with one of them coming out on top for the win and an automatic bid to the championship finale.
Truex caught up to Logano with about 10 laps to go, as the two drivers staged a thrilling side-by-side battle for the lead and the win. With the white flag in sight, Truex was eventually able to clear Logano but the race was far from over at that point.
Still holding the lead down the backstretch having cleared Logano, Truex looked to finally have an elusive Martinsville victory in his grasp.
However, Logano had other plans, laying the bumper to Truex in Turn 3, shooting him up the race track and allowing Logano to pull alongside. The two made contact again in Turn 4, which caused Truex’s car to get sideways entering the frontstretch.
Logano pulled back ahead and beat him back to the finish, while Truex got his car gathered back up and finished third after Denny Hamlin was able to sneak by for the runner-up spot.
“I was next to him for six laps,” said Truex. “I never knocked him out of the way. We were going to race hard for it in my book. I cleared him fair and square. We weren’t even banging doors for me to pass him. He just drove into the back of me and knocked me out of the way. That’s short track racing, but what goes around comes around.
“I pretty much had the feeling going to the backstretch that that was going to happen and there was nothing I could do about it. It sucks, but that’s the way it goes. I can promise you I won’t forget what he did.”
While Truex was fuming, Logano was celebrating a redemption of sorts, winning at the track for the first time and punching his ticket to Homestead and eventually the championship.
“That was just a hard great race,” Logano said. “NASCAR racing at its finest. It was a lot of bumper banging towards the end and a hard race. You know, we didn’t wreck each other. We bumped into each other a lot and that is what this sport was built on.
“I know a lot of fans out there aren’t too happy about it but it is racing and that is what NASCAR is about and what stock car racing is. I am just glad we finally won here. It has been so long and we have had so many chances and it feels like sweet redemption after everything that has happened here.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, March 23
- MENCS Practice (9:35 am to 10:25 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 24
- MENCS STP 500 at Martinsville (2:00 pm – 500 laps, 263 miles – FOX Sports 1)