This past weekend we went to “The Half Mile Of Mayhem”, Martinsville Speedway, on the second leg of NASCAR’s short track run, first of all because Martinsville Speedway, need we say more? But secondly, to keep our promise of grading the premier stock car series’ new Next Gen car’s performance during it’s progression since it’s debut last year. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to get a good close up look at the car on and off the track, and besides it’s early parts issues and the safety concerns since it’s debut, we could see where NASCAR was going with the car and honestly have been pretty impressed with the car except for one issue…it’s overall performance on the Series’ short tracks. We were encouraged by the car’s performance at Richmond Raceway however and were hoping to see the same type of performance at Martinsville and Bristol, but the truth is that the car’s short track performance will not be tested any more than at Martinsville, a true half mile flat oval with very little banking. This is where the truth gets revealed and so we are excited to see if the car has progressed enough to provide exciting bumper to bumper, get up on your feet racing that the storied speedway has become known for.
Also, as we predicted, several drivers that cut their teeth in the central east coast short track racing region will be featured in the weekend’s spring racing action at Martinsville, and we can’t wait to see how they stack up against the greatest short track racers in the world. There’s a lot to keep our eyes on this weekend at Martinsville, so let’s get out to the track and more importantly, Let’s Go Racin’!
NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES LONG JOHN SILVER’S 200
Zane Smith sends his # 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford to the pole with a quick time of 19.797 seconds. Starting alongside would be two time Cup Series champion # 51 Kyle Busch followed by the # 99 of Ben Rhodes, # 11 Corey Heim, and the # 25 of Matt DiBenedetto. The start would mark history as a heavy thunderstorm would pass prior to the green, laying moisture all over the track, giving NASCAR it’s first ever chance to implement their new oval rain tires. Prior to the start, numerous pace laps were run in an effort to dry the track. Ninety percent of the track would be dry by the start of the race, so a competition caution was set to change back over to slick tires. Smith would lead the first five laps before the veteran of Busch would take the lead. It wasn’t easy for Busch however as Heim rocketed to the lead on lap 43, winning stages one and two in the process. Another quick shower would pass through, with NASCAR opting not to use the rain tires and red flagging the race in the process. After the quick stoppage, Lawless Alan in the # 45 would find trouble along with Stewart Friesen in the # 52. At the start of stage three, Carson Hocevar in the # 42 proceeded to doorslam the # 1 of Late Model standout William Sawalich, nearly sending the Minnesota native around. But somehow, someway, Sawalich saved his truck as Daniel Dye in the # 43 spun in turn four behind all of the mayhem. On the ensuing restart, Hocevar would once again find himself in hot water, this time attempting to right rear Taylor Gray in the # 17 on the backstretch in retaliation for a left rear tire rub. The caution would fly yet again for this exchange as Hocevar would spin as a result of his payback attempt and his tire eventually going down. He would be docked two laps as a result of his actions by NASCAR, but during this caution period the rains came yet again, with Corey Heim claiming the rain-shortened race followed by Busch, Smith, the # 98 of Ty Majeski, and # 15 Tanner Gray.
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES CALL 811 BEFORE YOU DIG 250
The # 00 of Cole Custer grabs the confidence building pole with a blistering lap of 20.057 seconds. Dash 4 Cash contender # 20 John Hunter Nemechek starts second, Sheldon Creed in the # 2 starts third, Parker Retzlaff in the # 31 puts in an amazing lap to start fourth, and the # 1 of Sam Mayer rounds out the top five. In a mirror image to the Truck race, Custer leads the first five laps before Nemechek muscles his way around to lead the next sixty. Brett Moffitt in the # 25 spins in turn four but thankfully drives away with no damage as Nemechek claims stage one. Austin Hill in the # 21, Josh Berry in the # 8, and Sammy Smith in the # 18 all traded the lead in stage two as the middle of the pack went to war, leaving battle scars all over their machines. The # 74 of Kaden Honeycutt, making his Xfinity Series debut would find trouble on lap 88, going up in smoke and ending his day in the process. Through all of the shuffling, Nemechek steals the second stage over Berry. Stage three only included more chaos as the # 45 of Leland Honeyman Jr got caught up in a mid-pack pileup, somehow finishing the race. Berry’s race would be sidelined for the time being as his right front tire blows, bringing him down pit road. Numerous incidents would take place through stage three as the aggressiveness ramped up. Ryan Truex in the # 19 would make contact with both Mayer and the # 98 of Riley Herbst in turns one and two, leading to a big crash ending both Mayer and Herbst’s days. Mayer would be none too happy, saluting Truex on his way to the infield care center. The final seventeen laps went green until the last lone, when Creed spun and slammed the inside backstraight wall, handing the win and the Dash 4 Cash $100,000 to Nemechek. Smith comes home second, Custer third, Berry rallies to an impressive fourth, and Brandon Jones in the # 9 ends his night in fifth.
NASCAR CUP SERIES NOCO 400
Modified ace Ryan Preece, driving the # 41 for Stewart-Haas Racing secures his first career Cup Series pole with a time of 19.979 seconds, the only driver to break the 19 second bracket. The # 99 of Daniel Suarez starts second, Aric Almirola in the # 10 starts third, Chase Briscoe continues the Stewart-Haas upward trend in the # 14 starting fourth, and the # 19 of Martin Truex Jr rounds out the top five. It’s a relatively calm stage one as Preece rides his momentum, grabbing his first career stage victory followed by teammate Almirola. On the first round of pit stops, Preece’s flawless day breaks down as he is caught speeding on pit road, handing the lead to another Stewart-Haas teammate in the # 4 of Kevin Harvick. Stage two started hot and heavy as the # 43 of Erik Jones makes heavy contact with the # 21 of Harrison Burton in turn two, sending the Wood Brothers Racing machine around. Harvick barely holds off Briscoe for the stage two victory as cars in the middle of the pack, including Ryan Preece are having trouble passing their competitors.
Briscoe gets a fantastic pit stop and comes out the leader to start stage three. He proceeds to lead the next 71 laps before a lightning fast Denny Hamlin in the # 11 gets by for the top spot. The caution comes out shortly after as the # 78 of Anthony Alfredo loses a wheel coming out of turn four. Briscoe once again takes the lead as he stays out and maintains the top spot. The final caution flies on lap 344 as the # 15 of J.J. Yeley loses his brakes going into turn three, careening the wall with tremendous force. Yeley is thankfully okay as Joey Logano in the # 22 now takes advantage of the yellow, staying out in front of the field. He holds the point for 25 laps before Kyle Larson in the # 5 bides his time after a quick two tire stop and gets around Joey for the lead. Joey tries to retake the lead but Larson is just too good on new tires and in clean air as he grabs his second victory of the year, also his second on a short track. Logano holds onto second, Truex Jr ends his up and down day in third, Hamlin finishes fourth, and Briscoe rallies for fifth with a broken finger.
Several drivers expressed their opinions on the new car’s performance both before and after the racing at Martinsville. When we asked Daniel Suarez in the media center on what he expected for Sunday, he said he thought the racing was a little bit better, not much, but worse in traffic. In Peter Stratta’s interview on Twitter with Aric Almirola, he was asked what he thought of Denny Hamlin’s statements after the race that this race was worst than last year’s here at Martinsville and what he said was telling. Peter Stratta – ” Denny said the race here was worse than last years. What are your thoughts on those comments?” To which Aric replied, “Yeah I agree, especially once we got to halfway in the race and everybody got the chance to work on their cars, I mean look at it, a lot of the guys that we lapped earlier in the race, they get lucky with a caution, pick ’em up, put them on the same tires in front of us and we can’t pass ’em.” He went on to say how frustrated he was with the aero package on the cars, but he was far from the only one and we have to agree with them. But Denny had even more to say on his latest edition of the Actions Detrimental podcast aired on Dirty Mo Media that we urge everyone to listen to. And it’s not that we always agree with what Denny Hamlin says but, he is spot on on his comments on the new car’s ability to pass and why he thinks it’s so. The tire falloff situation is no better in our opinion, and the aero changes did little to nothing. But it’s when Denny talks about the Series’ horsepower reductions that he hit the nail squarely on the head. And the problem is, that’s not as easy a fix than you might imagine with parts already hard to get. The truth is, and we hate to say it, but NASCAR has a real problem here, and it’s one they’re going to have to get under control as quick as possible for competition reasons.
Secondly, we honestly don’t know what happened during the Craftsman Truck race, and neither do many of the competitors there. We were all led to believe that the race would be run on rain tires but that’s hardly what happened. It will go down as the first race ever for the Series on oval rain tires, but they ran only 27 green flag laps on those special tires, and on a slightly damp track at that. Once some rain came during the event, they would stop the race as usual, never putting those tires back on, even though several drivers said the trucks were pretty good on the damp track, not to mention the Series is also equipped with rain flaps, vision lights, and wipers. But the Series never made an attempt to actually test the rain package, even ending the race 76 laps short.
On a good note, the Xfinity Series race was the best race of the weekend in our opinion as the weather was absolutely beautiful, and the Xfinty car and racing package leads to amazing racing, and that’s what we all saw Saturday night, with it all ending with John Hunter Nemechek literally burning it down on his winners celebration to the delight of the short track NASCAR contingent. Also on a high note, the central east coast region’s advancing short track competitors had a good showing this weekend with William Sawalich finishing ninth and in the top ten in his first Craftsman Truck Series start, even after an amazing save after contact from Carson Hocevar. Conner Jones managed a top twenty in his first start in the Trucks coming home eighteenth. Jonathan Shafer brought his truck home with no damage as he finishes the race 29th and Kaden Honeycutt pulled double duty, even though he didn’t get the finishes he may have wanted, he still showed once again that he belongs in the upper echelon of stock car racing, and given a good chance in a proven ride he’ll be ready to prove that point.
Finally it comes down to our Short Track Report Blue Collar Racer Of The Week, and that conversation starts with William Sawalich. He battled in the top half of the field in his first appearance in the Trucks throughout the event, and when it was done he was still there in the top ten looking to advance at any given opportunity. Our conversation turned quickly to Josh Berry in the Xfinity Series race as he started sixth on the field but found himself with a flat midway through the race and fought tooth and nail up through the talented field to come away with another impressive finish, coming home fourth overall in the event. It’s no wonder these guys are often on our list of contenders for the coveted award at the races we cover as they consistently put in the work on the track and it shows week end and week out. But our conversation ended as it often does with a performance we just couldn’t ignore. And this week it was by Martin Truex Jr and his Joe Gibbs Racing team. Starting 5th on the field after qualifying on Saturday, He fell all the way back to 32nd, going a lap down in the process at one point, but once his team was able to make the changes his car needed, Martin Truex Jr made 68 green flag passes with a car that everyone, and I mean everyone had trouble passing with. And at the end of the night, Truex Jr finished with a podium finish in the third position, which once we took a good look at it, was improbable to say the least. But we can truly and honestly say that Truex Jr and his # 19 team truly was the hardest working in the field, earning them this week’s Short Track Report Blue Collar Racer Of The Week. Congratulations guys, you definitely earned this one! Until next time, See You At The Track!