When NASCAR released the 2015 schedule last fall, one of the first changes that stood out was that the sanctioning body finally decided that it was time to take a three-race western swing at the beginning of the season. In years past, the series would go west early in the year but never put the races at Las Vegas, Phoenix and California back to back.
When the checkered flag finally waved at California on Sunday, it was time for the Sprint Cup Series to close the doors on its haulers and bring the sport back home to the southeastern region of the country. Few stops on the schedule can equal the history and tradition that is in store for the series when it rolls into Martinsville for the STP 500 this weekend. Just the mention of the two names of Martinsville and STP conjures up some great moments in the history of the sport.
The track began hosting races in 1947 and since that time the only change to the track’s layout was when it was paved in 1955. The first NASCAR event was held in 1949 and since that time the track has held races in NASCAR’s premier series every year.
Martinsville is joined by Bristol and Richmond as the only three short tracks on the schedule. Even though all three are lumped together by classification, that is about the only similarity that they share. They differ in length, pit roads, banking in the corners and also the tightness in the corners.
Every fan of the sport needs to at least take one trip to Martinsville to see a race. You know immediately by just driving by the track that you are about to take a step back in time to the way the sport use to be. Long before the giant tracks with all of their amenities were being built, tracks like Martinsville and Darlington were hosting NASCAR events.
Tracks layouts are usually identified as either an oval or a tri-oval with only three exceptions and those are the two road courses and Martinsville. The Virginia track’s half-mile layout is a very unique paper clip-shaped oval with only 12 degrees of banking in the corners. The two straightaways are only 800 feet long, which makes getting on and off pit road maybe the toughest part of a driver’s day.
Making this season’s first Martinsville race even more difficult will be the new rules package that includes a decrease in power and a change in the gear that can be used. So far this season it seems that Penske Racing has figured out the new package as both Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have posted wins. Logano’s win did come on the restrictor plate track of Daytona where the new rules package had very little bearing, but he has run up front in every race this season.
Kevin Harvick’s second-place finish on Sunday also shows that his Stewart-Haas Racing team has a handle on the new rules package. He had wins at both Las Vegas and Phoenix and when combined with the second place California finish, he now heads back east as the driver with the most momentum in a sport where momentum is crucial for a championship type run. He has started the season with a record five consecutive top-two finishes and has now extended his top-two finish consecutive streak to eight that started at Texas in the closing weeks of last season.
Harvick will take this momentum to Martinsville where he has experienced success in all three of NASCAR’s series. He has wins at the track in the Camping World Truck Series, Xfinity Series and the Cup Series. Only one win came at the Cup level, but with the reduction in power and different gear, the Cup cars will now drive more like the trucks and Xfinity cars which should play into his hands.
PIT NOTES: Fans going to Martinsville this weekend will notice one huge change that has taken place when they walk up to the concession stand. After nearly seven decades of using Jessie Jones Southern Style hot dogs, the track will be switching to Valleydale hot dogs. Track officials promise the taste will be the same but like the track’s unique layout, some things you just don’t need to change. I speak from experience as I count myself a loyal member of the Jessie Jones Hot Dog Lovers!
Race Preview Event: STP 500 Track: Martinsville Speedway (.5-mile paper clip oval with 12o of banking in the turns) Date: March 29, 1 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: MRN Defending Champion: Kurt Busch