Cup weekend at Martinsville Speedway just has this reputation lately. It almost is a “given” that there will be some kind of weather thing that hangs over the events like Lucy promising to hold the football…

The Whelen Modifieds, Xfinity and Cup races had high fan interest as Virginia was opening up a bit more for entertainment and race venues to have more folks attend. The weather, however, went “all in” to keep things capped.

The Modifieds went by OK but the Friday Xfinity series was halted at lap 91. Saturday night’s Cup race was also attempted but rain ultimately pushed it all to Sunday.

Whelen Modified Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 200 winner: Eric Goodale

Xfinity Series Cook Out 250 winner: Josh Berry

Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 winner: Martin Truex Jr

The CHASE is well under way. Racing at Richmond sealed the deal for the 16 drivers and teams still in the “chase” for the Sprint Cup Championship. From Richmond the circus has raced through Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover to fill out the “Challenger” round of the CHASE. Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick were winners in that set and advance forward with nine others with points to the “Contender” round of three more races at Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega.

Wins or points will advance. Four at the bottom will be out of “Cup” contention after Talladega

This will begin the “Eliminator” round consisting of Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix. There will be over 40 drivers on the tracks but only eight will be on the grid for the Sprint Cup. The others will be along to race for their sponsors, their team, their fans…

When they reach Homestead there will be four going for the “Cup”.

The only short track in the CHASE is Martinsville. The Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 is positioned at the start of the “Eliminator” round and could be a wild card on the way to Homestead. Having Talladega close the “Contender” round and Martinsville up next to start the next round is set to shake things up. The danger of the “big one” at Talladega and the challenge of the short track is going to test the patience and the strategy of racing.

For Martinsville the track is getting set to start the three races of the “Eliminator” round with a big regional lead-in as the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 rolls just three weeks before the Cup folks come in. (The VSCU 300 was put off a week as east coast storms battered the original run date)

The general consensus from late model to Cup is that Martinsville is a hard nut to crack. Drivers running for the first few times find it difficult with the low banking, tight lines and rhythm of speed to braking. Veterans are caught up in the traffic of those who can’t quite find a groove. The tight racing causes bumps and pushes and frustration.  Keeping the wheel in the center of patience is often key to a good finish but the temptation to push the driver a little harder for the bump that lost you 4 spots 80 laps ago runs hot.

Martinsville is a driver’s puzzle and a fan favorite with good views of the entire race from practically anywhere.
The curbs are pink for October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There have been visits by drivers having some fun with the speedway from Clint Bowyer racing go-karts with track President Clay Campbell to Kyle Larson picking up a pink brush and driving cancer survivors around the track. The late model drivers in the region have already had a practice day and the Cup drivers have it in their sights.

Martinsville, and the CHASE, is coming together.

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The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 is the latest of many incarnations for the regional  late-model highlight at Martinsville Speedway. It is even a new name for the region’s sponsor (ValleyStar) which formerly was known for years as Martinsville Dupont Credit Union which lended the name and sponsorship for the race in 2014.
The race coming up this weekend (Oct 3-4) will once take the season of racing at the region’s weekender short tracks and pack the track at Martinsville with the talent that turns laps and heads and crowds from all over the area. These are the drivers of the cars from back yard garages scraping to make the next race. These are the drivers that have earned some wins and recognition from local fans and have managed to bring some sponsorship and attention to themselves. These are the drivers that are looking to the future with big dreams of national sponsors and even bigger rides. These are the drivers that have carried the weight of NASCAR from the dirt to the biggest speedways. Some of these drivers might even get their names over the window for the top NASCAR racing series. Some racing this weekend already have.
Clay Campbell, President at Martinsville Speedway, echoed the excitement of the drivers present at a dinner and sponsor introduction held in Roanoke, VA at Corned Beef and Company. The early beginnings of the “300” have grown into a highlight for the track, the city and the region. With the Fall “main event” of the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 and the the Sprint Cup CHASE just a few weeks away the late-model race offers a great opportunity to put racing in the minds of the fans and tickets in their hands. Campbell, while acknowledging the Sprint Cup aspect of the timing of the ValleyStar 300 also made it clear the late-model event stands on its own with real racing based on the roots of the sport and the foundation of what NASCAR is now. The attraction of the prestige of this event attracted close to 90 drivers and teams for the practice session last week which has been a good indication of the turnout for making the race, Campbell noted. He also took the time to mention the partnership with ValleyStar which has taken the sponsorship to heart with their own efforts promoting the race, the speedway and the region they serve.
Drivers on hand at Corned Beef and Company looking forward to racing represented the hopes of all that will be running at the track this weekend. Winning at Martinsville means keeping time with a grandfather clock trophy and bragging rights for years to come. It could underscore sponsorship and certainly delivers a hefty paycheck for the hard work of the season.
The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 will have practice and qualifying on Saturday October 3rd with the heat races and main event under the flags on Sunday October 4th. For a full schedule and ticket information check Martinsville Speedway online.

Fans and drivers went to Martinsville Speedway a little bewildered by news of a “new” famous Martinsville hot dog. If you could tell any difference by the checkered flag on Sunday you must have some kind of super sense for processed meat products…

By the time the checkers fell on Sunday and the STP 500 it is a good bet nobody was concerned about hot dogs. Virginia native Denny Hamlin drove the #11 Fed-Ex / Joe Gibbs Toyota to the win and huge applause from the stands.

It was a good day for some and others fell back during the first short track race of the season. Many who tend to do well were caught with mechanical issues, wrecks or just out of the rhythm. Jimmie Johnson and team mate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. suffered issues that put them down several laps. Dale, Jr. was involved in a crash that had him back out several laps later with no front end sheet metal.

Jeff Gordon held the front for a bit and went on to finish 9th but was still hit during the race with a pit road penalty that put him back. Kasey Kahne even lead some and finished 11th.  All in all a split day of results for the Hendrick cars.

Stewart-Haas teams were up front and overall did well but couldn’t manage the end with Hamlin. Kevin Harvick lead a good chunk but couldn’t extend his run of top-2 finishes (8th). Kurt Busch also held the front but fell back to 14th at the end. Tony Stewart ran mid pack early on but by the later laps was up front to challenge but was edged outside and the train went by as he finished 20th. It was Danica Patrick that seemed to get in the groove at Martinsville, avoided some traffic and crashes and finished 7th.

It was the Joe Gibbs and Penske teams that filled the top 5 at the finish having a good race day in general. JGR cars finished 1st (Denny Hamlin), 4th (Matt Kenseth) and 5th (David Ragan in for Kyle Busch). Penske teams of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano finished  2nd and 3rd with Logano starting on the pole.

Others in the top 10 were Martin Truex, Jr (6th) and Jamie McMurray (10th).

For fans it was a big day of racing with 31 lead changes involving 13 drivers and a familiar winner. 16 cautions gave fans a chance to examine their hot dogs for any signs of change.

It could be a momentum changing race for Joe Gibbs Racing and Denny Hamlin in particular.

The Easter break is on and the circus rolls on afterward to Texas then back to closer racing at Bristol (4-19) and Richmond (4-25).

PHOTOS: Friday Practice | Saturday Practice | Kroger 250 | STP 500

 

It rains in Martinsville. It seems to be a constant that a cloud that hates racing will make its way to Virginia just to spread a little Spring shower on the historic little racetrack.

Fortunately, it cleared off enough to get some practice in for the STP 500 and the Kroger 250. Qualifying may be pushed back a bit but that should happen also.

With nothing else to do quite a few made their way in to talk about racing at Martinsville. Like so many other tracks in the wake of some hard hits Martinsville is also adding some cushion to the barrier walls. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. acknowledged this and the forward momentum NASCAR has been taking with track safety. He said there may be some way to go but it is so different than just a few years ago.

Jeff Gordon talked about his last two visits to Martinsville and that it has always been a favorite and a challenge to race and win there.

Aric Almirola spoke a bit about the Petty family and the Victory Junction Gang Camp for children with illnesses and special needs.

Then there were hot dogs and that seemed to lighten things up a bit. Gordon said he never had one of the old ones. Dale Jr. said he was gonna have a couple of the new ones. Everyone seemed to thing it was much over nothing as they still look and taste the same and let’s go racing.

Practice was put off a bit for the rain but they got some laps in. A.J. Allmendinger came off the track with the fastest laps of the Friday session. We can only wait to see if that holds into qualifying.

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We’re on the eve of racing back on this side of the world. The “west coast swing” was indeed an interesting twist to watch with Kevin Harvick taking two and Brad Keselowski coming out on the last lap at Fontana to grab the third.

If you are on your way to Bristol, turn around. They flipped it. Martinsville is on before Bristol this year. The STP 500 and Kroger 250 are this weekend. They are bringing the haulers in today (Thursday 3-26).

So far it has been Team Penske, Stewart-Haas and Hendrick Motorsports in the checkers. Two of these winners have already referenced Martinsville as a highlight and a welcome sight to return to the east and the roots of racing.
Kevin Harvick, on a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, said he is looking forward to Martinsville Speedway

“I think as you look at the West Coast swing and the three races and the travel and everything that comes with it, I think everybody is extremely excited to come back to Martinsville… To start the weekend to be able to drive your own vehicle to the race track and end the weekend coming home and sleeping in your own bed is something everybody is excited about.”

Harvick spoke about the aspects that make Martinsville one of the jewels of the season.

“You add in the short track factor and just getting back to the roots of everything we’ve done leading up to our Sprint Cup careers…. It’s like Talladega in the fact you never know when something is going to happen. Just like last year we were rolling good. We had qualified bad and came up through the field and worked into the top five. A restart went wild and we wound up backwards in the fence. That’s really what short-track racing is all about and that happens a lot at Martinsville.”

He said it is a balance of driving and keeping the emotions in check and keeping the car in a condition to finish up front. With the bumping around in tight spaces there are going to be tempers and dents and Martinsville is special in the way fans get to see all of it from their seat.

Jimmy Johnson also visited the Speedway and a group of kids from local Rich Acres Elementary School. The “Go Far Club” kids and Johnson talked about health and fitness and Johnson’s training to drive and run. As a runner, cyclist and swimmer he spends quite a bit of time staying fit and that translates to stamina behind the wheel.

The #48 driver also hit on fond memories of winning at Martinsville but also the frustrations of learning to do it. An apparent turning point came several years ago when he was lapped by Tony Stewart and that lit a fire of determination to grasp the skills needed to master the historic track.

He has 8 wins at Martinsville…

Clint Bowyer also visited Martinsville just this week and was also excited to get back to the roots of NASCAR and the east coast. Like Johnson, Bowyer mentioned the frustrations of racing here and the learning curve to get into the groove. From the driver’s seat he said it is a lighter touch than you would think to drive it and if you get off your line, brake too soon or late, gas on too soon or too late you get bounced. It is a race not only against the other drivers but also against the track to keep that perfect line for 500 laps.

Bowyer also said the hot dogs are still Martinsville hot dogs. It’s the thing of being here at the race surrounded by all that is Martinsville that makes the flavor happen as he finished one of the pink, chilli dogs. He said everything that makes racing here so unique is what makes the hot dog what it is.

At the end of the day it is still a hot dog and just one of the aspects of historic racing at Martinsville Speedway.
Racing is on this weekend (March 27-28-29). Grab a jacket as the temperatures may be a little low but the sun is expected to be shining and the dogs will be hot. The Camping World Series Kroger 250 is Saturday. The Sprint Cup STP 500 is Sunday. Virginia Lottery Pole Day is Friday.

Martinsville race week for the 2014 Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 has been one for many to remember for a very long time. There will be discussions and “I was there!” bragging rights over Dale Jr.’s win for quite a while. His drive to victory was a thing to see and generates yet another chapter for the historic little track in Martinsville.
Even more so when you consider all of the little bits that add the frosting to the victory cake. Dale Jr. grew up in the shadow of Martinsville grandfather clocks as his iconic father won there several times. He earned his first win of the CHASE playoffs after being eliminated from championship contention just one week before. He is a spokesman for Goody’s. He drives for Rick Hendrick which also owns the #24 car of Jeff Gordon, a main rival to his father. Hendrick suffered a deep loss of family and friends from an aircraft crash at Martinsville and a team victory helps ease the pain of returning. Dale Jr. lost his father at a race track. The little bits of history that create the foundations to generate more history are abundant.
Yet Dale Earnhardt, Jr. earning his first win at the little historic track is just another piece of the timeline for the smallest track in the CHASE.
The folks at Martinsville Speedway have never let the words “little” or “small” get in their way as they consistently weave big things into their racing events. The history of racing there and the grandstand view from practically every seat to see practically everything happen makes this place a favored fan destination. It is also a perfect setting to get fans involved in ways that larger facilities just can not do in the same way.
The October race put much of this in motion. Breast Cancer Awareness month was highlighted at every turn with the race curbing painted pink. The Chevrolet pace cars were pink. As part of this, Chevrolet partnered with the speedway and brought cancer survivors into the race experience with a special ride-along on the track following the VA Lottery Pole Day.

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Race drivers Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex, Jr. and Ron Hornaday drove the pink Chevy pace cars and a Chevy pace truck with these special passengers hanging on for the ride. Surviving through the fight with cancer was certainly more difficult than taking turns at a race track with a NASCAR star but the smiles on their faces seemed to indicate this was much more fun.
The simple matter of size makes it much easier for fans to see on-track activity such as driver introductions, interviews and Grand Marshall Richard Petty. The compressed real estate of the track also contributed as it took little time away from tight schedules to help bring one young fan into the mix with driver Clint Bowyer.
At a pre-event sponsor dinner in Roanoke, VA a couple of weeks before the race, Bowyer happened to meet this young fan. Bowyer is a fun fellow. He doesn’t wear the NASCAR fame as an unapproachable shield. He jokes, he laughs, he smiles…  He jumps into the fan experience and has fun with it. It was evident on race day as he paused even moments before the race to pose with fans next to the #15 AAA Toyota. It was evident as he slid into the restaurant booth weeks before and just started having a one-on-one with this young man as if they had been friends that just happened to meet while being out.
The result was a coordination with speedway staff to get the boy and his family into the infield on race weekend, have a tour with Clint Bowyer that involved the #15 hauler, the garage and a sit down in the race car. It is a memory sure to linger well beyond the checkered flag.

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Bowyer later challenged for the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500, led several laps and finished in the top 10 at 7th place. It is very likely there was a young fan in the stands with an autographed #15 hat cheering him on.
These are small pieces of what makes Martinsville Speedway special for so many people. The views, the people, the memories…  It is the small track with big things woven into the fabric of its history for so many. It is why racing here is a highlight for drivers and fans.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., some very special survivors and a young race fan have their memories. 95,000 fans on that race day have their own stories to share about “being there when Dale Jr. won” and the folks at Martinsville Speedway are cleaning up and starting the cycle all over again for racing in 2015.

To see more fan memories and even post your own check this Facebook post from Martinsville Speedway!
Go get some memories and go racing!