There were 400 laps to make it work at Martinsville and the #24 driver, William Byron, took the lead with less than 90 remaining. A late caution pushed to overtime and a Chase Elliott charge but Byron came around to take the win and his second Martinsville Speedway Victory Clock.

The Hendrick drivers began a pit sequence with the #24 team making a call to come in first as the third quarter of the race was approaching. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott came in a lap later and were there challenging at the finish but could not hold Byron in the Cook Out 400.

Denny Hamlin, fresh off the Richmond win, was leading before his pit 2 laps later than Byron. He may have had some juice for the Hendrick drivers but John Hunter Nemechek was caught up in a caution that pushed the race to overtime. The #11 came in for new tires but was stacked back in 10th on the restart to finish just out of the top 10.

The day gave Byron a series lead with 3 season wins. It was also a 1-2-3 finish for owner Rick Hendrick on a 40th anniversary of a first NASCAR win. (The first Hendrick win was also at Martinsville with Geoff Bodine in 1984) Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott were 2nd and 3rd. Bubba Wallace and 2023 series champion Ryan Blaney filled the top 5

Thanks to DoS Images for race photo coverage at Martinsville Speedway!

It is possible that NASCAR and Easter may be an egg in the basket too far. A handful of races were run on Easter in the “early days” of the series from 1953 to 1989. Then for over 30 years Easter marked a Spring break for the season. The dirt races at Bristol put Easter back in the mix and, this year (2024), the date caught up with Richmond Raceway.

Easter may have been a hard sell for NASCAR and Richmond. The start time was set as an evening race but it still pulls at holiday family time and the reality of Monday “back to work” for many whose jobs do not offer the Monday off.

The novelty of the dirt surface at Bristol may have put enough interest on the race to overcome chocolate bunnies and “traditional” family gatherings but Richmond did not have novelty or dirt. The rumblings are in the background of the possibility of losing a double race schedule. It is unfortunate that Richmond has been caught in a scheduling battle. It wasn’t long ago that Richmond was a focal point for early season racing and a “CHASE” finale with the Championship contenders put in place.

For the Toyota Owners 400, the race ran “mostly smoothly” after a mostly cloudy day had rain earlier that challenged the scheduled start. NASCAR pushed the green flag a few minutes and started the field on Goodyear rain tires. A competition caution pulled the field at lap 30 to swap back to standard racing tires. A couple of cautions outside of stage finishes allowed some shakeup but it was the final caution that pushed the race to overtime that brought the heat.

Martin Truex Jr was out in front when the final caution and restart shook it up for the finish. The restart had team mates Truex and Hamlin on the front row. Hamlin took an early nose out for rounding the first turn and kept the lead to the finish. Truex fell back to fourth. Joey Logano and Kyle Larson were second and third with Chase Elliott rounding the top five.

This was Hamlin’s second win of the season and his fifth Cup win at his “home track” in Virginia. Martin Truex Jr had some issue at the conclusion with his team mate and tactics on the restart but NASCAR did not issue any penalty for what could have been an early hit on the throttle.

Race photos supplied by DoS Images

Was it the weather? Did 24 hours alter the course of the race at all? The finish was a surprise for fans as much as for the winner in the SMART Modified feature for URW Community Federal Credit Union Race Day at South Boston Speedway.

The day was supposed to be Saturday. A wet forecast several days earlier that gave every impression it would be a soaker into the afternoon forced the hand of the speedway and the series to push it to Sunday.

Of course the rain was over by 11:00AM… But that did not change the decision that was, in all respects, correct for the circumstance. Race day was Sunday with blue skies and slightly chilled temperatures for all but about 38 minutes around 3:51PM or so when the sun pushed the thermometer into almost, but not quite, warmer.

The crowd, however, came in and filled in for a very hot show. Late Models were set as the opener with a season shakedown race of 100 laps. The official track opener comes up April 13 with Danville Toyota Weekly Series Opening Night. The Hornets ran their laps with the sound that gave them the name. Those little engines are running at the limit with no muffler and sound like something small and flying angry. The SMART Modified teams and drivers just sat back and watched the others run their lines while looking for an angle that might work.

The Late Models: Local track champion Peyton Sellers was on tap with other drivers familiar to SoBo and were joined by “visiting” challengers such as Mike Looney and Kyle Dudley. Dudley, Looney and a few others were taking on South Boston as their usual track (Motor Mile / Pulaski County) was shut down for 2024.

The Late Model opener was won by Craig Moore who had taken the lead from Trevor Ward a little over half way into the race. Ward took a spin from the position going into turn 3 and finished ninth. Moore has won at SoBo before in a CARS Tour event and took a borrowed car (from Jay Fogleman) to Victory Lane this time around. Mike Looney came across second, Blake Stallings finished third, veteran racer Stacy Puryear finished fourth, and Kyle Dudley filled the top five finishers.

The winner of 20 lap run of the Virginia State Police HEAT Hornets managed to navigate 5 cautions and keep the lead. Cameron Goble lead the field from the start to the checkered flag with Jason DeCarlo coming across in the second slot. Chris Barrett, Steven Layne and Jordaine Penick completed the top five.

NASCAR veteran Ryan Newman joined SMART and Whelen veterans such as Brandon Ward, Burt Myers, Doug Coby and Matt Hirschman and more to challenge and come away as the “King Of The Modifieds”. The winner of this race, likely to be annual event, came away with $20,000. The runner-up pulled a respectable $10,000 prize.

17 year old Luke Baldwin drove his Sadler-Stanley Racing Pace-O-Matic #7VA into Victory Lane and the “King” spot. He took the re-start lead with 26 to go and held the spot to the end. Matt Hirschman had a front running car but was caught in track incidents that cost him position and speed. The late race caution halted the race as Hirschman misjudged a corner and put several cars in jeopardy. He still managed to hang on for the second spot. Doug finished third, Jonathan Cash ran fourth and Anthony Bello took the fifth position.

Crash incidents took out Ryan Newman, Woody Pitkat and Jake Crum in the race with 6 running cautions and 2 red flag stops.

The SMART Modified race at South Boston is one of two modified events in a week in Virginia. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour comes up the next Friday at Richmond Raceway.

PHOTOS – URW Community Federal Credit Union Race Day at South Boston Speedway

Racing comes in a lot of varieties and cost levels. The shoestring teams that struggle along with a dream and a whim are on the same platform as the deep pockets and the long history. It is that mix of history, ambition and hope that blend like asphalt and concrete at the iconic Martinsville Speedway.

Kaulig Racing started with a conversation, an invitation and a checking account. Deep pockets with a desire to race mixed with some experience and some spare parts to put cars on the track and begin to mix it up.

Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell shared a discussion of memory and anecdotes with Kaulig’s President Chris Rice with driver Josh Williams in the center offering a fresh look from behind the wheel. Students in the motorsports program at Patrick & Henry Community College were on hand for a Q&A on the core of the work that makes it all happen week in and week out.

Campbell spoke on working at the track, for the track and with his family from his grandfather H. Clay Earles, founder of the Martinsville Speedway. Clay has been there behind the bleachers, in the trenches and on the front lines. He’s raced, he’s won and he has put all of this experience together to keep Martinsville as a highlight for racing fans on the NASCAR schedule. He continues to be inspired and grateful for the fans that fill the stands on race day.

Chris Rice of Kaulig Racing spoke on the importance of detail and the work of those details. Work smart and stay focused. He had a love of the sport from early on but he was clear on his distractions of the sport that delayed his progress. Stories of racing included a post race tear down, improper cylinder heads and being completely unaware of what the issue was, or why it was an issue in the first place. That particular post race inspection was at Martinsville and it was Clay Campbell backing up the inspection with the rule book.

Driver Josh Williams expressed his appreciation for having the opportunity to drive with Kaulig Racing and a bit about his racing history from Florida on up through the ranks. Him and Rice traded some quips about discipline and training and, for the students there, offered up further advice on being focused. There was a definite hint that luck follows dedication.

Kaulig Racing is a young team taking bits and pieces from retired shops, backup cars and advice or help when offered. They have seen some success and they have had it dashed so their expectations are tempered by the reality of the moment. They remain optimistic each and every day to chase the wins and the success as they roll further into the season.

Racing at Richmond Raceway and Martinsville Speedway is on their radar as those dates come closer. Check them out on race day and you might just have another favorite to pull for.

The garages are open. The trucks are on the move. The lights and cameras are on. Racing has come out of hibernation and the big series are turning cold tracks into hot laps.

NASCAR and IMSA have begun. IndyCar and F1 are testing and rolling out in March. The national and international racing season is opening up for 2024. Even club racing such as NASA and SCCA are loading up for track days.

Virginia racing is on pace as well… Mostly. NASCAR, of course, is coming for Richmond and Martinsville. (OK, Bristol…) Tracks from Dominion to South Boston and Langley to Wythe have schedules ready to go in March or early April.

There are some changes and loose ends. Southwest Virginia is losing laps with an apparent shutdown of Pulaski County Motorsports Park (formerly Motor Mile Speedway). The most recent partnership with Rusty Wallace Racing fizzled out at the close of the 2023 season. There are currently no plans to race in 2024 on the oval or the strip. It is a shame that a facility with this history and condition is going to be silent. There are no “convenient” tracks to replace Pulaski for the racers except for Franklin County but national points is not an option there, for now. South Boston is 2 hours. Lonesome Pine is 2.5 hours. Shenandoah is 2.5 hours. Ace and Caraway are in North Carolina. Hopefully, the budget racers that ran here will find a place to compete for the new season.

Lonseome Pine may be poised, even with distance taken into account, to take some of that racer slack from Pulaski. Track to track is around 130 miles so some of the area drivers will likely make the run at least to get a feel for the time involved. It should also be familiar to many from the Pulaski infield as the same bunch (RWRE) is at the helm. Lonesome Pine has a bit of an expanded points schedule for 2024 from last season with some big weekends including SMART, Super Stock and Super Trucks. (*A street address on their website might be a good idea – online at lonesomepinemp.com)

For many of the divisions that ran at Pulaski, another viable option is also back in the hills with Franklin County Speedway. This facility has been driven forward with will, luck and a hard bit of enthusiasm from the promoter, Langley Austin. This track has seen some history and hardships but fans and touring series like SMART and Super Cup continue to bring it. Late Models are on the regular schedule for track points so the option is there for laps and purses. Some buildings and bits show the age but the racing does deliver. (info at fcspeedway.com)

A bit down the road things are on the move but in a gray area for what comes next. Natural Bridge Speedway has seen big advances with infrastructure, promotion and driver / fan engagement through the 2023 season. The bulk of this seems to land on the shoulders of a passionate lady who stepped up in 2022 to take the reins and drive the place forward. Tiffany Kidd and her staff had pitfalls but managed to put NBS on the map to survive and even drew praise from the County Administration during the latest round of licensing and permits to continue racing in 2024. However, it has come to light that Tiffany is not carrying the torch forward. She is stepping back for personal and business reasons that, despite her deep interest and care, had to be taken to heart to make a decision. The chair is being taken up by Amanda Bradley who has family ties to racing and promotions at Eastside Speedway. Bradley also had praise for Kidd and her work and openly hopes that kind of positive momentum can continue. The previous schedule for 2024 is stated to remain in place. (NBS on Facebook)

Eastside, by the way, is for sale. The 1/8 mile drag strip north of Waynseboro had a variety season in 2023 that was, a bit, sporadic. The sale is highlighted on the social media presence for the facility. The website linked on their platforms is dark.

There is also action heating back up on tracks that were previously on the dead list. These tracks were all but gone just a few seasons ago but have had new attention focused for some progress. Southampton Motor Speedway is back on with a published schedule of events. Lap and “stock car” racing is not currently at the forefront but drifting is hot at SMS. Operations and promotions are being handled by CRC Entertainment which also carries an extended option on buying the facility. Southampton is located in Capron, VA situtated between Emporia and Suffolk. Drifting may not be for everyone but it is putting cars on the track and bringing people in. (Info at southamptonmotorspeedway.com)

Southside Speedway is not quite there yet but at least the life support has been plugged back in. Shuttered in 2020-21, the local politics were looking at a re-development of the facility and the land. More recently, there is renewed attention on Southside for bringing racing and motorsport back, possibly with a multi-use concept of unused space included on the actual property area. The history is there and a mix of time, passion and money may be the mountain to climb to get racing back. (info at savesouthsidespeedway.com)

Change, as they say, is inevitable. For racing fans and automotive enthusiasts, the message is clear. Your tracks need support. The auto industry is advancing and changing and there are distractions and real issues to contend with. The attraction of new fans is more difficult for any number of reasons so enthusiasm and track presence is a big deal. Check out some local track action. Why only go see the “big guns”? Yes, the stars need support but don’t let it end when those big haulers leave town. Take some of that to a short track with a smaller ticket and you’ll come away with some big action. Go racing, Virginia!

Oh the stories… The spin on the spins… The “behind the grandstands” commentary…

William Byron won the day late Daytona 500. Alex Bowman was right there with him for 2nd place. Hendrick Motorsports earned a 9th Daytona 500 win (Tied with Petty Enterprises).

“He wrecked half the field to do it!”
“They planned it – Byron drove right into the back of Brad!”
“Whatever – All the good ones got wrecked”

And other such talk. You’d think it was an election year with all the finger pointing conspiracy nonsense… (Wait… Oh… Yeah…)

To be fair (stop… we’re not in Canada) the drivers that got knocked about called it out as hot racing up front with laps winding down. Anyone not expecting someone to get loose and cause a super speedway “big one” just doesn’t watch racing very often.

Yes, Bowman gave Byron a push but was not lined up square and Byron went up and then down into Brad Keselowski. Side draft off the 22 of Logano seemed to catch the 24 and push it back down towards the 6 of Keselowski. The 6 spun in front of and around the 24. The 24 went below the line and caused the 38 of Todd Gilliland to check up and spin back into the field. Cars went into billiard mode and bounced about in smoke and rubber and metal.

The race actually finished under yellow. The restart put several up front with Byron being chased into the final laps. The 7 of Corey LaJoie, the 1 of Ross Chastain and the 2 of Austin Cindric got a bit touchy going for any advantage over the 24. The contact took them all off pace and kicked off the yellow just beyond the cut line for the 24 to set a re-start. The timing put Bowman just next to but a bumper back giving Byron the win.

Straight up I’m not a big fan of Byron. There is no doubt of his skill set with wins and growing performance consistency. It may just be the appearance of money and favoritism, real or not, of his somewhat sudden appearance and advancement through the upper tiers of NASCAR. It is not the digital iRacing heritage as that is actually kind of cool to come in that way. Perhaps there is a level of hard running late model drivers around the Country being skipped for shots at a seat while some much younger hit a streak of luck with bits falling into place at ease as if advancing levels in a video game.

Maybe it’s just the Liberty University connection. Have you been to Lynchburg…? If so, you’re not at all surprised by the Daytona “big one”. Everybody in Lynchburg drives like they expect God to save them…

The calendar has rolled… The IMSA Rolex 24 has rolled… The Busch Clash has rolled… Now there is a pause for football and everyone goes nuts. Even during the other event dates, the football story lines were weaving their way in. It’s as if racing was on the sidelines even when it was the main line.

Now, as Daytona is in the back field and the Super Bowl is on tap, once again it is time to ponder the popularity of the game of football. Take a moment to consider how many people actually play the game. Sandlots to high school it is a percentage who actually get on the field. From that group, only a fraction go on to the college level. Of that bunch, only a percentage go on to the NFL or other variations of the “pro” level.

Fun fact, by the way… The first Super Bowl was played in 1967. (Kansas City was in it, just for further detail. The Packers beat them…) The first Daytona 500…? 1959! Lee Petty won it…

Super Bowl 1 (1967) – Winner: Green Bay Packers [] The First Daytona 500 (1959) – Winner: Lee Petty

Dates and history aside, consider when, or if ever, you last touched a football. Maybe think of what football has actually done to improve anything for anyone that doesn’t actually play.? Helmets and pads and shoes and uniforms are lighter and safer but that is for the players. Few if any of these advantages spill over to the “civilian” world of common use.

On that, consider racing and your car. People drive or ride in a car almost every day. The car in the driveway has been heavily influenced and improved because of racing. Fuel economy, power, brakes, safety, aerodynamics, construction materials, tires… The list is extensive. Racing has made the “daily driver” a better machine.

So… Why…? Why does football eclipse motorsport in candid conversation?

Enjoy your game… Just remember… Your car will be there to get you to work the next day. What will the football do…?