William Byron won an eventless race in Martinsville last spring
This coming weekend’s NOCO 400 at the Martinsville Speedway has to be better than the race held on that same Virginia half-mile one year ago, right? After all, it doesn’t have much of a measuring stick to go up against. In 2022, the weather was miserable with a mix of rain and snow falling in the late afternoon and early evening hours that delayed the start of the race followed by a very bland 400-lap affair that saw little passing and none of the action the track has come to be known for.
Chase Elliott took the early lead last April and paced the first 185 laps before handing the lead over to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron during pit stops at the end of stage two. The No. 24 Chevrolet would go on to lead a total of 212 laps before eventually taking the checkered flag to secure the traditional grandfather clock awarded to Martinsville victors.
I attended that race as a fan with my two sons. On the way home, we jokingly said that, “Of all the races we had been to, that was one of them.” Even a late race caution that set up a green/white/checkered finish could not save the day.
Many fans seem to have agreed that it was not one of NASCAR’s or the track’s best showings. In racing reporter Jeff Gluck’s ‘Good Race Poll’ only 18.7% out of more than 33,000 votes labeled the event as a good race. That was the third lowest total of 2022 with only the two shows held at the Texas Motor Speedway grading out lower.
Two drivers led 397 of the 403 contested laps with the only lead changes occurring during pit stop exchanges. That coupled with miserable weather and none of the controversy or excitement NASCAR has come to be known for when racing on short tracks made for a poor showing all the way around.
There are, however, reasons for optimism going into this event. Hopefully, more than 18% of the people who attend or watch will see it as a good race. And in fairness, the Martinsville event held last fall proved to be a much better race than the springtime offering.
Last year was the first time around on this track just like every other track for the Next Gen car that had just been adopted for the NASCAR Cup Series at the start of the 2022 season. Teams were still finding their way with the new machine and that seemed, in particular, to have an impact on the short tracks. Now, of course, the new car is not so new anymore and teams have a better idea regarding setups for all tracks, including the shorter ones.
Along with that, NASCAR instituted a new aero package for the short tracks which will hopefully get at least some of the cars to come off of the bottom groove during the race. If that proves to be the case, there should be more passing than was the case last spring.
This Sunday’s race has an afternoon start time rather than being scheduled as a night race as was the case in 2022. The forecast calls for partly cloudy conditions with a high near 80 degrees. The race will likely end in the twilight hours, but during the time in which the track is bathed in sunlight, slicker conditions ought to prevail which could also cause cars be more difficult to manage. Again, that should lead to more passing.
Last year’s spring race in Martinsville fell well short of what fans and competitors have come to expect from this track. Hopefully the new short track package, sunshine, and warmer temperatures will help to bring about a better race. And hey, if there is even one pass for the lead under green not related to pit stop exchanges, this race will have exceeded last year’s version.