Three big stories: Martinsville

What’s not to love about Martinsville?

Sunday wrapped up a wet, but chaotic race weekend in victory lane at Martinsville Speedway, NASCAR’s last charter track. Between Martin Truex Jr. developing into a short track racing ace, Denny Hamlin reminding everybody of his Martinsville prowess and the inconsistencies of NASCAR on rain delays, here’s what I consider the three big stories of Martinsville.

Three big stories: Martinsville

No 1. Martin Truex Jr., master of short tracks

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – APRIL 11: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 11, 2021, in Martinsville, Virginia. Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images

Until two years ago, Truex never won a short track race in the NASCAR Cup Series. No matter how many times he led triple-digit numbers of laps at Richmond Raceway, he failed to break through.

“For whatever reason for me, the short tracks never really panned out,” he said.

He’s won five of the last 12.

So what changed?

According to Truex, consistent equipment and improved team chemistry.

“Being able to just work on similar things year after year with the same group of guys for the most part, continuing to improve on small things,” he said. “Really just believing what they’re telling you. If they tell me I need to drive a certain way, I start driving a certain way. If I tell them that it needs to do something different, they know it needs to do something different.”

And the results back him up.

He’s won three of the last four races at Martinsville, and led triple-digit laps in all but one. Since September 2016, he’s led over 30% of the laps run at Richmond. With wins in two of the last three trips. Two weeks ago, he led over half the Bristol dirt race.

It’s a microcosm of the turnaround Truex’s career took since 2015. Just another page to his growing NASCAR Hall of Fame resume.

Three big stories: Martinsville

2. Denny Hamlin still a master of Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – APRIL 11: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, pits during the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 11, 2021, in Martinsville, Virginia. Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

It’s easy to forget, given his one win in the last 10 years, but Martinsville is one of Hamlin’s better tracks.

His third-place finish, Sunday, was his 16th top-five and 22nd top-10 finish in 31 starts at the Virginia paperclip. Both of which are his best of any track. These are Martinsville numbers on par with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

His 276 laps led is the second-most laps he’s led in a Martinsville race. He was unbeatable on restarts and short runs.

But just like Kyle Larson at Atlanta Motor Speedway a few weeks ago, a long run hurt Hamlin.

He knew he wouldn’t hold off Truex, unless he got a late caution, which never came.

Although Hamlin’s a decade removed from his tear of four wins in six races at Martinsville, he demonstrated Sunday that he’s still got it in South Virginia.

Three big stories: Martinsville

3. Where was the window, NASCAR?

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – APRIL 10: Crewmembers dry pit stalls prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 10, 2021, in Martinsville, Virginia. Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

NASCAR has publicly stated on multiple occasions that when weather threatens a race, it won’t start that race, unless there’s a window to run it to its completion.

Anyone who looked at a weather radar saw there was no window to get the full race in, that night. Hell, there wasn’t one to get it halfway. Even teams expected to pack up and try again, Sunday, given most didn’t set up their pit boxes until just before the race went green.

Yet NASCAR dropped the green flag. Then brought the cars onto pit road after a wreck brought out the first caution, when rain intensified. Only then, NASCAR called it for the night.

That’s 43 laps and hours wasted for nothing.

Where was that window on Saturday, NASCAR?

Look, I get that predicting weather isn’t a cakewalk. I understand that NASCAR wants to give it a go, if the opportunity presents itself. I also understand that you want to give the people who showed up some action to watch.

Scott Miller, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said as much, Monday, on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“It’s always better for everybody in the business for the race to happen when it’s scheduled, and we will make every effort to try to get cars on the race track, if the weather allows,” he said. “That’s kind of our policy.”

With that said, however, Miller’s answer brings the credibility of NASCAR only starting a race if it can get it all in into question. Why should anybody believe that line from the league, anymore?

TOP IMAGE: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images


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