Column: Previewing Martinsville Speedway’s First Night Race

Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – MARTINSVILLE, VA – For all sorts of reasons the NASCAR Cup Series’ smallest track, Martinsville Speedway has always maintained a super-sized profile and lots of intrigue. And yet for all the bumper-beating you would expect from a .526-mile short track, the last few races have been exercises in near-perfection.

Brad Keselowski is the defending spring-race Martinsville winner, leading 446 of 500 laps last April taking the trophy by .594-seconds over Chase Elliott. Martin Truex Jr. is the defending 2019 Martinsville Playoff race winner answering Keselowski’s impressive effort by leading 464 of the 500 laps and just edging another Hendrick Motorsports young talent, William Byron, by a mere .373-seconds.

But with no practice and qualifying for this week’s visit, Wednesday’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 (7 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is a rare mid-week summer night special with a real sense of anything’s possible.

There are 10 former Martinsville winners in the field ranging from nine-time victor Jimmie Johnson to one-race winners Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.

Kyle Busch (a two-time Martinsville winner) and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Martin Truex Jr., are still looking for their first victories of 2020. Their JGR team set a Modern Era record for wins (19) last season and Busch won his second NASCAR Cup Series championship, but they only have two wins (both from Denny Hamlin) a third of the way through this season.

Busch has six top-five finishes, including three runner-up showings this season (at California, Darlington and Atlanta) and is ranked ninth in the series driver standings. Truex has five top-10s and his third place on Sunday was a season-best. He heads to Martinsville ranked fifth in the standings.

Both conceded the season’s new and unique competition situation – no practices or qualifying and fewer team members at the track – has certainly hampered the team’s trophy-hoisting norm. But they feel optimistic heading to Martinsville with some good momentum. Hamlin, who has two wins (at Daytona and a night race at Darlington) has five Martinsville victories, including three in a row during the 2009-2010 seasons.

“James (Small) first year as crew chief, I feel like he’s doing a great job, and I feel like the whole team is really doing a nice job, especially as things have changed with the smaller amount of guys at the track and no practice and all those things,” Truex said.

“Martinsville has been a good track to us the past few seasons and being the defending winner there last time feels great, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.

“Different rules package, lower downforce this time around and we’ll have to hopefully go there and have something that will work good off the trailer because again, no practice. We’ll see how it goes but excited about it and looking forward to a night race at Martinsville.”

The retiring seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson, is probably also among those eagerly anticipating the mid-week Martinsville show. His nine wins are not only tops among active drivers but he earned them with championship flair. Three times he’s won back-to-back races and he won three consecutively from (2006-07). He won both the 2012-Fall and 2013-Spring races from pole position – the last time a Cup race at Martinsville was won from pole.

Johnson is ranked 13th in the series driver standings after posting five top-10s; including a third-place finish at the series’ other famous short track, Bristol Motor Speedway last week – his best showing of the year.

The starting lineups for Wednesday’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway will be done by random draw this evening (June 8) and will be released live on FS1’s Race Hub (6 p.m. ET on FS1).

NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500

The Place: Martinsville Speedway

The Date: Wednesday, June 10

The Time: 7 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 6 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 263 miles (500 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 130),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 260), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 500)

2019 Race Winner: Brad Keselowski

What To Watch For: Opened in September of 1947 by H. Clay Earles, Martinsville Speedway, originally a dirt track, is one of the oldest continuously-operating race tracks in the United States. … There have been 142 NASCAR Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway, one in the inaugural year (1949) and two races per year since 1950. … The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway was on Sept. 25, 1949 and won by Red Byron. … A total of 632 different drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway; 404 have competed in more than one. NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the NASCAR Cup Series in starts at Martinsville with 67; followed by Dave Marcis and Ricky Rudd with 55 each. Kurt Busch leads the series in starts among active drivers at Martinsville Speedway with 39; followed by Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth with 37 each. … A total of 53 different NASCAR Cup Series drivers have won at Martinsville Speedway. 10 of the 53 different winners are active this weekend. … 26 of the 53 different NASCAR Cup Series winners at Martinsville have won multiple times. … NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Martinsville Speedway with 15 victories (1960, 1962, 1963, 1967 sweep, 1968, 1969 sweep, 1970, 1971, 1972 sweep, 1973, 1975, 1979). Jimmie Johnson leads the series among active drivers at Martinsville with nine victories (2004, 2006, 2007 sweep, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2016). … A total of 12 different drivers have posted their first career NASCAR Cup Series win at Martinsville Speedway; the most recent was Ricky Craven (10/15/2001). … The youngest series Martinsville winner is Richard Petty (April 10, 1960 – 22 years, 9 months, 8 days) and the oldest series Martinsville winner is Harry Gant (September 22, 1991 – 51 years, 8 months, 12 days). … Jimmie Johnson can become the third driver in series history to record 10 or more wins at more than one track with a win this weekend at Martinsville; joining NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty – Martinsville (15 wins), North Wilkesboro (15), Richmond (13), Rockingham (11), Daytona (10) and Darrell Waltrip – Bristol (12), Martinsville (11), North Wilkesboro (10). Jimmie Johnson currently has nine series wins at Martinsville and 11 wins at Dover.