A high-downforce package used at Martinsville Speedway last season left a lot to be desired with its two NASCAR Cup Series races. Two drivers, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr., dominated the half-mile facility, and there were a combined six lead changes from both races.
NASCAR returns to Martinsville tomorrow night (7:00 p.m. EDT, Fox Sports 1), but does so with a different aero package — a smaller spoiler / higher horsepower package similar to 2018 and to what’s run so far this season at Phoenix and Bristol.
That has helped spark a sense of optimism for a competitive Martinsville race.
“It’s not necessarily that we’re under the lights that’s going to produce better racing; it’s the rules package that’s going to produce better racing,” said former Martinsville winner Joey Logano. “(It’s) the lower downforce with this big horsepower. We talk about dirty air all the time, and you say, ‘How can there be dirty air when they’re going 50 miles per hour in the center of the corner at Martinsville?’ Oh yeah, there’s dirty air — quite a bit of it.
“With this lower spoiler, you can loosen cars up from behind. The trailing car isn’t at as big a disadvantage (as) in the past year when you have that big spoiler on the car. Being in the lead you have more downforce; you don’t have to use your brakes as much because you have more drag. It just snowballs into an advantage for the leader, to where when you get out front, one thing after another gets better for you – your brakes are cooler; your air pressures come up less; your car’s handling better; you’re not slipping your tires as much. It’s a huge advantage.
“Now, we’ve lessened the advantage for the leader by taking downforce and drag off the cars on short tracks.”
Keselowski led 446 of 500 laps in the spring Martinsville race. Truex led 464 of 500 laps in the playoff race.
Another former Martinsville winner, Kyle Busch, said the rules package has been a positive in the first few Cup Series races this year. In Phoenix, the racing seemed much better than last year with 2,241 green flag passes and 20 lead changes.
There were 21 lead changes at Bristol.
“Hopefully, we have another good race with it this week,” said Busch, who has two wins at Martinsville. “So far, so good.”
But there are going to be other variables alongside the rules package. Wednesday will be the first time a Martinsville race has run entirely under the lights, and Goodyear is bringing a new tire that teams will not have a chance to rubber in the track with because there is no practice or qualifying.
Per Goodyear: “Compared to what was run at this track last season, this tire setup features construction updates on both sides of the car and compound changes on both sides that will give the cars more grip and introduce more tire wear.”
Truex believes the biggest question for teams going into Martinsville will be the tires. The tire setup can change the way a race car drives and what it needs to do.
“We have lots of experience with the low downforce at short tracks going back to 2018 and earlier, so I think what we’ve seen there is pretty consistently more-competitive racing, easier-to-make passes,” said Truex. “Last year, when we had super high downforce on the short tracks, it was difficult to make passes. It’s difficult to get close to the guy in front of you. Line-sensitive racetracks like Martinsville where you’re pretty much stuck to the bottom, and who can run closest to the curb and those things — it made it difficult to pass.
“We were able to lead a ton of laps, and Brad dominated the first race, so I think we’ll see for sure more competitive racing and sounds like what they’re bringing for a tire should add to that. We’ll have to wait and see because the tires are something that are really, really sensitive at Martinsville — how they lay down rubber and how they change there. So, that’s certainly going to play into it, and we’ll have to wait and see how that goes.”
There were 978 green flag passes in the spring 2019 Martinsville race (2.2 per green flag lap) and 1,188 green flag passes (2.8 per green flag lap) in the fall race.