The elimination race at Martinsville Speedway featured some fun action, pit strategy, and some good old-fashioned short track beating and banging. Some called it the best short track race with the Next-Gen car, so, the question should be asked. Has NASCAR finally fixed its short track problem?
What Made Martinsville So Good?
Martinsville Speedway brought a brand new tire to the track that was tested at Richmond Raceway during the highly anticipated short track test back in late July. The thicker tire laid down a lot of rubber, and it wore out as well. It also appeared to allow drivers to follow better in dirty air.
The temperature also played a factor. It was unseasonably warm at Martinsville with temperatures up around 80 degrees. This meant a much warmer track surface allowing for cars to slip and slide with more rubber being laid down. This forced drivers to search around for grip, and it also allowed them to follow and pass better than they could in the past.
Remember back to the 2022 spring Martinsville race where no rubber was laid down because of extremely low temperatures and a very hard tire. The result was a single-groove race track with cars unable to follow or even get near each other. Now, these are all positive signs, but, the product was far from perfect.
Things Still to Work On
For all of the positives from Sunday’s race, it was not a perfect show by any means. It was obvious that it was still incredibly hard to pass at Martinsville, and drivers who were stuck in the back had a hard time moving forward. The shining example of this was Martin Truex Jr. who was running in the top-3 for most of the first half of the race only to drop to the back after a speeding penalty, and he finished 12th.
Leaders also had trouble dealing with lapped traffic as well. Many times, it took the leaders multiple laps to work around a single car in lapped traffic. Now, some of that could be down to the Next-Gen car and how close the field is, but some of that is down to the rules package.
The lack of horsepower is still hurting drivers’ abilities to either out-brake competitors heading into the corners or beat them off the corner with a good drive off the turn. The lack of horsepower and wider tires also increases the grip of the car on the track, which, in turn, makes it harder to pass because of how even everyone is.
Now, some of this can be down to Martinsville as a race track as well. Martinsville has always been a race track where it is tough to pass, and it has been especially tough to work from the back to the front there as well. Still, that doesn’t mean the product on Sunday cannot be better or it cannot be easier to pass. Thankfully for NASCAR, they have another opportunity to test what made Martinsville so good at Phoenix.
Why Phoenix is The Perfect Second Test
It’s hard to find a race track to compare Martinsville to, but there are plenty of aspects of Phoenix that carry over to Martinsville. They are both flat and shorter race tracks that tend to have higher grip than other short tracks like Richmond. Phoenix has dealt with many of the same short track package issues that Martinsville has.
The best way to prove whether or not there is something to the racing seen at Martinsville is to try it again at another short track. Phoenix is a good place to try it at, and it is the Championship race after all. This is a race track that the racing product needs to be great at because of how important their date is on the schedule.
On top of that, Phoenix is the place where NASCAR is going to host a short track test in December. It would be great to have a race under their belt at the track with the improvements made to allow for a more educated test.
It allows NASCAR to truly test the components that liked once again, and it also allows them to throw out some things they do not like. There truly is no test for the racing product quite like an actual race. Tests cannot replicate racing conditions, and this can function as a test for the Next-Gen car on short tracks.
Overall, NASCAR may not have fixed every problem with the Next-Gen car on short tracks. However, it can be said that they may have hit on something. Maybe this is where the short track package finally turns the corner fans have been waiting for.