NASCAR fans will be treated to some great short track racing this weekend. The Chases in both the Sprint Cup Series and Camping World Truck Series continue at Martinsville Speedway, the half-mile paper clip-shaped track in the Southern Virginia hills. The XFINITY Series, meanwhile, gets one more weekend off.
It is a shame that NASCAR’s second-tier division no longer races at Martinsville. Having a pair of Truck races there each year does help to fill the void. Texas Motor Speedway is the only other track that can claim multiple Truck Series races in one season. Yet Martinsville is such a great place to see a race, that the track deserves to host all three of NASCAR’s national tours.
Two weeks ago, Martinsville made a major announcement. Following the races this weekend, the track will begin installing LED lights. The plan is to have the project complete by January 2017, meaning that night racing could soon be coming to Martinsville Speedway.
In the immediate future, lights will allow Martinsville to be better prepared in case of rain delays or darkness. Last year’s fall Sprint Cup race at Martinsville ended under particularly dark conditions and some doubts about whether or not there would be enough daylight left to go the full distance. There is no doubt that having lights available will bring added convenience to Martinsville in case weather affects race weekends.
But speaking about those weekends, they raise questions about whether or not NASCAR could schedule a Sprint Cup or Camping World Truck race at Martinsville under the lights without changing the schedule. In 2016, the Martinsville weekends are in early April and late October. The same arrangement is on tap for 2017. It seems unlikely that the folks at Martinsville would spend $5 million installing lights if there was no guarantee that the lights would be put to use on a regular basis. On the other hand, holding a night race on either of the current Martinsville weekends means that the track might have to trade in its famous hot dogs for hot chocolate. NASCAR could always swap a few races around and give Martinsville a more weather-friendly date, but the sanctioning body has shown a lot of hesitation in recent years towards shaking up the schedule.
If Martinsville really wants to get the most out of its new lights, the track should host a night race sometime during the summer, when the Sprint Cup Series is off at a different venue. That is where the XFINITY Series could step in and make its triumphant return to the Paper Clip. Holding such a race would be a winning scenario for everyone involved. Martinsville would get another race and a chance to use its lights at least once a year. NASCAR would instantly get a “new marquee” event for the XFINITY Series that would be easy to promote (“NASCAR’s rising stars take on the legendary short track, under the lights for the first time ever. Don’t miss the XFINITY Series night race at Martinsville, where the new meets the old!). NXS drivers and teams would get a chance to compete at Martinsville and possibly put a victory there on their resumes. Finally, the fans get another Martinsville race.
NASCAR nearly held such an event at Martinsville ten years ago. That was when the XFINITY Series last raced at the Virginia short track, on a Saturday afternoon in July. The rumor was that the track would bring in temporary lights and run the race at night, but that plan never came to pass. Instead, the race is best remembered as Darrell Waltrip’s last official NASCAR start. The 2006 race is the first, and last, time that the XFINITY Series visited Martinsville since 1994.
So, with the track making a big change, it is time NASCAR does as well by bringing NXS racing back to Martinsville. If the sanctioning body really wanted to get creative, the new race could even be a weekday event, similar to the Truck Series race at Eldora. That said, any day of the week would be a welcome host for a “new tradition” of racing under the lights at Martinsville.