Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville

What happened?

William Byron won his fourth career NASCAR Cup Series race after holding off Joey Logano in an overtime restart at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday night, April 9. Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, and Ross Chastain rounded out the top five.

Byron’s victory marks the 27th win for Hendrick Motorsports at Martinsville.

How did it happen?

With a pit stop on lap 186… in a 400-lap race.

Chase Elliott led the entire race up to the end of stage two. While No. 9 was leading all of the laps, Byron sat behind him marking off the laps as the green flag runs aged on the cold Virginia night.

So, when stage two ended and the field visited pit road again, Byron was close behind Elliott. Since the No. 24 – and everybody else – had failed to make a threat for the lead preceding the end of the second stage, it appeared as though he would have to make his gains on pit road. Passing was not coming easily to many on the track, and it made strategy and pit crew speed all the more important.

It was so important, that when Byron did win against teammate Elliott in the race off pit road on lap 186, his chances of winning became much more real, even though they hadn’t reached the halfway point yet.

The 24-year-old still would have to hold off the rest of the field for over the entire second half of the race. It was a tall order, for sure.

But it was one that Byron was able to fulfill. The No. 24 stayed in front for over 200 laps among all of the green flag runs, lap traffic and pit strategies. Everything was looking great for the HMS team.

Until a caution with five laps to go triggered an overtime restart.

With a two-lap shootout and an aggressive Logano restarting next to him, Byron had to hold on for only two more laps. Despite a nudge from Logano, he held the No. 22 Team Penske Ford at bay to earn his second win of 2022.

See also
Hendrick Motorsports Dominates, William Byron Wins Martinsville Cup Race

Who stood out?

One week after Joe Gibbs Racing earned its 18th win at their most successful track Richmond Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports earned its 27th win at their most successful track of Martinsville.

And they did it in dominating fashion.

With the combined efforts of Elliott and Byron, the HMS duo led 397 of the total 403 laps ran on Saturday night, including a stage one and two sweep by the No. 9 team. That’s 98.5% of the race – the most the organization has ever led a race in its history.

Byron’s win is the first time he has ever won multiple Cup races in the same year. It’s a little early to be calling him the face of Rick Hendrick’s organization, but as of now, he has the most wins of the team in 2022 – beating even defending champion Kyle Larson.

At the beginning of the year, Larson mentioned his expectation to see Tyler Reddick have a breakout year this season. While Reddick hasn’t won yet, he has come very close on so many occasions, making him seem to be the driver to watch at Richard Childress Racing.

Because of that, many have seemed to forget about Dillon – the other RCR driver.

Dillon has finished in the top 10 in five of the eight races held so far in 2022, including a second-place finish at Auto Club Speedway. On Saturday night, he earned his second top five of the season with a third-place finish. It didn’t come from any last-minute trickery either. Dillon was simply fast enough to run up front, and in the closing laps, was actually in contention for the lead.

Chastain, however, didn’t have the speed at first.

The TrackHouse Racing driver started 27th on Saturday and hovered around the edge of the top 20 for much of the event, failing to earn any extra points at the end of either of the first two stages.

However, by the end of the night, the watermelon farmer had barely cracked the edge of the top five, saving his team from repeating what was a humdrum performance at Richmond one week ago.

See also
The Underdog House: Ross Chastain Surges Late for Martinsville Top 5

Who fell flat?

HMS’ domination should come as no surprise, really. Martinsville has been home to a few dominating performances in the past, such as Martin Truex Jr‘s clinic performance when he led 464 of 500 laps on his way to winning in 2019.

On Saturday, after the success JGR had at Richmond, Martinsville seemed like another great opportunity for the team to earn another solid performance. After all, it’s another short track, right?

Not exactly.

Truex had a rough night during the 400-lapper. Truex survived a flat tire in the final stage and spent the rest of his night fighting to get into contention. It was a losing battle. He finished 22nd, two laps down.

Then there’s Cole Custer.

The driver of the No. 41 hasn’t made much noise in the Cup Series since earning his first and only win at Kentucky Speedway in 2020, but on Saturday, it looked like he might’ve at least been on the right track.

In 2022, Custer is the only Stewart-Haas Racing driver to not earn a top ten result in the first eight races of the season, but after he finished third and then fifth in the first two stages of the night, Custer finally looked like he was running with the front runners again – a form the SHR team has not had in some time.

At the conclusion of stage two, however, Custer’s team suffered an uncontrolled tire penalty – a very costly mistake. The infraction relegated the Ford-powered team to the back of the pack, and thanks to the dominance of track position throughout the night, the back is where he stayed. Custer finished 21st. Another missed opportunity.

What did this race prove?

NASCAR’s Next Gen car isn’t performing too well on short tracks.

Last Sunday’s lackluster race at Richmond appeared to be helped mostly by the interesting two-versus one-stop tire strategy call that earned Hamlin a victory after a heroic late-race dash to the front.

Martinsville didn’t have that saving grace. In fact, it really seemed that track position was the key all night, which rarely makes for a good race.

Byron led 212 of the last 218 laps of the night, and those other six laps were led by drivers during green-flag pit stops. In other words, nobody was able to make an on-track pass on the leader.

That’s not only for Byron. That’s for the whole night.

But it’s only because of the cold, right? The cold weather made tires less susceptible to wear, meaning pit strategy was less valuable than it was at Richmond. So, not all short tracks are like that, right?

Well, what about the Clash? Logano took the lead from Kyle Busch on lap 116 out of 150 after a restart and despite Busch seemingly having the faster car at the end, he still wasn’t able to even get close enough to put a bumper on the No. 22 – even on a quarter-mile short track.

It was a far more competitive race than what we saw on Saturday night, but still not as competitive as many short tracks have been in the past.

But hey, maybe we’re overreacting. It has only been three times we’ve seen this new car perform on the short tracks after all. Let’s not panic.

At least not yet.

Paint scheme of the race

There are weeks when picking a certain paint scheme out of the field to highlight as the scheme of the race is very difficult. It happens more often than not, actually.

This was not one of those weeks.

When TrackHouse unveiled its coordinating paint schemes for Martinsville on Tuesday, April 5, it immediately won this week’s paint scheme of the race.

With its alternating black and white base colors, the TrackHouse duo is joining the more popular idea of having coordinating paint schemes while using the same sponsor.

It does make sense to have two wraps of the same sponsor, economically. Clearly, teams like TrackHouse and Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing are beginning to see it and take advantage of it. Sponsors get double the exposure if they have two cars draped in their colors on the racetrack at once.

No, this isn’t Formula One, but we are getting nice designs out of its sponsorship model.

Better than last time?

Last October’s race at Martinsville had everything.

It had spins, close side-by-side racing, pit strategies, dumps for the win, drivers angry because of said dumps, and playoff pressure with a championship on the line. It checked off all of the things diehard stock car fans love to see at short tracks.

Saturday night had almost none of that.

The 400-lap event had only two unscheduled cautions throughout the night. Only one of them was an on-track incident. October’s race had 12.

Saturday night’s race had only five lead changes among four different drivers. None of them were made on the racetrack. In October, there were 16 lead changes between seven different drivers.

Are you seeing the pattern?

Saturday night’s race was arguably the first race of the 2022 season that didn’t outperform – or at least match – its previous entry. In fact, it was probably one of the worst races at Martinsville, period.

But what was the reason? Weather? That new car? Or something else? Martinsville was still Martinsville. The track certainly didn’t change.

What’s next?

The Cup Series is going dirt racing.

The stars of NASCAR head to Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track for its now annual dirt race next weekend. Cup practice begins on Friday, April 15 at 4:05 p.m. ET with a second practice following at 6:35 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. Qualifying will be Saturday, April 16 at 6 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 2.  Finally, the Food City Dirt Race will be live on FOX on Sunday night, April 17 at 7 p.m. ET.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and wrote for IMSA in 2020 after graduating with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Bill B

Worst Martinsville race ever.

Echo

Absolutely.

cj

Hard to pass anyone when everyone is running the same speed. NASCAR wanted equal cars, they now have them. Push to pass option maybe the only option NASCAR has left.

Echo

Ridiculous for sure.

janice

i always look forward to martinsville races. this was horrible. i felt bad for the fans in the stands who had to deal with the cold damp air.

this coming week dirt track and dw back in the booth. no way i’ll make it through that entire race.

DoninAjax

I recorded the event and the timer was set for 255 minutes. The event telecast started at 7:30 AFTER the pre-event crap.The cars started moving with 198 minutes left. That’s FIFTY-SEVEN more minutes of Doctor Drivel (not Nurse) and Doctor Manure (and commercials). The green flag flew with 180 minutes left after another SEVENTEEN minutes from the good doctors. That’s a lot of pace laps at just over a minute per lap but a lot of commercials. The checkers flew with 20 minutes left, 160 minutes (2:40:30 according to NA$CAR) of mostly commercials and useless booth chatter. And they wonder why nobody watches the example of Brian’s product.

janice

they didn’t throw green flag on time cause they were still drying areas of the track. i was really surprised they didn’t throw green/yellow as they sure ran enough laps on the track prior to throwing the green.

Kurt Smith

It wasn’t the best Martinsville race, but it definitely kicked the s*** out of the Atlanta event. Even with this fail of a car, I’ll always take Martinsville and Richmond over any pack racing event.

I 100% agree with Jeff Gluck. He is right. It isn’t the tracks. And in fact NASCAR getting away from short tracks is what caused all of this constant mucking with the racecar to equalize everyone. Because the sport grew on parity right? Equalizing every driver with Richard Petty, that’s what caused all of the fans to fill the stands?

One thing I will say that is positive…Chad Knaus was EXCELLENT in the booth. He was totally professional, knew what he was talking about and surprisingly humble given his astounding accomplishments as a crew chief. Fox needs to give him a spot in the booth for all the races.

Mr Yeppers

Completely agree on Knaus.

DoninAjax

One month ago Tom Bowles had written Byron off. How results have changed along with Byron’s “luck”.

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