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The Freshies - Short Track Package, Hendrick Party, and Hot Dogs at Martinsville

Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

By Adam Carabine

Worst Package

It can be hard to agree with Denny Hamlin, he doesn’t always paint himself as the most likeable character in the garage.  He can also tend to shoot himself in the foot (see: Marcus Smith-gate), seemingly in the name of playing up this villainous role he’s given himself.

However, his recent outspokenness about the current Cup Series short track package shouldn’t be overlooked.  He’s not wrong - there needs to be a change.  Martinsville was another example of just how far we’ve fallen on short tracks with this Next-Gen car.  

I’m willing to give NASCAR the benefit of the doubt, and I have praised their ability to make changes on the fly in the past.  I recognize that this is not going to be a simple fix.  However I think it’s in everyone’s best interest if NASCAR acknowledges the issues and commits to trying to figure them out.  

At this point, it might be worth doing a trial with more horsepower - something that many drivers have been championing for a while.  NASCAR has traditionally fought against increased horsepower, citing costs and logistics as an issue, but recently some drivers have fought back against those claims.  

Whether there is something bigger that is stopping NASCAR from wanting to increase horsepower, or if they’re just being stubborn, I think it’s time to take a chance on it.  It’s too hard to pass out there.  Hamlin even commented on his podcast, Actions Detrimental, that the reason we’ve been seeing such long green flag runs and less wrecks is because the cars can’t get close to each other on the track.

The answer isn’t to have more wrecks and/or cautions.  I recognize that.  But if drivers can’t maneuver their cars through traffic, we’re unfortunately going to be seeing a lot more “follow the leader.”

Most Interesting Strategies

The one positive (if you can even call it that) that you can take from this less-than-stellar short track package is that crew chiefs have had to start getting strategically creative.  If for no other reason than to just do something different than the car in front of you (since you can’t pass them on the track), we’ve seen a few risky and questionable strategy calls.

The king of nonconformity is Brad Keselowski’s crew chief, Matt McCall.  I don’t have stats to back this up, I’m going strictly with the eye test, but the number of times I seem to notice Brad K staying out longer than anyone else throughout a green flag pit cycle is crazy.  I suppose it only has to work once, but I have yet to see any positive results.

Keselowski and McCall’s strategy seems to always be to stay out longer than anyone else, take over the lead as everyone pits, and sit and pray for a caution.  This past weekend, there were a few others who tried this strategy out, including Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez.  None of these cars finished in the Top-15.

While I appreciate some of the drama that comes from a differing pit strategy - I suppose the alternative is to watch them all come to pit road at the same time and then resume where they left off - I’m curious about the efficacy of this particular approach.  

Worst Paint Scheme

Okay, here’s a little recurring game we seem to enjoy around here.  Who had the worst paint scheme of the weekend?  This week I’m picking on Noah Gragson.

To be honest, the car actually looks pretty slick.  On any other weekend, I’d be okay with it.  But this particular colour on this particular weekend looked a little too similar to the Hendrick 40th Anniversary cars.  Let them have their moment, Noah!

Photo from Stewart-Haas Racing

Biggest What Happened?

It was a day Christopher Bell would like to quickly forget.  The driver of the #20 for Joe Gibbs Racing has had a solid start to his 2024 season, already securing a spot in the playoffs with a win at Phoenix. 

Before this past weekend’s P35 finish, Bell was having his best career year, with an average finish of just under 13.  But multiple issues at Martinsville left many wondering what happened to the 29 year old driver from Norman, Oklahoma.

In a race with just 5 cautions (including two for stage breaks), Bell was the cause of two of them - once for debris and another for spinning out on his own.  Look for Bell to bounce back next week at Texas, a track where he has the 6th best average finish of any active Cup driver.

Best Stats

Denny Hamlin, despite his criticisms of the passing situation, actually managed to put up the most quality passes (green flag passes while running in the Top-15) of any driver.  However, the number was only 40.  

Race winner William Byron clearly had the best car in traffic, which helped secure him his third win of the season.  His pass differential of +17 was the best in the field.

Austin Dillon, with a brand new crew chief on top of the box, apparently struggled with no power steering (which is not fun at a track like Martinsville).  His average running position of 33rd was tied for the worst with Corey LaJoie.

And finally, a quick shoutout to Bubba Wallace, who had an impressive day.  He nearly won the pole, he was the fastest Toyota all day, and he tied Kyle Larson for most stage points earned with 18.

Best Party

A quick shoutout to Hendrick Motorsports and their 40th Anniversary Celebration hosted at Martinsville Speedway this past weekend.  Martinsville, of course, being the spot they secured their first ever win as an organization with Geoff Bodine in 1984.  

Unfortunately Mr. H. himself was unable to attend after all, as he was recovering from knee replacement surgery, but his team certainly did him proud.  On Sunday, Hendrick Motorsports went on to become the first team to ever finish P1, 2 and 3 at Martinsville.  Alex Bowman finished a respectable P8 as well.

You couldn’t have scripted a more fitting tribute to NASCAR’s winningest team, and they got to do it in front of essentially all of their employees as well.  

Best Hot Dog

The Martinsville Hot Dog is legendary.  


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