NASCAR’s Next Gen technology looked great to start the season but sputtered in recent weeks at short tracks. Historically some of the rawest, rugged races of the year, the back-to-back stops at Richmond (3/4-mile) and Martinsville (.526-mile) left many fans wishing for some drama.
Two weeks ago in Virginia, the race lacked almost any memorable moments; instead devolving into a tire strategy chess match with very few lead changes. The lack of cautions (five total, including two-stage breaks), especially, and multiple green-flag pit stops left much of the field disconnected and unable to claw back.
Saturday night at Martinsville, one of NASCAR’s most storied short tracks, delivered much of the same, Motorsport suggested. Just four cautions (two for stage breaks) led to five lead changes and a round of green-flag pit stops. Such a scenario is rare to say the least on a half-mile track.
What’s worse is that every driver seems to have a different theory regarding the calmness of the racing on short tracks. If one primary complaint prevailed amongst all drivers, NASCAR could easily address the problem head-on; now, though, they will need to get creative in order to solve the issue for future races.
“This car, if you’re directly behind them it’s no secret this car is worse in dirty air. If you’re not directly behind them, you’re able to recover better but it seems like the way cars were into the corner and the way the track wasn’t taking rubber, it just made the bottom be the dominant lane,” Joey Logano said. Logano’s No. 22 Ford finished runner-up to winner William Byron, but he never led a single lap.
“You couldn’t move up the race track or do anything to try to pass them. You really just got stuck.”
NASCAR needs to address the drivers’ issues before the Cup Series returns to short tracks later this year
Logano’s Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, agreed with him about the “dirty air” but also noted the lack of rubber on the track surface during the race.
“The left side (tires) just don’t wear on this car,” he said. “That’s just kind of how it is, so I know they’ve been playing around with softer lefts and things like that, so go for it. I mean, go way softer, especially on the lefts and see where it gets you.”
The race also perplexed NASCAR enthusiasts watching from the tracks’ sidelines. Hendrick Motorsports vice-chairman and Hall of Fame racer Jeff Gordon said he was “surprised” by how the race played out.
“I was talking to all the crew chiefs and kind of getting their thoughts, and I don’t think anybody would have guessed that it would have gone (like that),” Gordon said. “It’s a new car, right, and they’re shifting every lap and it’s easy to lock the left-front tire up, and there’s just a lot of things. I think we all knew it would be deeper in the braking zone, lap times were faster. There wasn’t a lot of (tire) falloff.
“Typically in that situation, you would say, ‘Oh, well then people are going to get more desperate to make these banzai moves and then the cautions are going to come’. Didn’t see any of that.”
Hopefully, NASCAR teams will better understand the technology under short track conditions when the Cup Series returns to Richmond and Martinsville later this fall.