Leave it to NASCAR’s oldest track to provide a temporary relief from what some consider the sport’s most modern impairment.
Over the last month, teams, drivers and fans alike have entered race weekends at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and California with at least some degree of doubt about how the Monster Energy Cup Series races would look and feel under the varying rules and aerodynamics packages that are new in 2019. But as NASCAR heads for Martinsville Speedway and Sunday’s STP 500, the expectation is some good, old-fashioned short track racing. No surprises.
Just the way Ryan Preece likes it.
“It’s going to look like any short track across the United States,” the driver of the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet said Wednesday on a conference call when Sporting News asked whether the aforementioned doubt is eradicated by the 0.526-mile oval, as opposed to a bigger track at which the aero package is a major factor. “I think being able to go to a short track, where everything’s that much tighter, it’s going to make for great racing.”
As they will in all NASCAR Cup Series races in 2019, cars in Sunday’s race at Martinsville will run with the new base package that includes a taller spoiler, a longer front splitter and a wider radiator pan compared to last year’s package. But the cars will not have the air ducts or the smaller tapered spacers that are reserved for use at oval tracks longer than 1.2 miles.
In simple terms, that means the cars will run the package that produces roughly 750 horsepower, not the one that produces roughly 550 horsepower and has generated mixed reviews through three races this season.
Not that horsepower is much of a factor when it comes to the kind of entertainment a short-track race can provide.
“There’s races where I’m in a modified that have 450, 500 horsepower, and we put on great racing,” Preece said. “Hopefully we can all just look at the racing, or approach the weekend as if it’s just any other race and not focus on a different package.”
Preece, a 28-year-old Cup series rookie, has a short track-heavy background having cut his teeth racing midget cars in New England. Back in 2008, he earned his first Whelen Modified Tour race win at Martinsville, a track at which his current JTG Daugherty race team tends to enjoy.
Of course, most tend to enjoy races at Martinsville Speedway, which NASCAR has visited annually since 1949. They tend to enjoy the style of short-track racing in general, no matter the era of NASCAR and no matter the setup of the cars.
So even though FOX NASCAR’s TV ratings do not support the idea that 2019 Cup Series races have been negatively impacted by a new rules package, for those who don’t like the guessing game ahead of each event, the Martinsville race will feel like a break; a return to normality, of sorts.
“I don’t expect any different,” Preece said.