Motorsport News

Will Mayhem Return to Martinsville?

Nascar Cup Series

Now in its third season of NASCAR Cup Series racing, the week-to-week performance of NASCAR’s Next Gen car continues to offer mixed results.

The car has produced some great racing at intermediate tracks, drafting tracks, and other high-speed venues. Road courses appear to be the Next Gen’s most consistent weakness.

Then there is the case of short tracks, which have been all over the board since the start of 2022. Each time the Cup Series has descended on a short track with the Next Gen, it has been almost impossible to predict whether the car will produce a compelling race or a glorified parade. Unfortunately, the Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway with the Next Gen have looked more like the latter category. No doubt all eyes will be on the fabled short track this weekend when NASCAR makes its customary spring visit.

It seems hard to believe that this car, or any car, could produce a bad race at Martinsville. The paperclip-shaped half mile has long been a bastion of the full-contact, hard-nosed racing that harkens back to NASCAR’s roots. During the 1990s and part of the 2000s, it sometimes felt like Martinsville took a back seat to Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway in terms of fan-favorite short tracks.

Yet the often-maligned Car of Tomorrow and the Gen 6 car, both of which had lackluster racing on intermediate tracks, always put on great shows at Martinsville. It was one of the few places where dirty air and aero packages didn’t seem to matter. The more important factors to Martinsville success were keeping your temper in check and your car in one piece.  

However, when the Next Gen raced at Martinsville for the first time in April 2022, fans got an unusually placid and shockingly dull race. The event received considerable hype as the third scheduled Cup Series night race at Martinsville (the first was run without fans in attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the second only made it 50 laps before rain delayed the remainder of the race until Sunday afternoon). But instead of a classic short track showdown under the lights, the race was a tedious track position game.

It seemed like the only time that drivers could make passes was for a few laps after each restart. Passing at Martinsville has never been easy, but there had never been a race like this in recent memory where the field felt so frozen.

Chase Elliott started on the pole and led the first 185 laps, the entirety of the first two…

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