Don’t expect big changes from the short track package at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA - APRIL 06: William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Ruby Chevrolet, Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Menards/Libman Ford, drive during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway on April 06, 2024 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The Next Gen car has not impressed on the short tracks since its debut. But NASCAR has not been complacent, and has tested new packages since last year. This season, the sanctioning body finally introduced a new short track package.

The package has so far featured at Phoenix and Richmond. It was not ready by the Clash at the Coliseum, and was not used at Bristol because of the banking at that track. Martinsville will therefore be its third appearance and the shortest track for it. 

Erik Jones said that the shortness of the track means that the package makes the least difference at Martinsville. 

“It doesn’t drive a lot different here,” he explained after getting out of the car after practice. “That’s to be expected, right? Speed-wise, you’re not going fast enough to activate a lot of that stuff. 

“You will see a difference if you make huge changes, but I didn’t notice a lot of difference in the driving tonight, I just think it’s hard to tell. I got behind a couple of guys and it’s still tough. I just think there’s more factors here than aero that makes it tough.”

Besides that, drivers were split as to how much difference it makes. Joey Logano, who pulled out his best finish this season at a short track with the package at Richmond, thinks it’s noticeable. 

“It’s a fair amount different, in some ways. It seems like it’s a little freer into the corners for sure, seems like dirty air isn’t quite as bad, but it still will be. Dirty air is dirty air, you get up behind a car, that’s what’s going to happen. But it seems to be a little better,” Logano said.

“I mean, what the car does in dirty air is a little bit different, instead of just being tight it’s just less grip overall,” Tyler Reddick explained of the changes. “Is that a good thing? I’m not really sure. I feel like it gives us more options instead of just getting plowing tight in traffic, but it’s not like you can just run up right behind somebody and still make something happen. You have to move around and you have to be creative.”

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – APRIL 06: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Advance Auto Parts Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway on April 06, 2024 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Logano’s teammate Ryan Blaney, though, doesn’t think the races have been all that different with or without the change.

“Yeah, we tried it a couple of times here and Phoenix, Blaney said. “I didn’t really think it made much of a difference. Richmond, it might have made a little bit of a difference, I felt like more than Phoenix.

“But, I think it’s a small step in the right direction. Just got to continue to try to beat down that path.”

No one was more critical than Kyle Busch ahead of the race at Martinsville.  

“I didn’t think we could make it worse, but by golly we did…for me anyways,” Busch said. “Maybe it’s just because we don’t have it quite figured out like others do, but I cannot follow anybody in front of me whatsoever. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the bottom lane, the middle lane, the top lane – if there is a car in front of me, I am terrible.. really bad. 

“I will say the only positive to it is that you can slide the back of the car around a little bit more and not crash. But the front ends are just ungodly not working.”

As for what’s needed, accounts differ based on who you ask. Plenty of fans suggest that more horsepower is the answer. NASCAR suggests rerouting the downforce will do it. And for the drivers? They don’t want to offer an opinion. 

“It doesn’t matter because they’re not going to do it, so it doesn’t matter,” said Kyle Busch when asked for his solution. “I’m not going to paint myself in a bad spot to get in trouble.”

Tyler Reddick just thinks a fix is impossible.

“It seems like the only thing we really could do is race without gravity and air. No air, no gravity, maybe that would take care of the dirty air. I don’t know what else to do.”

Owen Johnson