News & Media


New Martinsville schedule brings mixed reactions

April 01, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Make no mistake. The good folks who run Martinsville Speedway did not make a switch in the way this race weekend is set up with the Sprint Cup drivers in mind.

They did it for the fans.

"I think it's an experiment and I'm not mad about it, but I don't see that it makes entire sense right now."

--RYAN NEWMAN

"The biggest reason we think moving qualifying to Saturday is advantageous to us is we've had so many people say, 'I've never been able to watch qualifying, because I can only get off work Friday afternoon and come in for the weekend,'" long-time Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell said.

So Campbell authorized a switch where instead of holding Cup qualifying Friday afternoon, it now will be held Saturday beginning at 12:10 p.m. ET. Furthermore, that means the two Cup practices held Friday at the .526-mile short track are the only Cup practices that will be held prior to the running of the Goody's Fast Relief 500 this Sunday.

"I think combining the qualifying on Saturday with the truck race is great," Campbell said. "I think Friday is still a big day because you still have six hours of practice for the Sprint Cup Series and the Camping World Truck Series.

"It makes Saturday a bigger day, with Cup qualifying that a lot of people never got to see because they couldn't get off work on Friday. And we reduced ticket prices on Friday by $5 since we don't have qualifying, but we did not increase ticket prices for Saturday. So I think it's a win-win situation for everybody."

Well, hold on there. The drivers have not exactly embraced the new schedule. It would be more correct to say that as a group they've greeted it with mixed emotions and considerable apprehension, wondering if it will impact what happens on Sunday.

"I just don't want to come here for one day and just qualify," said Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. "To me, for what we do in qualifying, it makes more sense to use our practice speeds for qualifying and then not have to spend an extra day or put the time in.

"If we could qualify after our Cup practice [Friday] and make it a two-day event, that, to me, makes the most sense. Coming here, I have the opportunity to go back and forth [from his home in Charlotte], so coming up [Saturday] for two laps is not the best plan for use of everybody's time. Then you have guys on crews coming up here and spending nights in motels just to be here for two laps. I think it's an experiment and I'm not mad about it, but I don't see that it makes entire sense right now."

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, agreed with Newman.

"I was always partial to the old schedule," Busch said. "I liked getting a little bit of practice in, qualifying, going home, thinking about it and getting some ideas. Then coming back, working on the race practice [Saturday] and going through all of that before the Truck race. I always thought that was a smart way to do it and they've always done it that way for a long time."

Busch said it remains to be seen how teams deal with the new schedule differently.

"Now you have practice, and it depends on which crew chief you're with and how they lay it out. You have your first practice, where they're most likely going to work on race run stuff," Busch said. "Then you're going to go into your second practice, and do you continue to work on race run stuff or do you make your qualifying run and then switch back into race trim? What do you do?

"It's kind of difficult to figure all that out -- especially sometimes for the crew chiefs to get an idea of how they want to do it or how they want to structure it. We'll see what happens. We'll keep a close eye on what other guys are going -- for in the back of our minds, in case somebody does it better than we do."

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Chevy for Richard Childress Racing, said he gets that the switch in the schedule was made with the fans in mind and therefore had no problem with it.

"I'm all about what's best for the show," Harvick said. "If it's best for the show for us to have qualifying on Saturday, that's what we need to do to give the fans more bang for their buck with their ticket on Saturday.

"For us as a race team, I like it just for the fact that you've got to work on your car all day Friday, then you can sit overnight and really think about what's going on."

Five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who has won six times at Martinsville in the No. 48 Chevy he drives for Hendrick Motorsports, said he understands it's about the fans but pleaded a case for making it easier on all the crew members whose usual weekend routines have been disrupted.

"It's wild to only run two laps [Saturday]," Johnson said. "I don't know why we're experimenting with this type of schedule because the guys are still here. At the end of the day it doesn't matter, in my opinion, what the drivers are really after.

"I guess the fans are first and foremost. But the next ones in line, I would say, would be the mechanics and crews working on these cars. And they have a bear of a day on Fridays with this type of schedule and then an OK day [Saturday], a light day, with just the two laps [of qualifying]. So it's just weird. You'd rather spread that workload out over the two days and take care of your crew guys."

Johnson and others admitted that with Martinsville being what they call "a rhythm track" for drivers, not being able to practice the day before the race is not what they would prefer.

Harvick said he had an answer for that: Enter Saturday's Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville. The trucks will qualify on Saturday as well, and then compete in the Kroger 250 beginning at 2 p.m. ET after Cup qualifying.

"It kind of throws you out of a rhythm, but I'm going to [be] qualifying the truck first [on Saturday] -- so I guess if everybody is worried about getting in the rhythm, they can run the truck race," Harvick said. "It would be great for the fans. They would love it. Jeff Gordon in a truck? That would be awesome."