Past meets present: Richard Petty reveals methods that made him great at Martinsville

Richard Petty
Chris Graythen
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In the history of Martinsville Speedway, no driver had better results at the iconic short track than seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Richard Petty.

In total, “The King” won a record 15 races at the 0.526-mile venue. He took to the venue from his earliest days in NASCAR’s premier division, winning the second of his record 200 races – and his first on asphalt – at Martinsville.

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Both Petty and NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman quickly developed a knack for racing at the Southern Virginia facility.

“It was just a Richard Petty track, I guess,” Petty told the NASCAR Wire Service. “It fit my style of driving, and it fit Dale’s style of setting the car up. It was just a good combination.

“You go to other tracks, and you run good, but you only win two or three races. Fate was just a little better for us up there.”

Fate wasn’t the only determining factor. Unlike most other competitors, Petty was a right-foot braker and was never on the gas and brakes at the same time. That helped him develop the rhythm necessary for success at Martinsville.

“I could use my brakes different from what other people did,” Petty said. “Sunday morning of the race, we’d put on a brand new set.”

Petty estimated that the superiority of his brake package helped him notch at least half his Martinsville wins.

Brakes have always been an issue at Martinsville, but the larger and more durable brake package on NASCAR’s new Next Gen Cup Series race car has the potential to change the dynamic of Saturday night’s race.

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Drivers should be able to charge harder into the tight corners at the short track. And the brakes should be able to withstand more abuse, says Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford.

But will that make a difference as to which drivers excel and Martinsville and which drivers can’t figure out the tricky-rhythm track?

“You never know,” Blaney said. “Everyone’s kind of adapted to this car differently. So it’s hard to tell. Martinsville is a unique place. Sometimes it kind of clicks for you, so I can see some guys who have run good there for a while still be really good, and I can see some guys who maybe haven’t run the best there be really good.

“Denny (Hamlin) has always been great at Richmond, and he’s still great at Richmond. But then you have some other guys who weren’t great at Richmond that ran pretty good (in last week’s race, won by Hamlin).

“I think you’ll have that at all these tracks. You’ll have guys that always know what to do around those places and are still going to be good, but then this new car might suit other drivers who maybe haven’t been as good at these certain tracks, and they’re going to run well. So we’ll have a mixed bag, I think.”