So far for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the weather gods have been NASCAR fans. Daytona, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana all went on without mother nature interfering. But the forecast week leading up to NASCAR returning to the East coast didn’t look as promising. Today, driving up to the shortest track on the schedule, Martinsville Speedway, it became obvious the day was going to be a battle with rain.
The day’s single Cup practice was delayed a little over an hour as the track was dried by the NASCAR arsenal of Air Titans and jet dryers. Shortly after that practice concluded, driver of the No. 38 Ford of Front Row Motorsports David Ragan stood with me just within the long hallway of their hauler, parked last in line of the 40 Cup team trucks, squeezed into Martinsville Speedway’s relatively small infield.
Martinsville and Short Tracks
Martinsville is both the oldest and shortest track in the series. Add in its combination of concrete and asphalt and it’s a pretty unique place. The modern NASCAR schedule is dominated by longer tracks. Ragan can see a place for more short tracks in the Cup schedule thinks more short tracks would be “a good thing.”
“I think back in the early 90’s and 2000’s, our sport was growing so fast, they just built the biggest track to hold the most people, but looking back on it now, I think it probably would have been wise to keep a few more short tracks,” Ragan said.
In 2015, Ragan was brought into Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the No. 18 Toyota after Kyle Busch was injured at Daytona. At Martinsville spring race that year, Ragan celebrated a fifth place finish — his best finish while substituting in the No. 18. He would love to match that performance this weekend in the No. 38.
“I need to have a fast race car this weekend,” he said.
“The Joe Gibbs cars were really fast at the short tracks, and still are today. In 500 laps here, you always have to overcome something, whether it’s a pit road problem, losing track position, maybe a tire issue. You have to have a little bit of good luck, but a fast race car.”
“Hopefully we can have a fast Camping World Ford this weekend, and I’ve raced here enough to know when to be aggressive and when to be a little bit more conservative. Hopefully we can make the right moves on Sunday and have a shot to win at the end.”
Restrictor Plate Expansion Experiments
Ragan’s pair of wins in the Cup Series both come from restrictor plate tracks: 2011’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, and the 2013 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. Last week, NASCAR announced they would also try restrictor plates at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Xfinity Series, but just because Ragan has won in plate races, doesn’t mean he think it makes sense elsewhere.
“I’m a little unsure how that’s going to work out,” he said.
“I know NASCAR’s making some adjustments and changes to see how the racing responds. I give them credit for being brave and confident in making some adjustments. They’re having an experiment and we’ll see how it goes. NASCAR makes a lot of good decisions, so I’ll support them and see how it turns out.”
More to Come
A fifteen minute interview amounted to a lot of content. Stay tuned tomorrow for the second part where Ragan talks family, road courses, Stewart-Haas Racing joining the blue ovals on the track, and more.