HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – The winner of Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, like every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner there since the mid-1960s, will receive the traditional grandfather clock trophy in victory lane.
Martinsville track president Clay Campbell’s late grandfather and track founder H. Clay Earles teamed up with a local clock company almost five decades ago to create one of the most unique trophies in all of racing.
So, as David Ragan, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), heads to Martinsville this weekend, he’ll keep in mind that the key to a strong run at Martinsville is all about “time management.” Taking the time to manage cooling fans, brakes and tires during each lap around the .536-mile paperclip-shaped racetrack can pay huge dividends for competitors in the form of speed at the end of each green-flag run.
There are several other keys to a top finish Sunday at Martinsville, starting with a good qualifying effort Friday to ensure not only a prime starting spot, but a preferred pit stall, which enables competitors to get on and off of pit road as easily as possible. Ragan’s M&M’s Crispy pit crew will need to stay on top of its game by performing flawless stops, as track position at Martinsville pays more of a premium than anywhere else on the Sprint Cup circuit.
Finally, a good brake package will be crucial for Ragan to be competitive for all 500 laps. Throughout the long afternoon, drivers will be at top speed down the long straightaways, then do all they can to slow their 3,400-pound racecars enough to roll through the corners before jumping back on the gas. Few if any drivers can be successful at Martinsville if they’ve used up their brakes before covering the race distance.
So, as Ragan and the M&M’s Crispy Racing crew head to Martinsville this weekend, they’ll focus on a total team effort and use a little time management in order to bring home a strong run at NASCAR’s shortest track.
DAVID RAGAN, Driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You’ve had some good runs at Martinsville in recent years. What is your outlook for this weekend?
“I really enjoy Martinsville. It’s a unique track. Having grown up on the asphalt short tracks, it’s a comfortable layout for me. It’s a track that is kind of an equalizer. Some of the smaller teams, like Front Row Motorsports, we’ve been able to get our car driving well and have good strategy and able to run in the top-10 and top-15. It’s always encouraging to have that competition throughout the entire field. It makes it very interesting. I enjoy the short tracks. I think that, as a fan, it’s some of the best racing we have. For sure, 500 laps is a big test on drivers and equipment. Martinsville just has an old-school feeling to it and a track that goes back as far as the history of our sport goes. Martinsville is a fun race, and certainly the JGR cars have been successful there over the years, and it’s a track that I’m very much looking forward to with our M&M’s Crispy Camry.”
What’s the hardest part about getting around Martinsville?
“I think Martinsville, from a driver’s perspective, mentally, it’s a tough race. It’s also important to manage your equipment throughout the race as the track rubbers up and changes throughout the day. You are constantly in traffic and you always have someone on your nose and on your bumper and you can’t make a mistake. Managing your brakes, fenders, tires are very important. Having good forward drive is a key. So is managing your tires. So, if you abuse your tires on the beginning of the run, you usually have to pay for it later in the run. There are just so many different variables to keep in mind. It sounds so simple because you don’t have to worry about your aero platform and how your splitter height is, but it’s very important to take care of your car so your brake ducts and fans work efficiently. It’s a grueling race, for sure.”
Do you feel more comfortable now that you have four races under your belt with the team?
“It’s great to get to the racetrack and know everyone’s name and get a feel for their process through a weekend and how they communicate, and how all four teams work together for the common good. So, that certainly does make things a little easier. I’ve been a little disappointed with just our overall results on Sundays. We’ve had moments of brilliance through the weekends, but we really haven’t been able to put an entire weekend together, so it’s encouraging to get back to the racetrack and again have some speed. This weekend is very, very important to get a good run and, obviously, just set the tone for the next few races. As far as being on a smaller team and being hungry to get to a more competitive program, I think in the Sprint Cup Series sometimes your careers go in different directions. And I think every driver – maybe with the exception of one of two over the years – have all had ups and downs and have been more successful with multiple teams. So in my situation, leaving Roush (Fenway Racing), going to Front Row Motorsports, I knew I had a great opportunity to help a smaller team and meet some new people and still work on some of my skills. The resources and all the tools that the larger teams have, it’s really remarkable that a smaller organization can even keep up with the larger teams. Kudos to NASCAR for keeping the rules as tight as they have over the years. That will allow a Harry Scott Motorsports or Front Row Motorsports or a Phoenix Racing over the years to win a race or to qualify in the top-10 or get a top-10 finish. I think over the last few years I’ve worked hard to try to make David Ragan a better driver, but when you get to a team like Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing) or a Hendrick (Motorsports) or Stewart-Haas (Racing), you’re surrounded by greatness. You definitely have to elevate and not make any mistakes, and there’s some really, really good drivers, really good crew chiefs and the engineers, who are out there and they make you a better driver. Just in the last few weeks, the tools that have been at my fingertips and some of the information just to help me drive and be a smarter driver, it’s been unbelievable and so it’s something that’s definitely given me a shot in the arm to keep digging and keep working hard being a young guy.”
Do you get the impression that Toyota is still adjusting to the new rules package?
“I’ve heard a little talk about the nose and a little talk about the engine package, so yeah, I still think there are some growing pains and understanding what their limits are and how aggressive they can be and how to get the most out of their Toyota Camry parts and pieces. I think that’s the case with any manufacturer. As you go to some different racetracks these first five or six races, it’s really a perfect schedule to have a speedway, a couple of downforce tracks, a short track, and then we go to Martinsville this weekend. There’s going to be a different group of issues when you get to Martinsville with the low-speed corners and accelerating out of those tight corners with a lot of torque that you need with the engine package. Time will tell how each manufacturer develops, but I think the Toyota guys feel pretty confident with where they’re at and where they’re going.”
- Jonathan Paluga
Director of Marketing & Sales
Armor All & STP Brands