When the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing team unloads at Martinsville Speedway this weekend for the STP 500, it will be the first time it has done so since 2011, and it will be a homecoming of sorts for Wood Brothers Racing.
The speedway at Martinsville, Virginia, is the closest track to Stuart, where it all began 66 years ago for the Woods. It’s very much a home game for the team, one it is celebrating with a special open house 6:30-9 p.m. on Friday, April 1, at the Wood Brothers Racing Museum. The original Wood Brothers and current driver Ryan Blaney will be on hand.
“Friday night will be a lot of fun for everyone,” said team co-owner Eddie Wood. “We’re really looking forward to seeing all the fans and be able to thank them in person. We’ve had so much support from them this year. It’s just beyond words.”
Crew chief Jeremy Bullins, who also considers Martinsville his home track after growing up about 20 miles away from the speedway, said, “It would be great to run well being so close to Stuart. There are a lot of people who I’m sure are rejuvenated 21 fans with us being back to full time and we’d like to make them proud. Hopefully during qualifying we can give everyone a reason to be excited to come to the open house.”
Once the homecoming celebrations are concluded, business resumes at the historic track for the iconic No. 21, which has visited victory lane there twice – once in 1968 with Cale Yarborough and again in 1973 with David Pearson.
As is frequently the case in 2016, this will be NASCAR Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Blaney’s first run at the Martinsville half-mile in a Sprint Cup car. He has, however, had success there in the Camping World Truck Series, scoring three top fives, a top-10 and a 16th in five races between 2012 and 2014.
Although the cars are different and there’s more horsepower involved, Blaney’s truck experience gave him a solid tutorial on the basics of running at Martinsville.
“One of the most difficult things is trying to save your car and stay calm for 500 laps,” he explained. “It’s heavy braking there and saving brakes is something we keep in mind during the whole race.
“Something big you fight at Martinsville is rear drive off the corner,” Blaney continued. “We work really hard at trying to make that as good as possible.”
Blaney’s Martinsville truck experience has taught him about trying to overtake other drivers on the paperclip-shaped oval.
“Aero doesn’t really come into play at Martinsville so it can be easier to pass,” he said. “But it can be tough to get around cars.”
Bullins explained what crews do at Martinsville to get around the track as fast as possible.
“The focus turns primarily to mechanical grip,” Bullins said. “We don’t lose focus on the aero side but you’re less likely to make compromises you might at an intermediate track for aero gains. That’s fun for us as you get back to the short track mentality of working on the car.”
Going into Martinsville, Blaney is 17th on the driver points chart. He is in a virtual tie with Chase Elliott in the race for Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year honors.
Practice sessions for STP 500 qualifying begin at 11 a.m. EDT on April 1 and can be seen live on FOX Sports 1 (FS1). Qualifying will take place at 4:15 p.m. EDT on April 1 and will be broadcast live on FS1. The practice sessions for the race will be shown on FS1 at 10 a.m. EDT and on FS1 at 1 p.m. EDT on April 2. The STP 500 begins on FS1 at 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday, April 3.
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STP 500/Martinsville Speedway Facts
Laps: 500/263 miles
1st Race: 1946
Wood Brothers Wins: 2
Track Record: Cale Yarborough, 1978, 79.185 mph
2015 Winner: Denny Hamlin
2015 No. 21 Finish: Did not compete