The 2018 edition of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway is in the books and it was definitely one we’ll be talking about for a long time to come. There was everything from drivers meeting ejections and rule changes on race morning to incredible racing for most of the event only to end in carnage as usual.
Here’s the good, bad and ugly things that stood out to us this year.
The First 180-laps
Up until the lap 180 break, the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 was something special. While Josh Berry was out front dominating the racing behind him was exceptional nearly every lap. Several drivers were on the move and some were fading as the laps clicked off. For the most part, it was some of the best racing you’ll see anywhere.
One of the best parts of this year’s race was the invasion of Super Late Model talent. Bubba Pollard was highly publicized coming into this event and rightly so given his resume. But young Corey Heim really made a statement in this race as well. Both Pollard and Heim could have won this race and both charged through the field and gave the fans a great show.
As if something out of the WWE or like watching Tiger Woods walk a couple weeks ago on the 18th, Bubba Pollard’s walk to Layne Riggs pit area was an iconic moment of this event. He walked from his pit area near turn four to Riggs pit area nearing turn one. Along his walk, the crowd seemed to get bigger and bigger with his crew and bystanders walking along. Though NASCAR Whelen All-American Series officials didn’t really allow for the two drivers to have a conversation, the spectacle was amazing.
Making it Work
For all the negative things being said about Lynn Carroll and subsequently the rest of the officials who worked this event, one thing that can’t be said is that they didn’t work their tails off. The men and women who made up this year’s officiating crew worked tirelessly Thursday, Friday and Saturday (really Sunday as they were still working into the morning hours) to make sure this event went off just as it should. They deserve a pat on the back for the work they put in to squeeze testing into that three-hour window as well as make sure everything else started on time.
For the first time in several years, the heat races may have been a little disappointing the fans who come to see the demolition derby that they usually are. This year’s heat races and the Last Chance Qualifier went off very fast. Honestly, for the staff and the time built in for them, they went off too fast.
Several drivers probably surprised some people this weekend. One of those was Brandon Pierce who was really the only Nelson Motorsports entry to be a contender in this race. Other drivers who deserve a pat on the back include Trevor Ward who was good all weekend. He’s really coming into his own and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win one of the big races upcoming. Also, Thomas Scott who should have finished in the top five but was run over in the closing laps and ended up on top of Trevor Noles car at the finish. Justin Carroll finished sixth, Woody Howard 11th and while he didn’t up finishing there Matt Leicht had a great run as the only Ford Crate to be seen near the top ten all night. I’m sure there are others I’m missing but these guys really stick out.
Though it appeared that waiting and taking tires late had no effect on the car’s performance, the added strategy of the new tire deal added some strategy and intrigue to the race. Some teams opted to take all their tires at the lap 100 break, while others took two each time and some saved all four for lap 180. Equally some drivers used strategy on where to place the tires (left or right) each time and it really made it interesting. Good concept and great execution by the officials and teams.
The beginning of a hard weekend on everyone was the weather not cooperating. It started with the hurricane the week before which postponed testing to Thursday of race week. From there it went downhill on Thursday as testing was once again washed out. As I mentioned above the staff did a fantastic job trying to make sure they got on the track but rain hit right as they had the track almost dry. By Friday all the precipitation had cleared out but it made for a long couple of days at the track with an 8:30am start on Friday.
In almost every application imaginable duct tape isn’t really something you want to have put on your race car. Usually it’s from a wreck and need to keep a fender in place or something but this year we went back in time to the old days of Martinsville before transponders and before technology would have easily allowed for changes prior to the event and made drivers and teams duct tape additional numbers or number changes to their cars. Some teams got bailed out by savvy graphics companies who saw the problems and knew they could make money to fix them but others were forced to have their expensive wrap jobs trashed up by duct tape. This issue is avoidable and hopefully, the feedback the track got this weekend will allow for them to not have this issue at scale ever again.
After we reported about a text message sent out the week before the event about possible rule changes, everyone was on guard for them. However after the drivers voted down a rule change on Friday, everyone thought it was over. Then Race Director Lynn Carroll made the overnight decision to make a change on Saturday morning. Adding weight and taking a spacer plate from teams with a Harrington Engine. The spacer plate issue was reversed by a safety concern but the weight was added just before the heat races with no practice for the cars affected. This last-minute rule change also led to David Gilliland, father of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Todd Gilliland being escorted out of the meeting and Todd withdrawing his entry.
Speaking of rule changes, this was all done in the name of parity. The officials to their credit simply hoped to level the playing field. The parity never really materialized according to officials and that was the reason for the last minute change. The entry list was made up of 38 Harrington Enforcers, 31 GM Upgrade (Spec) and four Ford Crates (two of the four made the show). One of those Ford Crates made a change to another engine but I don’t have noted which it was. Also of those Harrington/Upgrade engines, one driver had both during the course of the weekend, which was Philip Morris. He opted to take his GM Upgrade engine out after practice and qualified and raced with the Harrington Enforcer in his car. Ironically Morris turned a 20.164 in practice with his GM Upgrade and turned a 20.169 with his Harrington Enforcer in qualifying. I’m not sure you can get any closer than that.
Driving in the Closing Laps
One of the worst things about every years finish at Martinsville is that the race turns ugly soon after the final break in the race. This year it was at lap 180 and with 20 to go things got live on the restarts. This led to the best driver being taken out as Josh Berry and Peyton Sellers got together on one of those late restarts. Then Layne Riggs made a bold three-wide move which ended Bubba Pollard’s night as well as several others and the worst of the three was a wild three-wide entry by last years stand out Trevor Noles who was in a position for another top five but wanted more. It was brutal for the last hour of racing to be the final 20 laps of the race.
I don’t want to throw the scoring officials under the bus but the way scoring worked out as this race progressed and even into the final restart was tragic. Allowing the second place starter to gain a position on the restart without completion of a lap was bad when it happened with Sellers and Berry but when it happened at the conclusion of the race and the win was awarded to the guy with the best restart never having led a green flag lap that made an already bad night for race control even worse.
I reviewed both the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series rulebook and the entry form for this race and unless I missed something (I called at least five NASCAR track officials to ask them where to find it too and none could tell me, all of them told me that’s not how it’s supposed to be done) then someone in the tower made a grave mistake when it came to allowing positions to change under caution just because caution laps counted. After the Berry/Sellers deal someone should have had the common sense to stop this but no one did. I don’t know who decided on this way of scoring the race but whoever did should never be allowed to officiate this race or any other again.
The Finish or Lack of a Finish
At the end of the day, the fans pay to see a race. With that, they expect to see every lap and to see cars racing at the finish. Fans and teams were robbed of that opportunity. This must change. The three attempts at a green, white, checkered finish must be eliminated. Fans don’t pay $30 to sit in the stands and wonder what happened. Social media has been on fire since this happened and it should never happen again.
Booing the Winner
No matter how bad I think the calls were in this race, I feel worse for CE Falk than I do anyone else. At the end of the night, he was awarded the win. That’s the end. But fans rained down boos and some even heckled him in victory lane. It wasn’t Falk’s fault. He earned a chance to be in a position to win and the way things shook out right or wrong, he was awarded the win. Kudos to him for taking it in stride and laughing about it.
Well, that’s all we have for this years “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. I’m sure you guys might have some other thoughts on what was good, what was bad and what was ugly. Share them with us on social media.