When the green flag falls at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday night for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway, the storied Late Model Stock Car race will write a new chapter and teams are preparing for what the new qualifying and race procedures will do to change the complexion of the race.
Last year CE Falk picked up the win in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 and after the event Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell made plans for a major overhaul of the race weekend.
Campbell announced those changes in June consisting of an elevated winner’s purse, more money for the top-five finishers, plus a return to single-car qualifying and stage racing for the main event.
Nearly every comment from drivers, teams and fans has been positive and the changes have drivers and fans alike excited about this year’s event. The return to single car qualifying and locking in the top 20 fastest cars has been one of the changes that drivers have lobbied for over the past several years and now that it’s finally back, drivers are excited about it.
“I’m thrilled about it,” said two-time ValleyStar Credit Union 300 winner Lee Pulliam. “It puts the prestige back into it for the drivers. And if I’m a fan, I’d pay to go to qualifying. That guy on the track’s got pressure on him, he’s the only car on the racetrack with the pressure at night for those three laps. One mistake and he’s not in the field. It’s more fun for the drivers, too. They feel like they make the top 20, they accomplished something and can sleep well at night. You end up with 20 good cars at the top of the field. When you take just two, you get heat race wrecks and you have really good cars who won’t make it to the feature of the race. I think we’ll see better cars up front, which will make the whole race better.”
Falk says he’s happy to have single-car qualifying and locking in the top 20 back but says it puts more pressure on guys like him who aren’t always the best qualifiers.
“I like being locked into the top 20,” Falk stated. “That part’s cool, regardless if you win the race or not, those 20 guys that’s a big deal for them to be the 20 fastest in the field. Being a part of that group is always really cool. There’s a lot that happens in those heat races, I enjoyed them. I wasn’t the greatest of qualifiers, so I think every race but one I had to heat race in.
“I always made up some spots in those heat races, and it was always really cool to get wins in those heat races. As for single-car qualifying, that’s even more pressure packed than trying to win the race. It’s a lot of pressure on the teams to have the set up right, with the tires and air pressure and to get everything going for you. I’m really looking forward to it.”
In addition to the single-car qualifying, lap-leader money from Doughton’s Racing Products, stage winner bonuses from Clarence’s Steakhouse and additional money for the top-five finishers, this year’s winner will take home $32,000 – the most ever to win in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300.
The race format will be similar to a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race as it will be run in three stages with breaks at Lap 75 and Lap 150 with a 50-lap dash to the finish. Previous races have had 10-25 lap final segments, but this year’s race will come down to strategy with four new tires being allowed during the race. The drivers and crew chiefs get to decide when to put on fresh tires as well.
Another change in the format that will affect the teams is there will not be an invert during the race and Peyton Sellers says that this year’s race will be more about racing and less about saving tires for the end of the race with the way the new format will play out.
“It’s not as much about saving tires this year, Sellers explained. “It’s going to be about leading laps and being up front. You’re not banking on the invert or sagging back and waiting. As racers we just want to go race and that’s what’s going to happen this year.”
Falk says that he’s looking forward to the racers not playing games for the invert and just racing for the win.
“I’m looking forward to not having the invert and just going out and running the race,” Falk said. “With some guys it was getting ridiculous, guys were racing each other trying to lose positions prior to the halfway break just to get the invert. I’ve always tried to race to be in the best position possible. I think we’ll have a better race and knowing that those breaks are coming and that we’ll have a restart coming you’ll see guys trying to be in better position for the restarts too.”
Pulliam says it’s going to be different racing this year without the inverts.
“I try to be a smart racer and play the game however it’s written,” said Pulliam. “It’ll be a better show for the fans because there’s no need to be running seventh or eighth or whatever at the invert. I think it’ll be more straight up racing, and for all of the drivers that’s good. We don’t want to be “fake racing”. These inverts are for the birds, it’s not too bad if you’re racing on a Saturday night for the fans, but if you take a 200-lap race and put a guy who’s running in 10th-place on the pole I don’t think either the fans or the drivers thinks it makes for a good show. I think in the end it’s going to make a quality show for everyone.”
The changes to qualifying and the race format certainly have the drivers and teams scrambling to make sure they understand how it all works and how to put themselves in the best position possible.
It’s also created a buzz within the fans as they anticipate watching how it all plays out on Saturday, October 5th at Martinsville Speedway. With car counts looking up from previous years and all the changes, this could make for one of the best ValleyStar Credit Union 300 races yet.
Tickets to the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, the NASCAR Hall of Fame 200, the First Data 500 as well as the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Night Race at Martinsville Speedway can be purchased online at www.martinsvillespeedway.com or by calling 877.RACE.TIX.