NASCAR’s top 5 moments from Martinsville Speedway
When you’re the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit, having opened in the sport’s inaugural season in 1949, you have a lot of stories to tell.
That’s the case with Martinsville Speedway, which is the next subject of our on-going series looking back the top five moments of specific NASCAR tracks.
Let’s get started.
1) Retaliation and One Last Victory (Nov. 1, 2015)
A lot happened in the fall 2015 Cup Series race at Martinsville. Some of it was good. Some of it was bad. All of it was memorable.
Entering the final round of playoffs before the championship race, Joey Logano had swept every race in the previous round.
Along the way he’d ticked off Matt Kenseth, a result of spinning Kenseth from the lead with five laps to go at Kansas.
Two races later, Kenseth laid out his version of justice on NASCAR’s oldest track.
After being involved in a wreck on a Lap 435 restart, Kenseth returned to the track multiple laps down as Logano led.
As the the field entered Turn 1 on Lap 454, Logano attempted to lap Kenseth on the outside. That was perfect for Kenseth, as he proceeded to run straight into Logano, forcing Logano into the wall and wrecking himself in the process.
Meanwhile Jeff Gordon, who had been running in second, raced by to take the lead. After a red flag to clean up the wreck, the race resumed as Martinsville began running out of sunlight.
Following a late Sam Hornish Jr. incident, Gordon successfully held off Jamie McMurray in a two-lap shootout to claim the win. It was his only win of the year, his 93rd Cup victory and it locked him into the Championship 4 in his final full-time season.
2) Earnhardt vs Waltrip vs Labonte (1987)
It was the year of Earnhardt.
Through 23 races in the 1987 Cup Series season, Dale Earnhardt had won 11 times, including all six races held on short tracks.
The fall race at Martinsville was a three-way contest between Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte and it came down to them in a three-lap shootout to end the race.
As Earnhardt took the white flag, he led his 170th lap. In second was Labonte, who had led 119 laps and Waltrip, in third, had led 137.
Labonte tried to pass Earnhardt on his outside in Turns 1 and 2, but Earnhardt pinned him to the outside wall as they exited onto the backstretch.
As they entered Turn 3, Labonte lurched forward and rammed Earnhardt’s rear bumper, sending Earnhardt up the track and Labonte into a spin. Waltrip snuck by underneath them, took the lead and raced to the checkered flag.
It was Waltrip’s only win of the year and his eighth Martinsville victory.
3) An Andretti wins for Petty (1999)
John Andretti only won twice in NASCAR Cup Series career, but he made both of them count. In 1997, he won the July Daytona race while driving for three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.
Two years later, he won for The King.
In the spring 1999 race at Martinsville, Andretti was the driver of Richard Petty’s No. 43 car. While Petty had won a record 15 times on the short track, a Petty-owned car hadn’t won there since 1979.
Andretti changed that with a hard charge to the win.
He started 21st and spun on Lap 48 after he was hit from behind by Ward Burton. Andretti then passed leader Jeff Gordon on Lap 135 to get back on the lead lap.
On Lap 383 of the 500-lap race, Andretti pitted from 11th, took two tires and exited in fourth.
He eventually caught race leader Jeff Burton on Lap 494 and they would race side-by-side for two laps before Andretti took the lead for good. After taking the checkered flag, Andretti gave Petty a lift to Victory Lane.
4) Ricky Rudd Beats The Heat (1998)
On a 93-degree day in Martinsville, Ricky Rudd went above and beyond to ensure he’d extend his streak of seasons with at least one Cup win to 16.
Rudd led 198 of 500 laps, including the final 96. But with a broken cooling box, it was not an easy task.
“I started seeing things with 60 laps to go,” said Rudd, who requested a relief driver with 50 laps to go. “I was starting to lose it. I should have come out.”
Rudd suffered second-degree burns to his back and had to conduct his Victory Lane interview with ESPN laying down.
Rudd’s steak of seasons with a win would end in 1999. He wouldn’t win again until 2001 at Pocono.
5) No Ray Evernham, No Problem (1999)
The team of the late 1990s was Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 squad, led by crew chief Ray Evernham.
From 1994-1999, Evernham led Gordon and the “Rainbow Warriors” to three Cup Series titles and 47 race wins.
Then, in the middle of the 1999 season, he was gone. Evernham departed the team after the Sept. 26 race Dover to begin building Dodge’s Cup Series operation, which would debut in 2001.
His departure occurred right before the fall race at Martinsville. Taking his place as crew chief of the No. 24 was Brian Whitesell.
While the Oct. 3 race didn’t see the typical dominating performance by Gordon at the short track, he only led 29 laps, the end result was familiar.
Dale Earnhardt was leading late when a caution came out for a Chad Little incident in Turn 4. While the rest of the leaders pit, Gordon’s team elected to stay out and he assumed the lead with 25 laps to go.
Gordon then held off Earnhardt for the final 19 laps under green and beat him by .198 seconds for his sixth win of the season.