In late March, when NASCAR announced the 2020 Cup Series schedule, it was easily apparent Martinsville Speedway received the best possible outcome.
For starters, Martinsville will host a night race, something fans and drivers have been clamoring for since the new permanent lights were installed in 2017. If that wasn’t enough, not only is it a night race, it’s a night race in May, pushing back from the late-March weekend the Speedway has hosted the past couple years and (we can all hope!) taking away the risk of another snowed-out weekend like we saw in 2018.
Just that alone would have been enough to call the 2020 schedule a home run for The Paperclip, but in addition, Martinsville’s fall race weekend was also moved to the final race of the playoffs before the championship. That means the final four contenders will be decided on the circuit’s smallest track, the same track where Joey Logano won last fall, which likely had a direct effect on his eventual championship run.
Both of those changes put together was more than just a home run, it was a grand slam.
If those weren’t enough, a few weeks after the 2020 Cup Series schedule announcement, we learned that the fall weekend at Martinsville now would feature not only NASCAR Cup and Trucks races but also bring in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, with all three series fighting for the final playoff spots before their respective championships.
And Tuesday the news for 2020 at the track got even bigger. That spring race weekend featuring the Saturday night Cup race? It will now also feature the return of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to Martinsville for the first time since 2010.
If you follow Martinsville Speedway on social media, you likely will see the three biggest questions fans ask the track are: 1. When will you host a Cup Series night race? 2. Why doesn’t the Xfinity Series race there? 3. When will you bring back modifieds?
In 2020, all three of those questions will be answered.
That’s not a grand slam, that’s a walk off grand slam.
That’s a walk off grand slam when you’re down three runs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the World Series.
I’m running out of baseball metaphors, but you get it.
The day NASCAR announced the initial Cup Series 2020 schedule, my first thought was, “Whoa, NASCAR really loves Martinsville.”
And even though changes at the top level of the sport are in store, I don’t anticipate that changing. In fact, I think that love will continue to become more apparent.
Last week, when it was announced NASCAR would be buying International Speedway Corporation, the parent company of Martinsville Speedway as well as 11 other NASCAR tracks, including Daytona, Talladega, and Richmond, the fear around Southern Virginia was naturally, “What does this mean for us?”
Several comments on the Martinsville Bulletin’s Facebook page showed fear that this signaled the end for racing in Henry County, which was probably a natural gut reaction. It was just a few years ago, when ISC purchased the track in 2004, that Bulletin articles alluded to the fear that The Paperclip could lose one of its two yearly races. Being a small fish in a big pond and getting overshadowed and eventually pushed out is a fear a lot of southern Virginians have, and not just when it comes to racing. They’ve seen what happened just down the road in North Wilkesboro and Rockingham, to old and venerable NASCAR tracks vacated not that long ago.
But, to me, those fears didn’t seem to jive with what NASCAR had subliminally told us when next year’s schedule was released. Other than possibly Phoenix, which will now host the championship race, I don’t think any other track saw upgrades to its schedule as good as the ones Martinsville received.
The deal for NASCAR to purchase ISC actually could be a very, very good thing not only for Martinsville but for all the tracks involved. The AP’s Jenna Fryer spoke with Victor Mathewson, a sports economics professor at Holy Cross, who alluded to those thoughts.
"I would certainly be worried if I was any of the tracks that aren't part of the deal," Mathewson told the AP. "My guess is NASCAR will put an emphasis on the tracks it owns rather than the ones it doesn't. Given the decline over the past couple years, I wouldn't be surprised if they cut some venues from the schedule, and some of those tracks could be on the outside looking in."
At Tuesday’s announcement of the modifieds race, Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell echoed those sentiments.
“I think the France family has made it abundantly clear that they’re all invested, and this is the direction they want to go with the sport, and I couldn’t be happier about it,” Campbell said. “I think it’s a great move. And if you look, when people say, ‘What does that have to do with Martinsville?’ I said it earlier, if you look at the schedule … we probably have two of the best dates of anybody on the entire season. And NASCAR made that schedule. So I think that just supports the significance and the impact Martinsville has on NASCAR. So we’re really pleased with it.”
Jeff Gluck, a racing reporter with The Athletic, runs polls following every NASCAR race, asking if that had been a good race. Gluck’s readers decided both the spring and fall race in 2017 at Martinsville were the best races of the season. The 2018 fall race saw 90 percent positive reaction from fans. NASCAR knows that, when it comes to good races, especially races with a lot on the line, such as those deep in the playoffs, there are few tracks that come close to providing what The Paperclip does.
Plus, Campbell and those at the track have done everything they can to make sure their facility is somewhere fans and the sport not just want to be but need to be.
That’s why the Cup Series will race two crucial races there next season. And the Xfinity Series will return. And the modifieds will get back on the track for what will hopefully be the first of several more years.
And that’s why, when it comes to Martinsville Speedway, I don’t think we have anything to worry about.