If you were in the pits at Martinsville Speedway’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 Late Model Stock Car race this weekend, it’s a guarantee that you heard someone say those two words. Any time anything crazy happened, someone would look at someone else, smile, and say, “It’s Martinsville.”
Those two words were said a lot this weekend, because a lot of crazy things happened. All of those things were seen by a massive crowd at the track, a large audience viewing the live video stream, and also heard by a large group of listeners on the Motor Racing Network.
The ValleyStar Credit Union 300 is the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and Monaco Grand Prix all rolled into one for the Late Model Stock Cars. It is that division’s biggest stage, and that is why everything that transpired after Lap 190 on Saturday night is so disappointing.
If you aren’t aware of what went down, I’ll give you a quick recap.
With seven laps to go, the caution waved for a spin by Justin Hicks in turn four. Josh Berry was the race leader over Peyton Sellers, Layne Riggs, Bubba Pollard and Philip Morris. On the restart on Lap 198, Matt Leicht, Jeff Oakley and Mike Looney crashed hard on the frontstretch. Peyton Sellers was ruled the leader of the race because he managed to beat Berry to the start/finish line on the restart.
On the next restart, the first green-white-checkered attempt, Berry and Sellers made contact and Berry went for a spin. Officials ruled that Berry came down on Sellers, so Sellers was allowed to keep his position as the race leader.
That put Sellers ahead of Layne Riggs and Bubba Pollard. Riggs chose to go to the inside for the restart so the front row was made up of Sellers and Pollard. When the green flag waved, Riggs dove underneath Sellers in turn one. The two made contact and Sellers spun into Pollard, sending both drivers for a spin. Riggs was penalized for his role in the incident and Corey Heim became the leader.
For the third green-white-checkered attempt, Heim chose the inside with Virginia Late Model veteran CE Falk III to his outside. Similar to the Lap 198 restart, Falk was able to beat Heim to the start/finish line and became the leader before the field crashed behind them in turn one.
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series rules state that there will only be three green-white-checkered attempts, so that crash ended the race.
For the next 15 minutes, all those in attendance sat in wonder waiting for the official word on who won the race while officials worked to finalize the results. Eventually it was ruled that CE Falk was the leader at the start/finish line, and, as a result, was the winner of the race.
Boos rained down on Falk in victory lane. Fans yelled at Falk that he wasn’t the real winner and instead it should have been Heim celebrating in his place.
But here’s the thing that most people don’t want to hear: NASCAR and race directory Lynn Carroll got it right, based on the current rulebook.
According to the way the rules for the race are written, CE Falk was the winner because he was leading when the field crossed the line on the restart, just like when Sellers was ruled the leader ahead of Berry.
“Late Model Stock Cars use the start/finish line. That is the only loop,” Carroll explained. “We’ve always scored just at the start/finish line. That’s their lap of record.”
To put it a different way, it did not matter that Corey Heim was ahead of CE Falk when the caution lights illuminated because this is Late Model Stock racing, not the NASCAR Cup Series.
It’s a rule that should be changed, but it’s the rule that was in place for Saturday night’s race. That rule may work at tracks like Hickory Motor Speedway or Southern National Motorsports Park that don’t have the option to go to the video and see who was leading at the time of the caution. But Martinsville Speedway does.
There was a multi-camera live stream of the event on Saturday. Carroll said in his media availability that the video was used as an aid to determine fault in cautions that took place earlier in the race, but he added that they did not use the video to review who was leading when the final caution came out because it didn’t matter. The rule is whoever was leading at the line was the winner.
That rule needs to be changed in the future. Every aid that is available should be used to help determine the winner of the race, especially in the biggest race of the year. To his credit, Carroll said that he is open to reviewing that rule for next year’s race.
But here’s the other thing: Carroll and NASCAR would not have been in the position of having to make a call if the drivers weren’t racing over their heads.
“The end of the race we had a demolition derby,” Josh Berry said. “It’s just a black eye for short track racing. It really is. It’s embarrassing. Obviously I’m disappointed with a couple of the calls, but look at what they (NASCAR officials) have to deal with. You have people four-wide on the bottom and taking people out. You can’t teach it. I don’t know where these people learned how to race.”
Look at the last caution of the race, for example. That crash started with a three-wide battle for fifth with the bottom car all the way against the inside wall. You’re not making the corner at Martinsville that way. That kind of move is what led officials to have to make the controversial call at the line. Without that kind of “racing” taking place, perhaps we would have seen a great finish to what was a great race.
And that’s the worst part about this whole thing. For 180 laps, Saturday’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 was phenomenal and it was showing how great Late Model Stock Car racing at Martinsville can be.
Right from the green flag the racing was intense but clean. Five-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Philip Morris and Stacey Puryear put on one heck of a battle in the early stages as they were side-by-side for lap after lap. Then Berry marched to the front and was followed by Riggs. Trevor Noles had his time at the front too.
It was all great. And then it all changed.
Instead of the race being memorable for the exciting racing that was showcased in the first 180 laps, the biggest race of the year for the Late Model Stocks is remembered for the cluster that was the final 20 laps.
At the end of the night on Saturday, just about everyone there was saying that something needs to change moving forward, whether it’s a different set of rules, a different race director, or whatever. It’s hard to disagree with the sentiment that something needs to change after Saturday’s race.
Because, after all, “It’s Martinsville.” And Martinsville should be the best event it can, because the Late Model Stock Car world needs it.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Associate Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo credit: Brad Newman/Race22.com