Drivers sound off on racing as darkness approached at Martinsville
Of NASCAR’s three short tracks — those under a mile in length — Martinsville Speedway is the only one without lights.
But after Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500, it might be time for the .526-mile, paperclip-shaped oval to get all lit up.
Martinsville, which first hosted NASCAR’s top series in 1949, has always held its Sprint Cup Series events during the daytime.
But with Sunday’s weather featuring overcast skies and Sunday marking the end of daylight saving time, drivers complained after the race about not being able to see well in the closing laps due to impending darkness.
The race began at 1:24 p.m. ET and ended at 5:23 — roughly one minute before the sun was scheduled to set.
"I love Martinsville," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished fourth in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. "But if we are going to run at night, we need to put some damn lights up here."
The rapidly approaching darkness was primarily because Sunday’s race ran 3 hours, 46 minutes, 35 seconds — much longer than expected. Eighteen cautions slowed the field for a total of 109 laps. One of those cautions resulted in a red flag that lasted 12 minutes, 46 seconds.
"It was dark," said Chase driver Martin Truex Jr., who finished sixth. "It was getting borderline where we had to quit, but I’m glad the fans got to see a good ending."
"With the visor up, it was pretty dark, and when I put it down for the restart, it was really hard to see," McMurray said. "I was fortunate that I was on the front row."
Even race winner Jeff Gordon, who lined up alongside McMurray for the final restart, was concerned about the deteriorating visibility near the end of the 500-lap race.
"It’s so dark out there I could hardly see," Gordon said moments after emerging from his No. 24 Chevrolet.
NASCAR basically has two options for preventing a similar situation in the future. The sanctioning body can require the track to move up the start time for its fall race, or Martinsville can add lights.
So do the drivers who voiced concern about the approaching darkness just need to lighten up?
Or does Martinsville need lights?
"That’s a great question," Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said during a news conference after the race. "I can tell you if we wouldn’t have gotten 500 laps in, I would have said absolutely, yes. I think we’ll continue to look at the start time. We were certainly up against it today. We had a number of cautions.
"It’s something we’ll talk to the track about, but really glad we were able to get all 500 in today."