RELATED: See the race that led to Martinsville changes MARTINSVILLE , Va. -- Martinsville Speedway track president Clay Campbell remembers the tipping point well. Watching from outside Turn 4 as Jeff Gordon led the final laps of last November's rain-delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series playoff race practically by candlelight, Campbell knew big changes were needed. "It looked like a rock concert with people taking pictures with their phones and the (auxiliary) lights in the grandstand," Campbell said. "I knew then that being in the Chase, such a critical point in the season, and thinking what would've happened if we hadn't finished that race? We don't want to be in that position, so there's our reason." With that eventful race as a fulcrum, Martinsville Speedway announced Wednesday that it will have an LED lighting system in place for its NASCAR weekends next year. Campbell made the announcement Wednesday as part of an early kickoff to the historic short track's 70th anniversary season in 2017. Campbell said that the track did not currently have plans in place for nighttime races, with its premier series dates in 2017 already locked in to start at 2 p.m. ET (in April) and 1 p.m. ET (October). But Campbell indicated that the $5 million initiative -- which he described an "insurance policy" against late-afternoon finishes in diminished sunlight -- should provide flexibility in case of inclement weather. "It's a race that all the drivers really want to win because of the uniqueness of the track and the history of the trophy as well, so adding lights can only add to its legacy and the special-ness that this place has held for so long," said Dale Earnhardt Jr ., part of the delegation helping to make the announcement at the .526-mile track. "I'm really happy for the track. Believe that it'll, like I say, open up a lot of possibilities for the future. "The fans can come knowing that if we are pushed back early in the day, there's still a great opportunity if we get good weather throughout the remainder of the day, we've got time to get the race in and can run late and you won't have an issue. … I think it's awesome and a long time coming." The announcement means that 16 of the 23 tracks that host NASCAR premier series events in 2017 will have lights in place. Campbell said that the choice of LED lights over conventional halogen lighting is an example of "doing so much more with less," providing better illumination with less power. The track indicated that the project will use an estimated 750 lights mounted from both inside and outside the track. With a project of this magnitude, Campbell said, one of the largest challenges has been keeping the details under wraps for so long. "It's been hard because we've been working on it for months," Campbell said. "As we got closer and closer, it's tough because it's a huge deal with a lot of people involved in making this happen. "
Find out who to pick in this weekend's race at Martinsville Speedway .
NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman brings you up to speed on Martinsville Speedway's newly announced lighting project that will be completed in 2017.
Take a listen to the best in-car audio from the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway . From Brad's big win, to Kyle Busch's frustration, you can hear it all right here in Scanner Sounds.
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Martinsville " Full schedule There have been more disappointments than celebrations for Denny Hamlin at Martinsville Speedway , but that doesn't make the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series venue any less prominent in the eyes of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. "A win is the only thing that's acceptable when I get to this race track," Hamlin, 36, said during a visit to the legendary oval earlier this month. "I know I take a lot of pride in coming to this race track and running well." Hamlin, a native of Chesterfield, Virgina, has made 403 starts in NASCAR's top series and won 29 times. Five of those victories have come at Martinsville , the .526-mile track that's been hosting NASCAR races for 70 years now. The track's short straightaways and tight, flat turns put a premium on track position and hearken back to the series' earlier days, when contact among competitors was expected, if not always tolerated. "That's something not many tracks can say," Hamlin said of the facility's longevity. "The history here, you look at all the old photos of this race track. Even though a lot has changed around the race track, the race track itself has not changed. The configuration hasn't changed; it's so very similar to how it used to be many, many years ago." Hamlin has earned more top-five (12) and top-10 (17) finishes at Martinsville than any other track on the schedule and between 2008-'10 he won four of six races there. He's a perennial contender during the twice-yearly visits to the track, but the driver of the No. 11 Toyota admits that with confidence comes a bit of anxiety. "Because if I don't win it's not a successful weekend," he said. "That's a lot of pressure to put on yourself, especially in today's competition, to go out there and expect to win, because all the drivers are so good." They're good, but few have been able to dominate at a particular track the way Hamlin and a handful of others have through the years at Martinsville . Richard Petty owns the track win record with 15 career victories; Darrell Waltrip made off with the unique clock trophy 11 times. More recently, former Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson piled up nine victories apiece. Johnson is still around to try and add to his total and won the fall race last season. RELATED: Every winner at Martinsville " Hamlin's stats there The gains enjoyed by those drivers are harder to come by today, according to Hamlin, because of widespread data sharing that goes on among the individual organizations. When it comes to competition, there are few secrets in the garage and even fewer among teammates. "So the advantages you had have been whittled down," he said. "To continue to put the expectations of coming here and winning no matter what (may be) a little unrealistic but it's a goal we always set." For Hamlin, a successful weekend at Martinsville starts and ends with "feel." It's what has put him in contention on most occasions and helped put him in the winner's circle here more than anywhere else. "This is one of the very few race tracks I never look at lap times," he said. "Lap times mean nothing to me here. Whether we're first in practice or 20th it really doesn't matter to me because I know the feel in the car that I've got to have to win." Hamlin has won at least one race every season since he began running full-time in the series in 2006. He will be looking for his first win of 2017 when the STP 500 gets underway Sunday (2 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). "It's been circled on our calendar," he said. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Martinsville RELATED: Full race results " Updated standings MARTINSVILLE , Va. -- Forgive Noah Gragson if there was an element of "here we go again" to his Martinsville Speedway debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The first two races of his rookie season had barely begun before trouble struck -- the Lap 3 crash at Daytona, the Lap 2 spin at Atlanta. In Saturday's Martinsville matinee, a mishap waited until Lap 101, when contact with fellow rookie Chase Briscoe sent Gragson's Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 18 Toyota into a Turn 2 spin. "I thought our day was over," said Gragson, a current member of the NASCAR Next initiative. "We were running, say, in the top five and the 29 (Briscoe) took us out in the left-rear and cheap-shotted us. But my guys at Kyle Busch Motorsports -- crew guys, pit-stop guys -- they didn't give up on me. We kept fighting till the end and managed to get a fourth-place finish. "First time to Martinsville , I'm just so thankful for everyone who makes this possible." Gragson's methodical rally turned back a handful of factors working against him. Among those was the race track itself, the tricky .526-mile layout that tends to be most demanding on newcomers. Add to that a rainy Friday that reduced valuable practice time to just an hour, leaving Gragson to learn as he navigated Saturday's 250-lapper. On the plus side, Gragson found his way with the help of top-shelf equipment from the KBM stables, sage advice from team owner Kyle Busch over the team radio communications, and veteran crew chief Marcus Richmond reassuring him after his early setbacks. "We've had some shaky starts here in the beginning, the first two races," said Richmond, in his first year with the Kyle Busch-owned team. "Noah's a good short-track racer, coming from short tracks, so I think Martinsville fell right into his place. And we've just been preaching to him to stay calm. Just do your deal, don't get excited, and it'll come to you in the end." It eventually did Saturday, when Gragson ran third in the late stages before ceding the position to defending series champ Johnny Sauter with 37 laps remaining. He still emerged with his career-first top-five finish and a longing to return to Martinsville -- "my new favorite race track," he says -- in the fall. "This is huge for myself gaining confidence, the team … we needed this," Gragson said. "We were struggling after those first two races. Takes a little weight off my shoulders knowing that I can run with these guys in the top five." &lt;/p&gt;
Photo credit: Red Horse Racing BUY TICKETS: See the races at Martinsville Reunited and it feels so good. That's the mantra for veteran driver Timothy Peters and crew chief Chad Kendrick heading into Saturday's Alpha Energy Solutions 250 (3 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Martinsville Speedway . The race is the third of the 2017 season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and marks the first time that the Peters-Kendrick pairing has been back at the 0.526-mile track since their win there in 2009. "It's pretty cool being able to reunite and how things worked out," Peters told NASCAR.com. "Obviously, both of us getting our first win together was a pretty big deal at Martinsville . Since our last time that we won, pretty much we haven't worked together since but remained good friends. Chad's matured as a crew chief. I've matured as a driver and he's had great success at Martinsville . Going back this weekend is a great homecoming." RELATED: Recap every Martinsville race " Get results from October 2009 race That homecoming feeling is aided by two factors: both Peters and Kendrick consider Martinsville to be their home track, and the duo's back story goes back to short track and Late Model circuits all over Virginia. The two raced each other and both admitted they did not like the other at first. "He was THE guy to beat," Kendrick said. "He was the guy when I first started racing against him in the late '90s, I didn't really care for him. We didn't really know each other. We were just competitors and I didn't really like him. It was more of he was THE guy and you wanted to beat that guy." But a chance meeting at a chassis shop saw the two bond and become friends with Kendrick helping Peters work on his Late Model entry if he wasn't racing. That relationship carried forward when Peters got the call to go to Bobby Hamilton Racing where Kendrick worked as a mechanic for the team. From there, came the crew chief position with Peters in 2009 that started with Premier Racing before the two went to Red Horse Racing in the middle of the season. Opportunities took Kendrick elsewhere over the past seven years, including most recently a four-year stint atop the box at Brad Keselowski Racing. During that time, Kendrick scored five wins atop the box. Meanwhile, Peters has spent that time behind the wheel for Red Horse Racing, tallying an additional nine wins. RELATED: Being a crew chief 'the next best thing' for Kendrick
RELATED: Entry list for STP 500 " Entry list for Alpha Energy Solutions 250 NASCAR heads to Martinsville Speedway for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Check out the full weekend schedule below. Note: All times are ET SUNDAY, APRIL 2: ON TRACK -- 1:20:00 p.m.: MENCS Driver Introductions w/ NASCAR Special Awards -- 2:00:00 p.m.: Presentation of Colors by: Local Law Enforcement and Public Safety Honor Guard -- 2:00:20 p.m.: Invocation by: Martinsville Speedway Track Chaplin, Mike Hatfield -- 2:01:00 p.m.: National Anthem by: Martinsville , Bassett and Magna Vista High School Marching Bands -- 2:02:30 p.m.: Flyover: The Bandit Flight Team (Turn 4 to Turn 1) -- 2:07:30 p.m.: "Drivers, Start Your Engines" by: From Hit FOX TV Show "Prison Break," Rockmond Dunbar -- 2:13:30 p.m.: Start of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500 (500 laps, 263 miles), FS1 ( Results ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 10:45 a.m.: Rockmond Dunbar -- 11 a.m.: Edsel Ford -- 11:15 a.m.: STP availability with Richard Petty, Aric Almirola, Steve Letarte and Katina Walker, STP Director of Marketing -- 5:30 p.m.: (approx) Post-Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race FRIDAY, MARCH 31: ON TRACK -- noon-1 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, FS1 ( Results ) -- 1:10-2 p.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1 ( Results ) -- 3-3:55 p.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1 -- Canceled due to rain -- 5:05 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FS1 -- Canceled due to rain PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 10 a.m.: AJ Allmendinger -- 10:30 a.m.: Kyle Larson -- 10:45 a.m.: Jimmie Johnson -- 11 a.m.: Timothy Peters, Harrison Burton -- 1:15 p.m.: Denny Hamlin -- 2 p.m.: Joey Logano -- 2:30 p.m.: Kyle Busch -- 2:45 p.m.: Daniel Suarez SATURDAY, APRIL 1: ON TRACK -- 11-11:55 a.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, FS1 ( Results ) -- 12:05 p.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Keystone Light Pole Qualifying, FS1 ( Results ) -- 1:30-2:20 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series final practice, FS1 ( Results) -- 3 p.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Alpha Energy Solutions 250 (250 laps, 131.5 miles), FOX ( Results ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 5:45 p.m.: (approx) Post-Camping World Truck Series race &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Martinsville " Full schedule for Martinsville MORE: Final practice results " Best 10-lap averages Clint Bowyer led Saturday's final practice at Martinsville Speedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ahead of Sunday's STP 500 (2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Bowyer turned a fast lap of 93.863 mph around the .526-mile track in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Defending race winner Kyle Busch was second in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at 93.567 mph. Jamie McMurray (93.530 mph, No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet) was third in the 50-minute session. Brad Keselowski (93.525 mph, Team Penske No. 2 Ford) and Ryan Newman (93.511 mph, No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) rounded out the top five. Kyle Larson, last week's winner at Auto Club and the driver with the top starting spot for Sunday's race, was 14th at 92.951 mph. Keselowski leads Practice 2 Practice 2 results Keselowski topped Saturday's first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice session with a fast lap of 94.406 mph. The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford has yet to win at Martinsville but has two runner-up finishes in the last four races at the .526-mile track. Newman (No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) came in second (94.092 mph) for the 55-minute practice session, followed by Martin Truex Jr. (93.835 mph, No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota) in third. Joey Logano (93.835 mph, No. 22 Team Penske Ford) and AJ Allmendinger (93.729 mph, No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet) rounded out the top five. Nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) finished seventh (93.604 mph). &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
RELATED: Race results " Standings " Detailed breakdown SHOP: Keselowski gear MARTINSVILLE , Va. – In Sunday's STP 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway , everything worked – but nothing more than Brad Keselowski’s race-winning No. 2 Ford. Yes, that’s right, a Ford. The car maker found Victory Lane at the .526-mile short track for the first time since Oct. 20, 2002, when Kurt Busch won at NASCAR’s oldest and smallest premier series track in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Keselowski and runner-up Kyle Busch swapped the lead during the final 64-lap green-flag run, with Busch taking the point on Lap 444 of 500, and Keselowski powering back past Busch’s No. 18 Toyota on Lap 458. From that point, Keselowski pulled away to win by 1.806 seconds, as Busch lost the long-run speed he had demonstrated for most of the afternoon. "This is awesome," said Keselowski, the season's first two-time winner. "We've ran so good here with the Miller Lite Ford, but something always happens and we haven't been able to bring it home. Martinsville is just one of those champions' tracks. The guys that run well everywhere run well here, and it's really just an honor to win here and get to compete here. "This track is 70 years old and a lot of legends have won here. It feels great to be able to join them and bring home a (grandfather) clock (trophy). A lot of people don't know this, but those clocks are built in my hometown in Rochester Hills, Michigan, so it's cool to get one of them from back home. I have one as a truck owner, but not as a driver, so I’m glad to bring one back as a driver… "I don't like to keep trophies at my house, but this one's going to my house. That's how special it is." RELATED: Keselowski brings home a clock " Keselowski celebrates with fans The victory was Keselowski’s 23rd in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and it vaulted him into the playoff points lead with 10. In the series standings, Keselowski leaves Martinsville in fourth place, 34 points behind leader Kyle Larson and 30 behind second-place Chase Elliott, who parlayed a front-row starting position into a third-place finish. Fourteen cautions for 95 laps punctuated an action-filled afternoon that featured remarkable comebacks, perfect weather, Ford board member and namesake Edsel Ford II in the pace car and a tire combination that started to open up the outside lane and facilitate passing on the high side. Keselowski had to overcome his own challenges. A speeding penalty under caution on lap 72 sent him to the rear of the field, but pit strategy – staying out under yellow on Lap 109 – got him back to the front. Joey Logano, Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate, overcame both a pit road penalty and a cut tire that put him two laps down to finish fourth. Austin Dillon ran fifth, posting his first top-five finish since a fourth-place run at Bristol last August. Busch, who led a race-high 274 laps to Keselowski’s 116, was disappointed that the performance of his Camry fell off after his final pit stop. "All we did was put four tires on it, and it went to junk," Busch said. "I hate it for our guys. They've deserved all year much better finishes than what we've been able to produce, and here's another one today. Just a frustrating season so far, but we give it everything we got. We do all we can with what we’re given at the particular time and try to execute and do a good job. "My pit crew did great today. (Crew chief) Adam (Stevens) and the guys did an awesome job on this car this weekend to get it to where it was. We were lights out faster than those guys after 20 laps or so. There on that run it was at minimum at least three tenths slower the entire time, and that's why Brad just was able to drive away there at the end. We were really really, really struggling. I'm surprised I held off the 24 (Elliott), but you know, overall, just not quite getting the finishes we need." RELATED: Busch frustrated with second-place finish Martin Truex Jr. won the first stage to bring his playoff point total to nine, second only to Keselowski. By the end of Stage 2, which featured a 119-lap green-flag run, the intensity had ratcheted up considerably. Coming to the green/checkers on Lap 260, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who had just been lapped, gave race leader Kyle Busch a couple of sharp taps with his bumper, sending Busch toward the top of the track. Elliott powered to the inside off Turn 4, edging Busch for the stage win at the stripe. RELATED: See the contact at the end of Stage 2 " Updated stage points But Keselowski and Busch dominated the proceedings from then on, with Keselowski winning the clock and Ford finding the winner’s circle after a 28-race drought at the vaunted short track. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;