NASCAR Wire: Saturday Martinsville Notebook

Is pit stall No. 1 at Martinsville really that valuable?

MARTINSVILLE, Va.—Ask any NASCAR Cup Series driver which pit stall on the circuit is most valuable, and chances are most would point to pit stall No. 1 at Martinsville Speedway, closest to the exit from pit road.

Conventional wisdom says that pit box is worth two or three positions per stop, assuming the service for fuel and tires goes according to plan.

Possession of pit stall No. 1 typically is a perk for the pole winner, who has first choice of pit boxes for the ensuing race.

The anomaly is that no Cup driver has parlayed the pole position and the No. 1 pit box into a victory in more than a decade—since Jimmie Johnson accomplished the feat in the spring race of 2013, specifically.

Among full-time active drivers, Denny Hamlin is the last to win from the pole at Martinsville, in the fall race of 2010.

Notably, drivers have won the last three races at the 0.526-mile short track from outside the top 10 on the grid. Reigning series champion Ryan Blaney started 11th last year before winning the race that propelled him into the Championship 4.

“I think the No. 1 pit stall wherever you go is important—some more than others—but it’s still important,” Blaney said on Saturday. “It’s the best stall out there…

“We had the first stall in (closest to the pit entrance) last year in the fall, and I thought it was fantastic, like it was really, really good for us. When you pull off to go in there, you gain spots on guys.

“We’ve always come with the mentality of stall No. 1 or anything on the straightaway … Obviously, the goal is the pole, because it makes it easier on you.”

Easier, perhaps, but not decisively so—at least not in recent years.

Ross Chastain wants to make a different kind of history at Martinsville

Trackhouse Racing driver Ross Chastain can’t come to Virginia without being reminded of his remarkable “Hail Melon,” the extraordinary high-speed trip around the wall in Turns 3 and 4 at Martinsville that shot him into the 2022 Championship 4 race at Denny Hamlin’s expense.

Needing at least two positions on the final lap of the Round of 8 elimination event, Chastain grabbed fifth gear as he approached Turn 3, pinned his No. 1 Chevrolet against the outside wall and rocketed around the final corner as if his car were racing in a sped-up video game.

The move enabled Chastain to gain more than enough spots to advance, and the following week, he finished third behind champion Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney in the title race.

Chastain, however, doesn’t want the Hail Melon to be his definitive statement at Martinsville, as difficult as the feat might be to supplant in the history of the track.

“I do know that we have a small blip in the history of (Martinsville),” Chastain said. “I want more. I don’t want that to be my legacy here, so we’re working on that.

“But there’s no way we’re going to get in and out of Virginia here without talking about it.”

No extra pressure on Kyle Larson during Hendrick anniversary weekend

Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway is a huge one for Hendrick Motorsports, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend.

Martinsville is broadly significant to the Hendrick organization. In 1984, Geoff Bodine won the eighth race of the season there to keep the organization afloat. Drivers for team owner Rick Hendrick have won 28 Cup races at the 0.526-mile short track, a record for an organization at a single venue.

Bodine and NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon, who won four series championships at Hendrick Motorsports, are grand marshals for Sunday’s Cook Out 400 (3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Nevertheless, defending race winner Kyle Larson says he doesn’t feel extra pressure to win on Sunday. There have been no pep rallies at the Hendrick campus—because they’re not necessary.

“I wouldn’t say I feel any more pressure to win,” Larson said. “I don’t feel like any of us four drivers (Larson, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron) feel any more pressure to win, but we know what the magnitude of what a win this weekend would be for the company.”

Short Strokes

Toyota hit a major milestone on Friday night when Karter Sarff, racing in the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series at 36 Raceway in Osborn, Missouri, recorded the car maker’s 500th national midget victory. Current NASCAR Cup Series driver Christopher Bell is responsible for 59 of those wins, more than any other driver.

“I’m very proud of that,” Bell said. “Honestly, I don’t keep track of my wins. I have no idea how many wins I have in my career, so whenever I saw that number, it was very overwhelming to me and something I’m very proud of.” … Richard Childress racing announced Friday that NASCAR Xfinity Series title contender Austin Hill also will race part-time in the Cup Series under sponsorship from United Rentals. Hill’s first start under the RCR banner this year will come at Texas Motor Speedway on April 14.