Traction compound has drivers curious what Coca-Cola 600 will be like

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CONCORD, N.C. — A desperate move?

Just ask Dale Earnhardt Jr.about Charlotte Motor Speedway adding a traction compound to the upper groove in each of four corners.

“They’re going to run the road course next year, so that tells you how desperate they are,’’ Earnhardt said Thursday after Cup practice.

Whether one considers it a desperate move or something worth trying after just three lead changes in the 70-lap All-Star Race, the PJ1 traction compound used at Bristol has been applied to Charlotte’s asphalt surface. Track officials also had tires dragged hoping to make the top groove an attractive option for drivers.

After seeing Martin Truex Jr. lead 392 of 400 laps in this event last year and an All-Star Race that led some drivers to suggest it was time to move the event, track officials needed to do something to enhance the action.

Drivers tested the top groove a little during Cup practice but spent most of their time on the bottom lane since that is where they’ll run on their qualifying lap Thursday night.

“It’s kind of unchartered waters to be honest with you,’’ Ryan Blaney said before practice. “Bristol is a lot different, a lot shorter race track, we’re not going as fast, a concrete race track. You don’t know how that substance they use is going to combine with asphalt. 

“I’m wondering what it’s going to be like when we’re running 200 miles an hour into the top lane and hoping it’s hot enough to stick. So that’s gonna be a little sketchy at first, but … I thought NASCAR had to make a move on that side of it to get us off the bottom of the race track or at least give you options.’’

Kyle Busch got up in upper groove briefly in Cup practice. He anticipates the grip will be better as the weekend progresses.

“The track was really, really light to begin with,’’ said Busch, who won last weekend’s All-Star Race. “They run the tire dragon (which drags tires in hopes of helping rubber the track) around here and it doesn’t put the rubber down like it needs to.

“It seemed very dusty when we all rolled off. The cars were starting to put the rubber down and (the track) was starting to get more black as practice progressed, but if you got outside that black a little bit it seemed pretty slick. We just need to continue to make the track wider. I’m sure Xfinity cars will do that. I’m sure the Xfinity race will do that and hopefully make for a really good Sunday.’’

Earnhardt also ran through part of the traction compound.

“I got into it by accident,’’ he said. “I got loose into (Turn) 3 and ended up there. They say it takes heat to activate to get it grippy. You don’t really sense it when you’re up there today in it. I’m sure in the race when guys start running through there it will improve the speed, hopefully it does.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out for the track. I certainly think that’s a good thing so we’ll see how it works out.”

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Martinsville Truck race postponed to Sunday after Cup race

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The Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck race at Martinsville has been postponed until Sunday afternoon, following the Cup race.

Ben Rhodes led the field to green 2:05 p.m. and held the lead until Mike Senica stalled on the track. Rhodes led the first 23 laps until precipitation red flagged the event at 2:17.

The Truck race will be televised on FS1.

Martin Truex Jr. sweeps Martinsville Cup practice

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After posting the fastest single lap and quickest 10-lap average in the first practice, Martin Truex. Jr. also topped the fastest lap chart in final practice for the STP 500 with a speed of 95.415 mph.

Also repeating his performance from the first practice, Brad Keselowski was second on the leaderboard. Keselowski was fast on long runs with the quickest 10-lap average of 94.579 mph.

Sophomore Daniel Suarez was notably fast. His lap of 95.588 mph was third on the chart.

Kyle Busch (95.122) and Ryan Newman (94.756) rounded out the top five.

Jimmie Johnson (93.831) was hoping to carry over momentum from last week’s top 1o at Auto Club, but struggled to find single lap speed. He landed 28th on the speed chart.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wheel hopped entering turn three with 33 minutes remaining. He rolled out a backup car and will start at the back regardless of where he qualifies.

Click here for the full final practice times.

History looms for the Wood Brothers

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Glen Wood first came to Martinsville, Virgina in November 1953, making the short 30-minute drive from Stuart for his NASCAR debut in a family owned car. Nearly 65 years later, the famed Woods Brothers are still racing the iconic No. 21 on the half-mile bullring.

The torch has since been passed to Glen’s sons, but the history remains.

“Our dad came here and raced,” Eddie Wood said in a press release before the STP 500. “He raced here in the fifties and it’s just a special, special place and knowing that the Ford Fusions ran really well last year here that gives you a lot of confidence. I’m sure it gives Paul (Menard) a lot of confidence, but it’s just a special, special place.”

Last fall, Ryan Blaney returned the 21 to the top 10 on the team’s home track for the first time in 12 years. He finished eighth in the First Data 400. This year, Blaney turned the car over to Menard and as the series comes to Martinsville for the first of two races this year, the legacy continues.

“The pressure is all what you make of it,” Menard said. “I know a couple things – I’ve got a great team behind me. We’re gonna have a fast Ford and we’re gonna have a lot of fans cheering on the 21 car, so you can think about that every waking second you’re up here, or you can go to work and do your business. It’s obviously an honor to drive this car and to be a part of the Wood family driving the 21 at Martinsville, and I’m really gonna think about that when I put my firesuit on, but once you get the helmet on it’s all business.”

The gravity of protecting the Wood Brothers’ legend at Martinsville is increased by the fact that this week marks NASCAR’s first short track race of the season and a return to its grassroots. It is easy to feel the history of racing on this little track nestled in rural Virginia—not only for the iconic team, but the entire field.

“It’s getting back to grassroots,” Menard said. “Over half the guys, probably more than that, started racing at short tracks with late models somewhere. We were running 25 laps back then versus 500 now, but the stage racing is kind of like a couple of heat races before the A Main, so you try to get your points when you can and be smart about things when you can and let it rip when you can.”

“You can race here year after year, race after race and there’s no way anybody can mess this race up,” Eddie Wood said. “This is just always a great race because it’s tight and it’s grassroots, it’s NASCAR roots.”

The STP 500 is not just another race for the Wood Brothers. On a track that puts a premium on mechanical grip and driver ability, as opposed to flat out horsepower, Menard has greater control over his fate. That is both good and bad news, because a milestone has been within reach for the past 27 races –  the team’s 100th win.

“It would be huge,” Menard said of the 100th win. “I’ll take it anywhere. We started at Daytona and didn’t get it there, and we’ll keep working until we get it. Martinsville would be a huge one for us, obviously, and if we do that, we’ll have another one for the museum down the road.”

Ben Rhodes grabs Martinsville Truck pole

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Ben Rhodes laid down a lap of 95.942 mph in the final round of qualification for the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck series at Martinsville to win his third career pole.

Teammate Matt Crafton will line up beside him on the outside of the front row with a lap of 95.704 mph.

Grant Enfinger qualified third to give ThorSports a clean sweep of the top spots.

Round two: Kyle Benjamin was fastest 95.830 mph. With time running off the clock, Myatt Snider (94.984) bumped Harrison Burton (94.770) out of the top 12.

Round one: Todd Gilliland topped the chart with a speed of 95.213 mph. He will have to drop to the back to start the race because of an engine change, so he did not attempt to post a time in the second round.

Click here for the race lineup.

Weather permitting, the green flag will wave over the field at 2 p.m.