MARTINSVILLE, Va. – The push to anchor SAFER barriers to every square foot of unprotected concrete in the Sprint Cup Series has been an ongoing crusade this season aimed at benefiting drivers.
The addition of 1,600 feet of the energy-absorbing walls at Martinsville Speedway also could benefit fans who enjoy the 0.526-mile oval’s reputation for engendering contact.
“First of all, (NASCAR drivers) appreciate the SAFER barriers,” Carl Edwards said. “The fans should appreciate it (at Martinsville) because it’s going to make it more narrow than it was. It seems driving down the straightaway trying to pass cars even in practice, it just seems really tight.
“As narrow and tough as this place was, it’s just going to be narrower and tougher.”
The track erected SAFER barrier over the summer along the exterior of the frontstretch and backstretch, removing about 30 inches of racing surface from each of the 800-foot straightaways.
Jeff Gordon, tied with Jimmie Johnson among active win leaders at Martinsville with eight, said he apparently scuffed the right side of his No. 24 Chevrolet in practice, but a reduction of the racing surface wasn’t as significant as initially feared when looking at an updated photo of the track.
“I looked at it, and my eyes got big, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty big change,’ ” Gordon said. “It wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it would be.”
Before taking a lap of practice, Joey Logano said he expected it to have an impact.
“We use every inch there is,” he said. “We get right up against the wall, so that does make it a little tighter. I don’t know if it’s going to change the racing a whole bunch. It might. You would think the line, obviously you’ve got to cut the corner off a little bit more on the exit.
“I don’t think it’s going to change some peoples’ lines, but other people it will change their line. This is a race track where drivers run it two or three different ways and I think some people it may affect more than others.”
It certainly affected Alex Bowman during the first practice.
Martinsville already had SAFER on the interior of the frontstretch and backstretch and the outside of the turns, leaving the interior turns (which have curbing) as the only sections without the barrier.