MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — The last time a Martinsville Cup race featured four cautions before Monday?
You have to go back to when car owner Richard Childress was racing, the field had 30 cars, and drivers in that race included Satch Worley, Baxter Price and Ferrel Harris, along with eight Hall of Famers — race winner Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Benny Parsons, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Terry Labonte, David Pearson, and Childress.
That was September 1978. That race also had four cautions.
Of the four cautions in Monday’s snow-delayed race won by Clint Bowyer, two were for stage breaks, one was a competition caution and the other one was for an incident.
So, why were there so few cautions in Monday’s 500-lap race?
“Once you get strung out here, there’s not a lot of attrition,’’ Denny Hamlin, a five-time winner at Martinsville, said after placing 12th Monday. “Guys give each other room and when somebody is faster, somebody gives up the spot.
“It’s different racing now than what it used to be. I think that everyone is running the same speed. All of our cars, whether it be data sharing, setups that we’re sharing with each other and all that, everyone is getting their car to drive very, very similar.
“Even when I would come up on lapped cars, they were running a similar speed to what I was, but I was able to get through traffic better than they were. We’ve gotten the cars to where the drive is so similar so when everyone runs the same speed it’s hard to pass and with less passing there’s less chance for incidents. I thought it was still a good race, a lot of races have gone caution-free for a long time back in the day and Clint really put a whipping on them.”
Jeremy Bullins, crew chief for Ryan Blaney, said that with so few restarts, there were fewer chances for accidents and cautions toward the end of the race.
“I don’t know about the data sharing aspect,’’ Bullins told NBC Sports. “It could have an impact on it, but I think it’s just one of those days were it seemed like everybody stayed off each other a little bit more than normal and weren’t knocking each other out of the way. You saw the end of the Truck race. Once they started racing hard, they started going crazy.
“We didn’t have that caution with 50 to go that led to all the cautions at the end. That’s really what makes a difference. If you don’t get the late caution and jam everybody back up again, that’s what separates them at the end. Once they get spread out like that, you’re not going to get a caution. It’s the late cautions that jumble everything up.’’
The race’s final caution was from laps 385-391 for contact between Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray.
Scott Graves, crew chief for Daniel Suarez, had a different thought on the matter.
“This is the third (race) on this tire combination,’’ Graves told NBC Sports, noting the change to the right-side tread compound before the 2017 spring race that helped create an outside groove at the flat track. “I feel like since we’ve been on this tire combination it’s been a little different, it hasn’t been your typical Martinsville. … With this tire you still don’t have all the marbles going down and you can run on the outside a little bit and it’s not as big a penalty as it used to be.’’
BACK IN THE DAY
The four cautions in Monday’s Cup race at Martinsville were the fewest there since the September 1978 race. A look back at what was taking place in 1978:
1978 Cup champion: Cale Yarborough
1978 Daytona 500 winner: Bobby Allison
Cost of gas: 65 cents a gallon
Highest-grossing movies: 1. “Grease”; 2. “Animal House”; 3. “Superman”; 4. “Every Which Way but Loose”
Billboard top 100 singles for 1978: 1. “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibbs; 2. “Night Fever” by Bee Gees; 3. “You Light Up My Life’’ by Debby Boone.
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