In preparation of the First Data 500, 12 Monster Energy Cup Series drivers took part in a two-day organizational test at Martinsville Speedway on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Playoff contenders Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Kyle Larson were among participants at the half-mile paperclip-shaped track.
For Larson, who has just one top-five finish in seven starts at Martinsville, the track time was invaluable, given the high likelihood the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team will transfer to the Round of 8.
What was Larson’s takeaway from the test?
“I learned that I still struggle at Martinsville,” Larson told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Martinsville is a tough race track for me for some reason. I can get around the track, but it seems like I can’t go as fast throughout a whole run like a Kyle Busch can or Keselowski, or someone that’s really good at Martinsville. I seem to go fast for 10 laps without really trying. I feel like I’m taking care of my stuff, but I just fall off.
“I struggle on long runs. I struggle when the track gets a lot of rubber. I definitely view Martinsville as a track I need to get better at — and I need to get better at it soon. (Wednesday) it's important to do a lot of long runs and try to figure out some things in the cockpit that will make myself better and be well-prepared for when we come back in two weeks.”
Larson started from the pole in the spring after qualifying was rained out. He led a career-high 23 laps before finishing 17th.
Austin and Ty Dillon also attended the test, along with Alex Bowman (Chevy), Landon Cassill (Ford) and Drew Herring (Toyota) who were piloting the wheel test cars for the three manufacturers.
Like Larson, Blaney was thrilled to get seat time. He has just three career starts and is still looking for a top-15 finish.
“Getting an open test is very nice to have,” Blaney said. “We can try things that we wouldn't typically try on a race weekend, because we have a lot more time here to do a lot of changes and as many sets of tires as we need.
“Just trying to learn off of the spring race. I thought we were pretty decent actually in the first race here. We got into some trouble towards the three-quarter mark in the race. This hasn't been my best track, but we’ve gotten a little bit better as we’ve raced here. Just learning things and trying to build a notebook. I think that’s what it’s all about.”
Blaney picked up his fist career Cup win a Pocono Raceway in June to lock himself into the playoffs. He’s currently 11th of the 12 drivers still contending for the Monster Energy Cup. Blaney, who will part ways with the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford at the end of the season, still hopes to score the 100th win for the Stuart, Va.-based race team before joining Team Penske. A victory at the Wood Brothers’ home track would be a bonus for the young driver.
“Any win, at any race track we won at to get to win 100 would be special,” said the 23-year-old High Point, N.C. native. “But to do it here, being kind of a home track for both us — the Wood Brothers and myself — would be neat. It would be a huge deal. Anywhere we did it would be acceptable. I think they will tell you the same thing.
“It would be great to do it. If we can’t get it done at Talladega or Kansas, it would be awesome to come here and be able to make it happen. It’s really cool to see the fan support for the Wood Brothers have here at this race track. It’s only about 25-minutes down the road from Stuart, where they originated. So that would be a big deal.”