MARTINSVILLE, Va. — When Tony Stewart first set foot inside of Martinsville Speedway some 14 years ago, he was amazed, but perhaps not for all the right reasons.
“I looked at it and I just couldn’t believe they raced stock cars here,” Stewart said Wednesday during a stop at the track to help promote the upcoming STP® Gas Booster™ 500 at the historic half-mile oval. “I had seen it on TV, but the first time you come here, it’s like ‘this is really small,’ and you realize what close quarters it is.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ shortest track wasn’t an immediate hit with Stewart. But today with three Martinsville Speedway victories and three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships to his credit, the Indiana native is one of the track’s biggest fans.
“Even on the bad days, it’s fun here, but when you have a good day here, it’s great,” said Stewart. “They have one of the cooler trophies (grandfather clock) in our sport. Normally 20-year-old kids don’t get too excited about grandfather clocks, but you realize it’s more than that here at Martinsville. It’s a lot of pride and a lot of history with this sport here.”
Stewart first won at Martinsville in 2000 and followed with victories in 2006 and 2011. The 2011 win in Martinsville’s fall Chase race helped propel him to the 2011 Sprint Cup championship. Over the years as Stewart has grown to appreciate the track, his appreciation for the area has also increased.
“When you come to a town like this (Martinsville), it’s the kind of town that has the most dedicated fans … dedicated to what’s going on with the race tracks,” said Stewart who will be gunning for his fourth Martinsville win in the STP® Gas Booster 500 April 7. “You get to the bigger towns, there are a lot of different things going on, things outside of the race track going on.
“When we come to Martinsville, this is the biggest thing going on the whole weekend, so everybody, all the people in the town are excited about it. The race fans that come into town are excited about it. It makes for a pretty cool atmosphere. Even though it’s a small town, it feels big when you come here for a race weekend.”
And Stewart knows from plenty of first-hand knowledge that fans are never disappointed with what’s going on at the race track.
“One thing about Martinsville is there is no lack of excitement here. I don’t care how flawlessly your day goes, you are going to bump into somebody at some point even on a perfect day,” said Stewart. “You put 43 cars on this half-mile track and it’s always going to be exciting.
“You will never have a race here where you don’t have some sort of drama during the day. I think every driver will say they will have some drama at some point in the day. So when you have 43 drivers with 43 dramatic moments during the day, that’s a lot of action going on.”