NASCAR’s Ridiculous Scheduling Plan at Martinsville Backfired

A Saturday night date for the NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway struggled to find a TV audience on FS1, begging the question, “If a racetrack gave away a grandfather clock and relatively few tuned in to watch, did it really happen?”

The Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400, which was shortened from a 500-lap race to 400 laps and moved from its initial Sunday afternoon date, earned a 1.10 rating, which equated to about 1.885 million viewers.

Those ratings were down by more than half from the April 3 Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond, which was carried on FOX and drew 3.958 million viewers with a 2.30 rating.

While the move to FS1 was made to fit the Saturday night schedule, the change to Saturday night was trumpeted by NASCAR as a move toward stock-car racing’s short-track grassroots on Saturday nights.

It was also a move away from going head-to-head with The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, golf’s first major championship of the year.

In theory, the changes would help the Cup Series bring a television audience to NASCAR’s oldest track during a busy televised racing weekend across the board.

In practice, not so much.

Martinsville drew the lowest ratings of the Cup Series season

Mulitple drivers battle for position during the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville Speedway
Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., and Ross Chastain race during the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville Speedway | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Cup Series race at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway was the lowest-rated race of the season for NASCAR’s top series.

The switch to FS1 was expected to cut viewership, but the numbers proved more disappointing than expected despite a history of ratings struggles at the track.

In 2019, Brad Keselowski won the famed grandfather clock trophy in Martinsville’s spring race with a 1.5 rating and 2.455 million viewers on FS1, down 35% from 2017. It’s hard to gauge 2018 as rain led to a Monday finish and just 1.19 million viewers.

But it’s not difficult to gauge that the move to Sunday to avoid The Masters backfired. As you can see above, last year’s race was run on Masters Sunday and pulled in close to 2.3 million viewers. So race organizers might want to rethink things for next year’s spring race.

William Byron clocks in for his second win of the year

Viewers who tuned in watched William Byron win for the second time in his last four Cup Series races. The Hendrick Motorsports driver, who also won at Atlanta, became the series’ first two-time winner this season.

Shortening the race to 400 laps for the first time since the series first ran 500 laps there more than six decades ago did have the desired effect. The race, which started about an hour late because of weather delays, ended in about two hours, 40 minutes. The 500-mile races at Martinsville had recently run between 3 ½-4 hours.

A notable lack of cautions also aided the relatively short race time. The race produced only four cautions and six lead changes on the night as the Next Gen Car made its Martinsville debut and created more questions about its performance on NASCAR’s short tracks.

Byron led 212 of the final 218 laps, holding off Joey Logano after a late restart in overtime for the win.

All stats courtesy of Racing Reference

RELATED: Kevin Harvick Always Finishes at Martinsville, but Admits It’s the NASCAR Track That Baffles Him