Add Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the camp of those who want to see Martinsville Speedway get rid of the competition caution with 10 laps to go each season in the annual ValleyStar Credit Union 300 Late Model Stock Car event.
When asked if he would be interested in running the race after his NASCAR career comes to a close, Earnhardt stated that the current race procedures has him questioning his participation as an owner for the 2015 race.
Arguably the most prestigious event in Late Model Stock competition, the ValleyStar 300 features one of the most unorthodox and controversial rules in the entire discipline — a mandated and automatic caution with 10 laps to go.
The rule was first instituted in 1998 as a means to prevent a driver from running away from the rest of the field in the closing stages of the race. While it has proved successful in that regard, it has also created a demolition derby of sorts for the lead, deciding the most important race of the year with a series of tumultuous restarts.
“I don’t even know if I’m going to bring my cars back because of that caution with 10 laps to go,” Earnhardt said on Friday in the media center at Martinsville. “Man, we just can’t afford to tear our shit up every time we come down here. I mean my drivers love it. It’s a prestigious race, but it’s killing us to come in here and run every year.
“Otherwise without that caution it is pretty awesome. It’s just a tough deal for us. We know that if we even get that far we have a high chance of tearing our car up.”
Earnhardt operates Late Model Stocks and Super Late Models under the JR Motorsports banner for Josh Berry and William Byron respectively.
In October, Berry battled for a spot in the top-10 at Martinsville but failed to finish when he lost his car in one of the handful of crashes following the competition caution. He ultimately finished 13th, the first of the 28 cars that were heavily damaged in that event.
Martinsville track president Clay Campbell has frequently said that the special nature of the event, and its $25,000 prize, dictates special circumstances. He believes that the rule adds to the overall excitement of the race, keeps fans in their seats, and thus sees little reason to change it.
“To pay $25,000-to-win and $1,000-to-start, it’s not your typical race,” Campbell said last October. “We wanted to do something to make it exciting for the fans. We put that competition caution in with 10 laps to go and it’s been a staple of this event.”
The rule has been the center of controversy in recent seasons.
In 2011, Lee Pulliam jumped the restart on Matt McCall, gave the position back off of Turn 4 coming to the white flag but then hooked McCall in front of the field on the final lap to win for the first time at the Virginia Paperclip.
In 2013, the 10-lap to go caution negated a fantastic four-driver battle for the lead between Pulliam, Dillon Bassett, Deac McCaskill and Matt Waltz. Tommy Lemons Jr. would capitalize on the rule when McCaskill spun Pulliam on a green-white-checkered and won the race when NASCAR declared that Lemons did not jump the final restart over Bassett.
Most recently, a year ago, the procedure saw Lee Pulliam survive a series of chaotic restarts and green-white-checkers to win his second career Ridgeway Grandfather Clock.
The formula creates total chaos at the end and Lemons says it’s something you have to simply make peace with before filing an entry.
“It’s not necessary from the perspective of us racers,” Lemons said prior to the race last year. “But from the track’s perspective, it’s a necessary evil that puts butts in the seats and sells those famous hot dogs. We know it is coming and the only thing we can blame for tearing up so many cars is those holding the steering wheel and not the rule itself.”