Outside of the two big wins for Hendrick Motorsports (Kyle Larson's milestone victory and Chase Elliott's top-10 finish in his long-awaited return), Sunday's NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway was chiefly characterized by some pretty mediocre racing. And, if you were to ask Denny Hamlin, the NASCAR Cup Series' lackluster day at the races had a lot to do with the "new NASCAR" package and the seeming difficulty for drivers to fight for position on short tracks.
After placing fourth at Martinsville, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and 23XI Racing co-owner dished about his frustrating day with media members and touched on his overall annoyance over the new style of racing defined by the Next Gen car.
— Peter Stratta (@peterstratta) April 16, 2023
"It was worse," Hamlin said after a reporter commented that the Martinsville package appeared to be identical to last year's race. "You can't pass. Thirty, 40-lap tires, you can just stay up front. Cars that I was lapping restarted in the front, and you just can't pass 'em. That's an aerodynamic problem we gotta figure out."
"Racing is track position. This is the new NASCAR, where these cars, you cannot pass. You just get out front, don't mess up on pit road, don't mess up your strategy, and you'll win."
In a later interview, Hamlin further clarified his "new NASCAR" comments, saying, "Next Gen racing is all about strategy, execution on pit road — that's who wins. Rarely does the car that dominates or the best car win simply because you can't control the race when you need to. At least we couldn't."
Hamlin wasn't the only driver to call out the Martinsville package. Aric Almirola, who finished sixth, gave his two cents on the style of racing at Martinsville.
"It's crazy that Martinsville is a track position race," Almirola said. "The cars are so close and so competitive. I thought we were arguably the best car the first part of the race and then we got a little bit behind as the track changed and the car changed a little bit. Then after that, we got the car really good."
Runner-up Joey Logano echoed Hamlin's frustration with not being able to pass at Martinsville.
"It's really challenging to pass still," Logano said. "It's kind of interesting how some tracks it's definitely improved it and at some tracks, it hasn't. Richmond was a much better race."
"Here at Martinsville, I'd say we probably have to go back to the drawing board to try and find something else to help racing a little bit more, but part of it, too, you've got to understand is that all of the cars run the same speed. They gave us a box with cars that are all identical. Well, we're all gonna end up running that same speed for the most part. When all the cars are within a tenth of each other, you can't pass. There's got to be more speed differential through the field."
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