Two drivers who had never turned a lap at Martinsville Speedway felt a lot better when they left the tough half-mile oval late Wednesday afternoon.
“Zero. Absolutely zero,” is how rookie driver Grey Gaulding described his Martinsville experience before a half-day test session.
The 16-year-old Gaulding will be making his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut during the STP 500 weekend. He was joined Wednesday by several other truck series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Michael Annett and A.J. Allmendinger.
Even though Annett has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for a couple of years, the STP 500 on March 30 will mark his first Martinsville start. And when he rolled onto the track Wednesday, it was the first Martinsville laps for the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year candidate.
“It’s definitely a tough track, a very, very technical track,” said Annett, who drives one of two Sprint Cup entries for Tommy Baldwin Racing. “It’s so small, but there are lots of opportunities to make mistakes and one little mistake kills your whole lap. Actually it can kill more than one lap because it’s a momentum place and you try to get in the groove.”
When Gaulding takes the track for the Kroger 250 on March 29, he will be the youngest driver to make a start in the series. But he has a seasoned veteran, Jeff Hensley, as crew chief, and that is a great equalizer the young driver said after testing.
“From the first run to the last run, I learned a ton,” said Gaulding. “I think we were the quickest out of the few trucks that were here today and that’s pretty cool. But it’s just good to learn and get laps in. Laps are so important. Jeff Hensley has a lot of laps here and he’s been able to teach me a lot today.”
Hensley, who lives about five miles from Martinsville Speedway, has three Martinsville Speedway wins as a crew chief. Two were in the truck series with Mike Skinner behind the wheel and the third came in the Nationwide Series with driver Chuck Bown.
Both drivers felt much better about coming back to Martinsville in 10 days after Wednesday’s experience.
“I definitely feel more comfortable,” said Annett. “As technical and difficult as this track is, and when you only have an hour and a half before qualifying today is a real plus.”
Gaulding was a bit more exuberant.
“Man, I just can’t wait to come back. I’m stoked,” he said.
Gaulding will be back at Martinsville Speedway Thursday for another day of testing along with several other truck series drivers including series’ points leader Timothy Peters, German Quiroga, Chase Pistone, John Wes Townley and Brian Silas.
Tickets to the STP 500 on March 30, the Kroger 250 on March 29 and Pole Day on March 28 can be purchased by calling 1.877.RACE.TIX. Tickets may also be purchased online at http://www.martinsvillespeedway.com/.