Dale Earnhardt Jr. highlights Mazda MX-5 Cup oval track debut

MX-5 Cup race cars during on track testing at Martinsville Speedway on August 21, 2023. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This week, Virginia is for Miatas.

Ahead of their weekend visit to Virginia International Speedway, some of the MX-5 Cup cars from the popular Mazda spec series made a pit stop into Martinsville, Virginia for a two-day test on the NASCAR oval.

Despite being only 46 miles apart, the two track layouts couldn’t be more different. VIR is a sprawling network of asphalt ribbons with different available configurations. MX-5 Cup races on the 16-turn, 3.2-mile road course. Martinsville Speedway, on the other hand, is a paperclip-shaped half-mile oval. This old track primarily hosts stock cars and other circle trackers. (NASCAR first visited in 1948.)

The test, which marked the first time MX-5 Cup cars have run on an oval in an official capacity, was held to determine the feasibility of a regular season oval race with the series. Imagine, a swarm of four-cylinders encircling the speedway like a giant buzzing conveyor belt. Several drivers from MX-5 Cup and the stock car ranks were on hand to run the Mazdas through their paces on the tricky half-mile.

Of the lot, the most recognizable name by far was none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr. According to the retired driver, NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton and other top brass approached him last weekend about the test. By Tuesday, he was strapping himself one of the roadsters for his maiden voyage.

Mazda MX-5 Cup Test dale earnhardt jr martinsville va
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

“It was a blast,” Dale Jr. later shared on his podcast. “The car is not easy, but you get up to speed relatively quickly. From there, finding the next two tenths or tenth is a challenge.”

Considering Junior has spent 99.9% of his career in full-bodied stock cars, it was interesting to hear his impressions of a spec Miata. “It does a few things differently than I’ve ever experienced in any kind of car,” he said. “It does have power steering, so the wheel is very light. The braking feels like it’s push-button braking—like you could touch it with your finger and it would stop the car on a dime.”

By all accounts, from Dale Jr. to MX-5 team owner (and multi-discipline racer) Chad McCumbee, Martinsville and the Mazdas paired well, like pimento cheese and white wine. The prospect of full-scale races seems highly likely.

Mazda MX-5 Cup Test martinsville va
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Martinsville is an excellent venue for the MX-5 Cup’s foray into oval racing. The track is relatively flat, and it is essentially two road racing hairpins connected by relatively long straights. Those who are slow section masters are sure to excel at the track.

You may also see some of the NASCAR stars join MX-5 Cup regulars on track if a race date is scheduled. Like an MX-5 Cup car, NASCAR’s new car is all but a spec-racer, meaning most of the parts are identical between teams. NASCAR also increased the number of road course races on its calendar, too. If a stock car driver was looking for some extra seat time outside of a simulator, an MX-5 oval race might be a viable option.

Regardless of who is in the race, if it becomes a reality, circle this event on your calendar. The MX-5 series is known for its full-contact racing and close finishes. Forcing them to duke it out within the tight confines of one of NASCAR’s most popular ovals is sure to create a race that any motorsport fan could love.




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