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Today’s Menu: Cheap Hot Dogs and Black Donuts

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 1 2012

There is no mistaking Martinsville from any other NASCAR track – not for fans and certainly not for drivers. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Nobody has ever accused Martinsville Speedway of being a cookie-cutter track. On the contrary, it’s a Ripley’s museum piece.

It’s the shortest track on the schedule – .526 miles. It’s the oldest track on the schedule – first race was in 1949. It’s one of the most bizarrely shaped oval on the schedule – like a paperclip.

It’s got the hot dogs. It’s got the grandfather clocks. It’s got the coal trains.

It seems to be a track which drivers either get or don’t get as it has tended to produce a group of drivers who are multi-time winners and also a group that struggles every time they compete.

The racing will produce more donuts than Krispy Kreme today.

Here are three questions about Martinsville put to three top drivers:

To Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: What’s it like to race here at its most intense? “This track is really tough. First of all, you have to have that coxswain up on the box, the guy guiding the boat, the guy making the right decisions because this thing changes every five minutes. And then when you start the run you can feel everything here. Those tiny rubble nipples on the tires, it feel every little bump. You touch the curb and you feel the way the car works off of it, and then you add to that all the pressure of guys two-wide, running you down, beating on your rear bumper. Five hundred laps here is just intense. Every time I leave here I’m like, ‘Whew. Whether it’s good or bad it’s a race.”

To Greg Biffle, of the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: Can you describe the intensity?  “It’s a little bit hard to get your rhythm, but once you get going it kind of falls into place. What happens though is it’s

Greg Biffle will start today's race as points leader. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

easy to get off. If you get off a little bit, it’s so hard to get going again and get back online and hit your braking points and do those kind of things, so it is kind of a challenging track being the slowest race track we go to as far as cornering speeds and braking and accelerating. You have to be very precise even though we’re going slow. You can get your feathers ruffled pretty easily at this race track.”

To Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet: What do you like about racing at Martinsville? “It’s still that old short-track feel. That’s what I like. We run a lot of 1.5-mile tracks during the year and it’s the only place that races like this. We’ve got two half-mile tracks that we race on. This one’s quite a bit different than Bristol (Tenn.), and that’s what makes it fun. You can out-brake guys and you can run the outside if you get a shot. It’s racing the way we all grew up racing.”

Trivia time

Several drivers have won three races in a row at Martinsville. Who is the only driver to have won four in a row?

The keys

The keys to today’s race come courtesy of Howard Comtock of SRT Motorsports Engineering:

New Tire Compound: “One big change this year is the new tire. You can see that it’s made a difference in speed. A softer tire is faster for a while, but I think we’re going to see tires back in play at Martinsville which is something we haven’t seen for a while. That will change the complexion of the race.”

Pit Strategy: “I’ve seen plenty cases here of over-pitting, guys pitting too often. I think the smart crew

Brad Keselowski won at the Bristol short track two weeks ago. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

chiefs are going to manage the pit stops, the frequency and the placement of the pit stops to get the most out of the tires that they’ve got. There’s going to be adjustments from last year and I don’t think fuel economy is going to be an issue. I think you’re going to have to get tires before you get gas.”

Pit Road: “I think they’ve done a good job here. It’s spread out around the track and you have to appreciate that as a configuration. Bristol has its own quirks which you have to work to. Dover is terribly narrow and tight with short pit boxes, so I think there are a lot of tracks that have equally challenging pit roads.”

Clean Racetrack: “If we get the truck race in and it looks like we will, that will be important for the Sprint Cup race. The track seemed to take rubber well enough yesterday that I think we’ll be back in good shape by race time on Sunday.”

Brake time

The Martinsville track features two long straights and then two tight turns. The biggest casualties of that can be the brakes.

Jeff Gordon was asked about brakes and brake technology vis a vis Martinsville. He said:

“Obviously that is the technology that has been brought into the sport, primarily from a cooling standpoint. The pads that we have now are just so great, the huge calipers that we have and rotors that cool themselves as well as the ducts that we have, the bead blowers, things that we just didn’t have before. You looked up in the front of these cars now under the hood and there are six, seven hoses running to brakes and tires and everything to keep them cool. We are running faster than we ever have here and able to have brakes that we can run pretty hard with all day long.

“You start to feel when you are using the brakes too much the pedal starts to go a little further it gets a

A lot of eyes will be on Kyle Busch today. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

little soft. When you start to feel that you have got to start taking care of them. I have had little glimpses and moments of that in the last few races here. When maybe our pit strategy put us more mid-pack and we were racing hard with some guys then you start to feel that. In clean air, I can run as hard as the brakes will allow me, as deep as I can get in the corner and still have a firm pedal with plenty of pad at the end of the day. Technology has come a long way.”

Track tidbits

Track: Martinsville Speedway

Length: .526 miles

Banking in corners: 12 degrees

Most victories: 15, by Richard Petty

Most victories by an active driver: 7, by Jeff Gordon

Best average start: 3.125, by Fonty Flock

Best average finish by active driver: 5.450, by Jimmie Johnson

Most top-five finishes by an active driver: 25, by Jeff Gordon (in 38 starts)

Denny Hamlin considers Martinsville a home track. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Narrowest margin of victory: .065 seconds, in 2007

Today’s pole-sitter: Kasey Kahne

Last five winners at track: Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Denny Hamlin and Denny Hamlin

It’s about time

Figuring out the time of day must never be a problem at Jeff Gordon’s house. He’s won seven of the grandfather clocks which serve as trophies at Martinsville.

Does he have room for one more?

“Absolutely, who doesn’t want one?,” he said. “It’s a great trophy and it’s a great race track. You have to work hard. You put yourself in a good position to win this race and it’s a challenge from the first time you are on the track all the way to the final lap of the race. It is certainly not easy to get those clocks. We are fortunate to have seven of them. Number eight would be amazing and number 200 for Mr. H (Hendrick) would be amazing as well. There are a lot of inspiring reasons why we want this one pretty bad.”

Trivia answer

Fred Lorenzen is the only driver to have won four Martinsville races in a row. He did int from 1963 to 1965.

Up next

The Sprint Cup series takes a break for Easter next weekend. The next race will be held on April 14; The Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 1 2012
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