Saturday, March 31, 2007

Roots Racing

Martinsville Speedway, located halfway between Roanoke, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina, is the shortest track on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit, and is probably the closest to the tracks most of us are familiar with when we go to watch the locals race on Saturday nights. It is also the closest to the tracks most of the NASCAR drivers cut their teeth on while on their way to the top. To Jeff Burton, Elliott Sadler, Ricky Rudd, and Denny Hamlin, it is almost home (Richmond, another short track in Viginia, is home to these drivers). With average racing speeds barely into the 80 mph range, it is not a track for those who like to see high speeds, nor is there much side-by-side racing. That doesn't mean there will be a lack of excitement.
"Rubbin' is racin'" and there is plenty of rubbin' going on at Martinsville. Passes have to be made as the result of somebody else's mistakes--going into the turns too hard or trying to accelarate out of the turns too quickly, for example--and causing somebody else to make a mistake is a tried and true method for many a short track driver. There will be some drivers trying to make the turns two- and sometimes three-wide during the course of the race. Two-wide, when it occurs at the wrong place at the wrong time, often forces mistakes, and three-wide, no matter when or where it occurs, is almost always a mistake. That's what the excitement is all about.
Winning at Martinsville means taking the lead and holding it, which is why most of the winners there have come from the first ten or fifteen starting positions. However, this track does take a lot of driving skill, and a top ten start doesn't necessarily mean a top ten finish.
There should be some excitement early in the race. Denny Hamlin, the pole sitter, will likely lead many laps in the first part of the race, but he will be challenged, early and often, by Jeff Gordon, who is starting third. That is about as good as it gets at Martinsville, and is definately something for the fans to look forward to.
Moving up through the field takes patience and cunning, and there are more than a few drivers who have displayed those qualities. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., a product of short tracks like Martinsville, learned patience the hard way, but his record there is a mix of very good and very bad. Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, and Scott Riggs already know the kind of patience it takes to get near the leaders, but Kyle "Schrub" Busch's driving style has nothing to do with patience, so there probably won't be another episode of the Schrub and Jeff Show at the end of this one. Schrub will probably find himself out of the race for the lead at the latter part of the contest.
The "new" Smoke, Tony Stewart has the patience, skill, cunning, and car to make his way through the field. He will either win the race, or revert, temporarily at least, back to the angry "old" Smoke.
David Stremme has improved remarkably in the patience category--he was until very recently one of the most likely drivers to run others off the track--so Martinsville should be an opportunity for us to see just how far he has come in that category.
Kevin Harvick is really a short track driver, and he should give us a good show, but he can get frustrated easily, and Martinsville has been difficult for him, but, even after six years, he is still learning, and, with good pit stops and a little luck, should find himself near the lead toward the end of the race.
In theory, there are forty-three drivers in the Martinsville conflict who can win there, but many will fall by the wayside. Cut tires will be almost common, and a bad pit stop is almost always a killer to any driver's chances in a race. All that being said, we will be able to say, after the winner prevails, "that's racing."

1 comment:

Racefan57 said...

okay...will someone please take the hendrick teams on a long vacation!!!