NASCAR Primer: Martinsville

Ah, the Paper Clip that is Martinsville. I’ve been to 4 races here, which is kind of sad since it is only a couple hours away from me. This track gets racing right. As a driver you have to be up on the wheel and working hard the whole race. You can’t take a lap off here or you’ll get knocked right out of the way. You have to also take care of your car here, namely your brakes, or you’ll surely end up in the wall. You’ll hear a lot about the aggressiveness necessary at this track on Sunday but there is one thing you’ll hear about more…. HOTDOGHOTDOGHOTDOGHOTDOG: I can’t imagine the number of times they’ll talk about it, especially in the pre-race show. It will make for a good drinking game. I would recommend drinking moonshine if you really want to make it fun. The famous Martinsville hot dog is good but I’m hoping the race is going to prove better. We had two good ones at Martinsville last year with Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick winning.

All-Star Race: Before we jump fully into Martinsville, I want to mention the changes announced for the All-Star Race in May at Charlotte. Many have clamored for change because they think the format has gotten tired and even have lobbied for a new track or at least a rotation of tracks. I like having it in Charlotte and hope it stays there. Charlotte is a fast track with good racing and an innovative facility (first with lights, world’s largest TV) as well as the home to the Hall of Fame. It’s close proximity to many of the team’s shops which helps since half the cars get torn up going all out for the million bucks and they have to come right back the following week. For those looking for change, NASCAR has listened to the fans and issued some changes. The race will now feature four twenty lap segments with the winner of each earning the right to put first for the final ten lap shootout for the million dollar top prize. I like this because it provides incentive to push for the lead in one of the first 4 segments. You want to be up front at the end and this can provide the means to do that. It can also provide the opportunity for those to make a quick pitstop before the final ten lap segment and try to stay in front of those with fresher tires. I’m excited about this and can’t wait to watch this one live.

Bristol: Remember that other short track that fans used to rave about and buy up tickets like they were good stocks? Yeah, well apparently track owner Bruton Smith remembers it. He announced plans to make changes to the track in time for the August 2012 event. While the exact plans are unclear right now, speculation is that he will re-reconfigure (preconfigure?) the track back to how it used to be before 2007 in hopes that it will restore the racing to it’s previous style of bumping and banging. The 2007 redesign incorporated slightly lower banking and make it progressive through the turns. This allowed for more lines of racing which decreased the old bump and pass moves that became a signature of  racing at this track. This could be one of the factors, along with a new style of car and tires, that has caused the difference in racing at the track. The biggest issue for Smith is obviously the lacking attendance. Bristol used to be one of the toughest tracks to get tickets for in the Cup Series with 55 consecutive sold out events.

Last Year at Martinsville: As I mentioned above, Harvick (spring) and Stewart (fall) were your winners in 2011 at the Paper Clip. You’ll probably see them be competitive again this week as they have both been hot this season. Harvick had a fast start last year with two wins in the first six races. Stewart has already won twice in the first five this season. You may remember the spring race because the entire place was on their feet as Dale Jr. looked like he was going to win only to have Harvick pass him late for the win and maintain his reputation as “the Closer.” You may also remember the fall race since it was when Tony started playing head games with Carl Edwards… successfully. I was at this race and Tony was nothing short of impressive and I’m just talking about his speech from victory lane. The other impressive thing from that fall race is how Brian Vickers made it through without getting punched by another driver. I think he was involved in around 6 accidents. Every time the caution came out it seemed he was involved. I know Matt Kenseth owes him a spin or two, wonder if it will happen this week since Vickers will be in the 55 car.

The Usuals: There are 3 guys that have owned this speedway for the last several years. Those guys are of course, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon. According to NASCAR.com, “Between them in 49 combined starts since the beginning of 2003, they have won 14 of 18 races, and recorded 38 top-fives and 45 top-10s. They have swept the top five eight times including this past fall when Johnson finished second behind the dark horse Stewart, Gordon was third, and Hamlin was fifth.” I’d say that’s the definition of domination. Hamlin and Johnson have ran pretty well this year and Gordon has been pretty awful. Can this be the race where Gordon turns it around? Might be his best shot. Side note: How awesome is the Martinsville trophy? Grandfather clock, FTW.

The Pick: I know those other guys are good here but I think we are seeing someone really turn it up. I’m picking this driver for two reasons. First of all, since whomever I pick seems to not win, I’m hoping that it stays true for this week again to slow him down a bit. I also am picking this driver because he is dominating the scene right now. 7 wins in the last 15 races… why not 8 in 16? I’m picking “Smoke” to light Martinsville on fire again with his 2nd consecutive victory.

Enjoy watching the Final Four on Saturday Night and have a relaxing Sunday witha few hot dogs, cold beers and Martinsville Speedway on the TV. Talk to you Monday.

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