This week NASCAR returns from an off week to Martinsville Speedway. Martinsville Speedway is known for some beating and banging and sometimes a place where drivers pay back other drivers for perceived ills during racing the weeks before.
Some might think that NASCAR had a week off in order to temper feelings before being thrown into the short track of trouble. In fact it is only because of the calendar and when Easter fell this year versus previous years. So the question is why does racing at Martinsville always look like a slug fest? Why is there so much beating and banging?
“Martinsville Speedway is called a paper clip, but I call it a parking lot.” Kurt Busch said, “It’s tough, it’s flat and everybody is beating and banging on each other all day long. You can’t get away from the guys pounding on you from behind. Protecting your brakes and the rear tires are essential if you’re going to have a good finish there.”
The first thing it is a ½ mile speedway. With 43 cars it only takes a few laps and the leader is already catching the tail of the field. Drivers just simply don’t want to get lapped, it’s in their blood. When the see the leader coming they tend to over drive their cars.
“One thing about Martinsville is there is no lack of excitement.” Tony Stewart said, “I don’t care how flawlessly your day goes; you’re going to bump into somebody at some point, even on a perfect day. You put 43 cars on this half-mile track and it’s always going to be exciting.”
Another thing that happens is that passing is difficult on this track. There almost two grooves to run in. This leads to very tight racing. When drivers pass one another, one or both of the drivers must give up his preferred line. It is important for them to work with each other and not force the issue. Although this race is shorter than most, 500 laps can take a toll on a driver and the car.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “even now, even last year, we would run 100 laps and I’d have the car torn all to hell down both sides and have to remind myself this is a longer event than you realize, and you’ve really got to preach patience to yourself and really rein in your emotions and your excitement because you just really want to get in there and gouge every corner, but there’s just not enough race car to do that for 500 miles.”
When a driver like Dale Jr. says that even today he doesn’t have patience what can be expected from the other drivers who have not run there at all or only a few times.
Last but not least brakes. At Martinsville drivers are on the gas then on the brake. The more impatient they are the more of both they use. When brakes give up those simple love taps that say hey, get out of my way become debris cautions and wrecks. The track is simply too narrow for spinning cars and it is very easy for one drivers mistake to ruin the day of another or many.
Ryan Newman put it the best, “From a racing standpoint, the biggest and toughest part is just managing your brakes and somewhat managing your race car, keeping your fenders clean and things like that. We’ve all grown up racing short tracks, half mile or less, and I don’t think that that’s so much the challenge as it is just managing your brakes, your car and putting yourself in position for the end of the race. This I think is the toughest part. That was the toughest part for me was mostly adapting to using that middle peddle the least.”
This weekend NASCAR returns to Martinsville Speedway, a race that is circled on just about every race fans calendar as a must see. The time has come for the gladiators to take to the colluseum.
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