Martinsville track copies Bristol only in size

Mar 25, 2008 6:00 PM

Finish Line by Micah Roberts | Two weeks ago in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Jeff Burton won on the high banked short track at Bristol. This week itís another short track at Martinsville, but the two half-mile tracks couldnít be more different.

Martinsville has virtually no banking and much tighter turns on the layout that looks like a paper clip. At Bristol we saw drivers letting up on their throttle with minimal braking as they ripped through the turns. At Martinsville, a driverís brakes and how he saves them, becomes as big a story during the race as horsepower is at many other tracks.

Roberts Top 5 At Martinsville
1. #11 Denny Hamlin 8-1
2. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr 14-1
3. #48 Jimmie Johnson 7-1
4. #12 Ryan Newman 30-1
5. #18 Kyle Busch 7-1
TOP 10s
23 of 40

Anytime you can mix Bobby Hamilton, John Andretti, Ricky Craven, and Ricky Rudd as past winners, it gives us all the impression that just about anyone can win at Martinsville. Having said that, recent reality over the last five years has seen the Hendrick duo of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon dominate.

Martinsville probably couldnít have come at a better time for the struggling Jimmie Johnson, who has won the last three races there. Johnson didnít excel at Las Vegas, Atlanta or Bristol this year in the new car. However, he never has really taken to Bristol.

The team has admitted that theyíre catching up to other teams on intermediate tracks in the same fashion other teams chased them in technology last season on the small tracks. Because nothing has changed from last season to this year, other than possibly Johnsonís ego and confidence, expect him to return to form this week.

Jeff Gordon is Martinsvilleís all-time money leader and his seven victories is tops among active drivers. If not for Johnson last season, Gordon likely would have won both races, especially the spring race where the two teammates bumped and banged to finish line. Johnson held ground against Gordon, who is essentially his boss more than teammate.

Gordon should be ready to go again with a track and car combination he feels good about. However, two weeks ago at Bristol does raise a few questions regarding Gordon. Usually very good at Bristol in any car, Gordon was as big a non-factor in the race as anyone, finishing eleventh. But, it looked more like a 25th place-type car.

Might there be something really wrong with the Hendrick duo? Are there any conspiracy theorists out there that believe some of the really good stuff was given to new teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr to ensure early success? The slow start by Gordon and Johnson is puzzling, but even more so is the fact that Junior has run so well with the junk chassisí of Casey Mears former No. 25 team.

As for Mears, are you kidding with this guy? He takes over the No. 5 car equipment that Kyle Busch took to fifth in championship points last season and canít crack the Top 10. Heís 0-for-5, including finishes of 42 and 35.

Letís just assume that the Dynamic Duo (Johnson and Gordon) have trouble again and arenít in the same state as the tandem that won 8 of the last 10 Martinsville races. Who else are you going to take?

Well, quite a few have legitimate. Begin with a bomb price of 30-1 on Ryan Newman, who was second in the fall race last season. He may have had a chance on the last lap if not for a caution.

Over his career at Martinsville, heís had five Top 5 finishes in his last 10 starts.

A trio of teammates are the next. Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, and Kyle Busch are all in the running for Top 5 finishes. Hamlin, a Virginia native, is a nice candidate. His talent rests in patience and ability to stay out of trouble, finish well and score points.

On the Virginia short tracks of Martinsville and Richmond, Hamlin becomes somewhat processed and obligated to win at his home tracks. He races his car for all it has with no fear of consequences.

Stewart is the only active driver other than a Hendrick man to win at Martinsville in the last 10 races. Stewart has had the best car in at least half of the last eight races, but also the most bad luck.

Stewart loves racing on the track and throws his weight around like a champion brawler.

Busch finished fourth twice last season. The current points leader will be gunning for another win. Short tracks are, believe it or not, his best-suited type of racing due to his physical driving style.

Finally, we come back to Junior, who used to be a mainstay in the Top 5 before his mother-in-law messed up the DEI organization. Junior has seven Top 5 finishes in 16 Martinsville starts.

I do believe in momentum and Junior definitely has it right now along with what appears to be a better COT than his teammates.

Weíll go with Hamlin to win and Junior to be a thorn in his side.

Micah Roberts is a Race and Sports Director with Station Casinos who has contributed to GamingToday the last 11 years.