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Martinsville just dares
to be different

Apr 8, 2003 6:23 AM

Martinsville Speedway, site of this week’s NASCAR Winston Cup stop, is the second of six short track races this season. Picking a Martinsville winner might be the most difficult task on the circuit. History does show that if bettors are correct, they will be paid for their brilliance.

The last 13 Martinsville winners have all been different drivers. Throw in the parity of today’s Winston Cup drivers and the chances are even greater of hitting a nice price this weekend. The lowest payout over the last seven years (14 races) at Martinsville was Jeff Gordon at 5-2 in the spring of ”˜97. The best was Ricky Rudd in ”˜98 at 60-1. Others with handsome payouts were Bobby Hamilton 25-1, John Andretti 40-1, Ricky Craven at 35-1, and Bobby Labonte last year at 20-1.

The half-mile track is flat with little banking, which becomes the great equalizer for just about every team. Horsepower, while essential, ranks at the bottom in importance at Martinsville. When looking for the top candidates, mix in a combination of last year’s Martinsville races with a historical breakdown of past performances.

Dale Earnhardt Jr (7-1) was the only driver to finish in the top 5 in both races. Junior appears to be getting better with experience, especially on the short tracks. The key for short track races is staying out of trouble for the first 400 laps and then going after the win for the final 100. Junior learned the hard way, being too eager early on in his career and not faring well on the highly volatile short tracks. Now, on the verge of a championship-type season, patience is his virtue.

Kurt Busch (6-1) started from the 36th position in last year’s fall Martinsville race, chipped his way to the front and took over for good with 110 laps remaining to begin a string of late season victories that catapulted him to the forefront of NASCAR’s spotlight. The least surprising of his successes are the short tracks. Busch won at Bristol and Martinsville last year. He backed it up again this year by winning at Bristol two weeks ago.

Martinsville’s active leader in wins is "Mr. Short Track," Rusty Wallace (12-1) with six. Wallace also has 14 other top-5 performances in 38 starts. However, Wallace is placed no better than ninth in his last six starts and his last victory came in 1996.

Ricky Rudd (20-1) has three Martinsville wins at all junctures of his career. He has tremendous value because of the unknown. Rudd hasn’t done much this year with the Wood Brothers car, but his past consistency on short tracks makes him a possible play.

Jeff Gordon (8-1) has three career wins at Martinsville and, except for his last four starts, has been dominant over his career. A win would make Gordon the ninth different victor on the circuit this year. Look for a good performance and strong run for the DuPont team.

Kevin Harvick (18-1) comes to another short track where he may be at his best. Hopefully we don’t see a repeat of last year when NASCAR suspended him for his actions during the Truck race two days prior. "I think it made me a better person," said Harvick, who was on probation before the incident with Coy Gibbs. "I learned a lot about myself and exactly how I fit into NASCAR." Harvick was denied last week at Talladega due to Junior’s illegal pass below the line. He’s been knocking lately, so maybe this is his week.

Trucks invade Martinsville

Harvick will again be competing in the Truck Series this weekend. As good as he is on short tracks, Bobby Hamilton (2-1) and Ted Musgrave (5-2) will both be favored over Harvick (6-1). The biggest name part-time driving this week will be the semi-retired Darrell Waltrip (20-1) who has more wins than anyone at Martinsville. Don’t look for Waltrip to be able to compete with the likes of Hamilton and Musgrave.

Tracy hits Long Beach

The Champ car World Series travels to streets of Southern California for the Long Beach Grand Prix. Stations Casinos put up their weekly driver match-ups and posted a rather unusual proposition putting series point leader Paul Tracy against the entire field of drivers. The field is -300 with Tracy getting +220. Tracy, with dominant wins in his first two races, could have tremendous value.. Eight of the 17 drivers are rookies and Tracy loves the street circuits.

IRL travels to Japan

The International Racing League makes it’s first-ever visit outside the United States with this week’s race at the Motegei, Japan oval. The CART series used to run there annually. The IRL race is further evidence that the circuit has completely supplanted CART as the premier open wheel division. Odds will be available at Stations following the first practice session Friday morning.