Junior eyes Martinsville

Oct 14, 2003 9:33 AM

The final race of the NASCAR Winston Cup short track season takes place this Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. Other than a road course, Martinsville is a track that is most dependant on the driver.

There are 500 laps on a short flat track where the game is getting in and out of the turns with maximum speed and minimal braking. Horsepower is nice to have, but this is the one track where having the fastest car means nothing. There have been several different drivers to win at Martinsville, a wide variety of names from all different racing programs that you won’t see at any other track.

In the last 12 races there have been 11 different winners. Only Jeff Gordon (7-1) has won twice over that span. Of the 10 other drivers, just three are past Winston Cup champions. From a wagering standpoint, this may present one of the biggest opportunities to make a big score. Drivers like John Andretti (40-1), Bobby Hamilton, Ricky Craven (30-1), and Ricky Rudd (30-1) all paid off at 45-1 or higher when they won.

The trend going over the last two months is to just bet Ryan Newman (9-1). He wins almost every week but this time will be different. Newman will not be allowed to unleash his souped up horses under the hood. Every time he mashes the pedal down the fifth of a mile drag strip, he’s got to brake, downshift, turn and start all over again. That procedure will take place 1,000 times as he goes through it at each end of the track for 500 laps.

Newman’s best finish on the old school track is 15th mixed in with a 41st and the 38th he had in the spring. He’ll definitely throw down a smoking lap and likely will start in the first two rows, but a win will be hard imagine for the driver who loves wide open tracks. When other cars start bumping him and rattling his cage, he’ll be out of his element.

So who do we point to this week? To start out with, we’ll look at Dale Earnhardt Jr (6-1). In the last three races at Martinsville, only Junior has finished in the top 5. Surprisingly, Junior only has one win on the season and has never won at Martinsville -- a place his father won at six times. Little E takes his father’s conquests and history very serious and gives a little extra in attempting to duplicate his feats. Look for a great day for the Budweiser team.

Bobby Labonte (10-1) was known for the better part of his career like Newman is now. He loved the wide open spaces where the Gibbs powered engine could roar. Ever since his championship season, Labonte has become more well rounded on all tracks. Over his career at Martinsville, Labonte has only three top 5 finishes in 21 races.

Rusty Wallace (10-1) has forever been known as a short track specialist. He has six career wins at Martinsville and 15 more at Richmond and Bristol. His credentials are unmatched, but he hasn’t done much in the last few short track events. This week may be a perfect situation for him to get off his losing streak. His last win at Martinsville was in 1996.

Jeff Gordon (7-1) gained his only victory this season at the first Martinsville race. He has finished in the top 5 in each of the last 4 Cup events, a streak only Newman can match. If thinking about a Martinville sweep, it’s a possibility. Rusty Wallace was the last to do it in 1994. In all, Gordon has four career Martinsville wins.

John Andretti (30-1) is a past winner and he’ll have a great opportunity to do it again this week in DEI’s Pennzoil Chevy. For some reason, this car has been well below the standards of teammates Michael Waltrip (30-1) and Junior, but he’ll have the great equalizer, which are his driving skills. Andretti is a lame duck driver and needs to impress someone before all the jobs are taken for next year.

Kurt Busch (8-1), where have you gone? He swept Bristol this year and has taken the rest of the season off. Come back Kurt, and bring your attitude! Prior to all the boos and hoopla surrounding Jimmy Spencer (55-1), Busch was becoming the next Wallace on the short tracks.

In three seasons, Busch has won three times at Bristol and once at Martinsville. This is the perfect opportunity to him come back and display his great short track skills. Last week he tested at Martinsville with great results on the long runs. Everything should be dialed in this week.