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Gordon looks to bust Martinsville trend

Apr 13, 2004 3:39 AM

In the last 17 races at the half-mile flat track of Martinsville Speedway, there have been 13 different winning drivers.

Only one, Jeff Gordon (5-1), has multiple wins over that span. Multiple may be an understatement for Gordon’s accomplishments there considering he has five wins over that span.

Those numbers say a tremendous amount the skills of Gordon and the fact that he’s been able to do it with three different crew chiefs, but overall it says that anyone can win at Martinsville on any given day.

The track is the greatest of all equalizers for teams that don’t have the huge funding to compete regularly on the larger Speedways. The first rule for drivers to be able to win at Martinsville is to be patient; Stay on the track, try not to irritate another driver, save some brakes, and let the race come to you. It’s easy to say in theory, but extremely hard to accomplish.

A few weeks ago we saw short track racing at high speeds on the banks of Bristol with plenty of flared tempers. We’ll see tempers again this week with plenty of banging, but at a much slower pace. Though the track is the same distance, the top candidates at Bristol to win don’t necessarily translate into candidates to win at Martinsville. They are alike in many ways, but also quite opposite in many instances.

For wagering purposes, this is usually a great opportunity to cash in on a long shot. Over the last few years there have been payouts as high as 60-1, like Ricky Rudd did in his under-funded self-owned team in ’98 while battling the flu. Other long shots have been Ricky Craven (40-1), John Andretti (40-1), Bobby Hamilton (22-1), and a young Jeff Burton (20-1). With the parity in NASCAR over the last few years, it would seem we would see much more of those type of payouts. However, the last three races have been won by favorites. Two years ago in the fall, Kurt Busch won and last year Jeff Gordon swept the season.

When Busch won at Martinsville, it was thought he would become the next in a long line of short track dominators. Busch had captured his first career win at Bristol earlier in the year, had a solid 10th place finish at the spring race in Martinsville, then came back to Bristol and had a great sixth place run. Even though Busch started all the way back in 36th position, he would patiently roll his way to the front as the race wore on. Following his Martinsville win in 2002, Busch closed out the season with wins in two of the last four races.

Last season, Busch swept the Bristol races, but was terrible in both Martinsville races. Over his career, even with his fantastic run in 2002, his average finish in seven races is 26th. That is the worst average finish of any active past winner on the track.

This season, Busch has continued his dominance at Bristol winning for the fourth time in his last five starts there. If Busch models his past performances, he’ll be tough to beat this week because of the way he lets the race come to him. He didn’t attempt to take over until the last 100 laps and just stayed out of trouble, not to mention his car was terrific on the long runs.

Rusty Wallace (10-1) got back to his roots at Bristol this season. He is the active leader in short track wins and has a series leading six wins at Martinsville. His last victory there came in ’96, and his last top five came in ’99, but this could be a great spot for him this week and the price is right.

Kevin Harvick (12-1) used the patient tactic as well at Bristol and came on strong at the end. If you have been reading over the years, I have picked him to win in just about half the races he’s run on short track events and he’s yet to win. He’s come close on several instances, but always seems to have a touch of bad luck. He’s got all kinds of Busch victories on the short tracks after started out racing on the flat short track at Mesa Marin. However, his Cup short track career hasn’t taken off yet.

Over the 13 Martinsville races, no one has a better average finish than Jeff Burton (20-1). He’s finished in the top 10 in the last 11 of 13 with one win. Burton grew up in nearby South Boston (Va.) racing on short tracks. This also presents a great opportunity for him to make his best pitch as a salesman to any sponsor out there.

Tony Stewart (8-1) has been solid throughout his career at Martinsville, a model of consistency. He only has one win there, but also claims five other top seven finishes. T-Stew has to keep his cool though. The bumping and banging always seem to get the best of him.