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Martinsville is 500 laps of pure skill

Oct 19, 2004 6:42 AM

Five races remain in the chase for the Nextel points championship.

Coming into this week’s race at Martinsville, a few of the drivers in the chase have a huge edge. Martinsville Speedway is a tight half-mile track with very little banking. This is one track that is all about the driver.

In a race like last week at Charlotte, it comes down to the driver who has the best car, can show the most patience and stay out of trouble. Of course. having a fast car doesn’t hurt. The object is to come hard into the turns, downshifting and feathering the brake, then stomping the pedal out of the turn down the short front and back stretches.

In all, do this 500 times. Over the course of the race, brakes become a major issue as they almost get into a melting stage.

Rusty Wallace won at Martinsville for the seventh time in his career during the spring. In 41 career starts, the king of the short tracks has 22 top 10 finishes. However, his win this year was his first top 5 since the fall of ’99.

Jeff Gordon swept the two races last year and has five wins in 23 career starts. Gordon has sat on the pole in five of his last seven starts. In the spring Gordon finished sixth and is a 5-1 favorite to win this weekend.

Gordon is 9-5 to win the points title and his chances are highly contingent upon him doing well in this race. Should he falter, Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr may have the upper hand toward winning the driving championship.

Busch had a good enough run last week to keep him on top in points. He’s 24 ahead of Junior and 74 in front of Gordon.

Busch won this race two years ago and it remains his only top 9 finish on the track. This spring, Busch was a respectable 11th and has 11 consecutive top 15 finishes.

Earnhardt Jr has never won at Martinsville but does come in on a streak of five straight top 5 finishes at Martinsville. Junior, like Busch, is also in the midst of one of his greatest streaks ever. Earnhardt has six straight top 10 finishes, the longest stretch in his career.

Martinsville is a track where his father did well. Dale Sr. won six times at the Virginia oval over his great career.

Jeff Burton gets a chance to drive a Richard Childress machine at a place he loves. Burton has one career win at Martinsville with seven other top 5 finishes in 20 starts. He finished 25 in the spring, but due to his value should be considered a long shot play this week.

In the last seven years at Martinsville. there have been some great payouts with long shots winning. Burton can be found anywhere from 25-1 to 40-1 this week.

Dale Jarrett is going through a nice run of late with four straight top 10 finishes coming into this race. At Martinsville, Jarrett has one win to go along with 18 top 10s in 35 starts.

Mark Martin is only 186 points behind Busch, and Martinsville is a place he knows well. Martin, however, has only a victory there in 2000 on his resume. That result is his last top 5 finish on the short track.

Jimmie Johnson obviously got back on track last week. He’s 227 points behind the leader but should feel better following his win after a continuous streak of bad luck. Johnson was fourth in the spring and second in this race last year.

In a recent test session at Martinsville, Johnson was second fastest behind Gordon. The newly resurfaced track and the notes from that test session should help Johnson do very well. If it comes down to a likely duel between him and Gordon (his boss), Johnson will not back down.

Kyle battles in Busch

While Kurt Busch leads the Nextel Cup Championship, younger brother Kyle is 144 points behind Martin Truex Jr for the Busch Series title. Five races remain on the Busch season. Both series close the weekend of Nov. 20 in Miami.

Bobby Hamilton Sr has a close 79 point lead over Dennis Setzer for the Craftsman Truck series title with four races to go.

Also, the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series invades Las Vegas next weekend. Several drivers and teams have already inquired about the status of their odds for the weekend of racing. Station Casinos and the Palms Sports Books will be releasing their odds next week.