NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders and 31 other NSCS drivers gear up for short-track speed on a popular Martinsville Speedway that held its first race in 1949. Teams face at least 500 speedy laps or 263 miles on the unique oval.
Martinsville Speedway has a paper clip shape and is always a challenge as it is a short track with long straightaways and short turns whereas most half-mile tracks are ovals with wider turns and shorter straightaways.
The Tums Fast Relief 500 action on the 0.526-mile oval with 12 degree banking at Martinsville Speedway happens Oct. 28. Fans not in Virginia with tickets can view the intensity at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN.
The top five contenders, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne are riding a scant 30 point gap going into Martinsville. Keselowski has managed to stay on top with only seven points between him and five-time champion Johnson.
Only 192 points in season 2012 are available over the next four races making every finish essential to staying in contention. One extensive crash or major equipment failure can ruin chances of a Sprint Cup trophy.
Also, advancing is especially difficult with so few points remaining and the integrity of cars and crew fielded by four top teams in NASCAR.
Essentially it’s remote to imagine all or most of the top-five contenders failing in one or two races.
Tony Stewart is 47 points back with Jeff Gordon close at 51 points behind, but chances of moving to the top are dimming fast. It would take multiple wins and perhaps some DNFs to move within striking distance of the big prize.
The top five talk team and Martinsville.
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing)
“I never considered myself a great short-track driver, but one thing that helped me when I got to this level was that my dad made me travel around to different tracks when I was growing up,” Keselowski said. “I raced a lot of different short tracks in the Midwest and that made me more comfortable when I got into the upper levels of NASCAR.”
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports)
“It should be a good track for us,” Johnson said. “I feel like it’s a good opportunity for us to get points and hopefully if we’re not in the points lead, we can get awfully close to it or take it there.”
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing)
“This year -- the spring race is the one race where we did not run well,” Hamlin said. “We had some setup issues that we found in the car afterwards, after the race was over -- some mistakes that we made with our setup, basically putting the wrong pieces in the wrong places. Honestly, we look forward to going back. Especially, as good as our short track program’s been.”
Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing)
“This sport seems like if you lay down and take a break for a week, you’re three weeks behind,” Bowyer said. “It’s unbelievable how fast things advance. If you don’t have a game plan and have somebody in place to orchestrate all of that you’re going to get behind.”
Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports)
“Our car was really fast at Martinsville in the spring,” Kahne said. “Even though we had some bad luck, it was a big week for the team to get the pole and show that speed. We went on our best streak of the year after that, so I hope we can go back and get the win this time.”
Only four more checkered flags wave until the 2012 NSCS champion will take the colorful Sprint Cup trophy home.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.