Dropping the Hammer: Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 Preview

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IMarch 28, 2009

MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 27:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody�s Fast Pain Relief 500 at the Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2009 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images for NASCAR)

This Sunday's Goody's Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway will mark the second of six short track races for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

And just as the title event sponsor suggests, teams and drivers may need some medicine following the grinding 500 lap contest around the 0.526 mile paperclip oval.

Looking scenic and majestic in appearance, for the drivers behind the wheel and the pit crew members keeping tabs on their sheet metal chariots, Martinsville Speedway is quite the monster when it comes to the leadfooters as well as the cars.

Imagine being one of these drivers, during these 500 laps who will have to finesse and balance with their brakes. 

You will have to step on the brake pedal nearly 1000 times on this asphalt arena, almost like a four hour dance-off with little room to maneuver due to 42 other cars around you who are just trying to keep up with the race pace.

Just how physical is this famous, 62-year-old racing facility down in Southwest Virginia?

On September 27, 1998, Ricky Rudd, who won the NAPA 500, needed oxygen and IV units after nearly passing out in Victory Lane due to the excessive heat on that Sunday afternoon as well as his car's failed cooling system.

Other finishers that day, like Jeff Gordon and Ted Musgrave, blistered their feet as well as their, well, "seats."

To win at Martinsville, you have to endure the physical strain and stress that comes from the rhythm needed to "save" your brakes for the first 400 miles of the event, hoping you'll have saved enough of your car's optimal performance for the final hundred miles to make a run for the win.

Keep in mind also that pit selection is a pivotal factor that will come into play with the contenders on Sunday. The field was set by owner's points this year, as we are finally out of the five race window in which the top 35 from last season were guaranteed a spot in the race.

Drivers on the bubble, like Joey Logano, John Andretti, and Aric Almirola will be trying their hardest to protect their coveted safety net spot from Scott Speed and Paul Menard.

Amongst the all time winners at the track include "Mr. September" (aka Harry Gant), Dale Earnhardt, Rudd, Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Terry Labonte, and the all time track winner, Richard Petty, who has 15 career victories at the facility.

As much as the track suits the veterans, the young guns also tend to perform well at the Virginia short track. Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson know a thing or two when it comes to earning a grandfather clock, being the last two spring race winners at Martinsville.

When it comes to definite front runners, if your allegiance is with anybody but Ford and Dodge, then you are probably a happy Gordon, Johnson, Hamlin, or Stewart fan because they'll be amongst the top runners going for the win in the 500 lapper.

Kyle Busch cannot be ruled out either even if he had less than stellar finishes at Martinsville last year with a 38th and 29th result respectively. Busch has a trio of top 5's and and 9th place finish to boot, all those coming from his days with Hendrick Motorsports.

A potential dark horse for fantasy race owners or racing fans in general may be the driver of the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevy, and that Bakersfield, California native, Kevin Harvick, has been making some progress at the track with 12th and seventh place finishes last season. Seemingly strong at those flat short tracks, Harvick could spoil on the Hendrick and Gibbs parade.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans should not fret either, as Martinsville has been amongst his best short tracks with eight top fives and nine top 10's, including a runner-up finish in the fall race last year to teammate and Martinsville ace, Jimmie Johnson.

As many times as I have predicted for Gordon to end his well documented win less spell since I joined B/R in October of 2008, I am that much more certain that the current points leader heading into Martinsville will finally find his way into the winner's circle, but not in total domination.

Johnson and the Gibbs trio will most likely be Gordon's biggest challengers, as well as the Busch brothers, with Kurt, who has been stout so far in 2009 with that victory in Atlanta, and Harvick hot in their pursuit for the prime spot on the track.