CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - Charlotte Motor Speedway has been kind to Mark Martin in recent years. He needs more of the same this weekend in his bid to chase down Jeff Gordon for the 1997 Winston Cup points title.
Martin trails Gordon by 135 points with five races remaining, a stretch that begins with Sunday's UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Qualifying is scheduled Wednesday night to determine the top 25 starting spots for the 334-lap, 500-mile event.
"Drivers are supposed to be successful at tracks they like," Martin said. "Well, if that's the case, we'll have an edge going to Charlotte."
Martin is one of just three active drivers to win the UAW-GM 500 more than once. He has four top-five finishes in the last five UAW-GM 500s, including victories in the 1992 and 1995 events on Charlotte's 1.5-mile, high-banked trioval.
"The car has got to be good. The driver has got to be good because the place takes a lot of driver and it takes a lot of car," Martin said. "They call them medium superspeedways because they really are a cross between a short track and a big superspeedway. Charlotte is the best of both of them. It's a fun place to race."
Martin hasn't had much fun recently as he tries to capture his first season driving title. He has four victories and 20 top-10 finishes this season, but he's only been able to trim 75 points off Gordon's lead over the past seven races.
Martin is coming off an 11th-place showing Monday at Martinsville, Va., marking just the second time he's finished outside the top 10 in the past 11 races.
Gordon, a 10-time winner this year, can wrap up his second points championship in three years by finishing fourth or better in each of the remaining races on the schedule.
Like Martin, Gordon also has experienced success recently at Charlotte. Gordon got the first victory of his Winston Cup career at the track in 1994, and he won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May.
But Gordon's good times at Charlotte have been limited mainly to the spring race. Gordon hasn't had a top-five finish in the fall race since 1993.
Wide variations of success between the spring and fall events isn't unusual at Charlotte, in large part because of the two events are run at different times of the year and different times of the day. The 600 typically is run in hot, humid conditions, and it begins in late afternoon but finishes after dusk, causing a significant drop in the surface temperature of the track. It's generally cooler and less humid for the 500, which begins and ends in the afternoon.
The trick in both races is to have a crew and driver who can work well together to adjust a car and make it handle better according to the changing conditions.
"Charlotte can be a moody track, especially as far as the weather goes," Martin said. "I can't think of a place where weather can play a bigger part in setting the car up. There are some tracks where it could go from 90-degree weather to a snowstorm, and you might not make but a few minor changes in the car. At Charlotte, one good cloud can change your setup entirely."
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