MARTINSVILLE, Va. - As one of three short tracks left on the Winston Cup circuit, Martinsville Speedway is an oddity, a place where factors like brakes, tires and pit location toy with the minds of drivers.
The Virginia 500 Winston Cup race figures to be no exception today, especially if qualifying and Saturday's practice were an indication.
Ward Burton qualified fourth here last October. On Friday, he posted the 38th-fastest qualifying speed and needed a provisional to make the field.
"The car was a piece of junk," Burton said after his run.
It was only marginally better in practice Saturday, when Burton's fastest lap was 91.971 mph, 25th among the 43 cars entered and far behind Jerry Nadeau, who led the field at 92.642 mph.
"We're behind the eight-ball now," Burton said.
Throughout the garage area, drivers said they expected today's 500-lap event (1 p.m., Fox 54) to be a study in tire strategy because of a new Goodyear model.
"It's going to be exciting because it is going to be a chess game all the way," said Kenny Wallace, who will start 28th.
"There's going to be some crazy stuff going on Sunday, whether to stay out or come in and pit for tires," said Dave Blaney, who starts 34th.
What happens on the track often dictates how teams choose to manage the race, and that's a call normally made by crew chiefs.
"I think you have to react to it when the time comes," said James Ince, crew chief for Johnny Benson.
"This is a place where track position means way more than speed, so we want to make sure we get the car good and then react to whatever we've got to on Sunday. I don't know what that is."
For some, that's an element that makes the .526-mile oval a difficult place. For others, it's what makes it a NASCAR treasure.
"You can go into some of these video arcades and find a game that simulates racing," said Kyle Petty, who will be making his 590th career start when he crosses the start-finish line in the 33rd position.
"If you want that kind of experience with something that most closely resembles Martinsville, leave there and head for the pinball machines.
"I've seen bumper cars at the fair that don't have as much beating and banging as some of the Martinsville races I've run. The floor for those bumper cars is about as slick as these turns here."
Jeff Burton, like Petty, thinks it all adds up to a good show.
"When I watch a race at Martinsville, I see a competitive race. I see a competitive race at Bristol (Tenn.) and at Richmond," he said, listing the other two shorts tracks. "These tracks put on the best shows.
"To me, it's what racing is about - side-by-side, bumper-to-bumper. It's fun to watch and it's fun to race."
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