Originally created 04/14/02

Veterans don't sweat poor qualifying at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Defending champion Dale Jarrett and Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin will both start near the back of the field in Sunday's Virginia 500.

Neither is too worried, though.

On Martinsville Speedway's tight, half-mile laps, sometimes it can be pretty effective to be off the radar early.

"What you try to do here is get positioned," said Jarrett, who won here in 2001 by making a late move. "You have to be really calculating in your pits stops and know what you want towards the end of the race."

On the oldest, shortest track in NASCAR's top series, patience is a virtue that often gets rewarded as the field of contenders thins.

Marlin has never won here, but he has finished second twice.

"A lot can happen here with strategy," he said. "A lot comes into play. We'll just try to get the car driving as good as we can and get track position early and get up there in the top five or top 10 and play the rest of the race out."

Marlin will start 29th Sunday, Jarrett 31st.

Defending Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon won the pole in Friday's qualifying.

"When you've got 500 laps here, that's not a huge deficit to overcome," Jarrett said. "We've done it, and we've done it from the back."

When racing here, drivers said, it's also important to protect the car, keeping it intact for peak performance near the finish.

"I think that's what you spend the first 300-350 laps doing - making those adjustments to where you think you've got it the best it can be and not abusing it so you have something to race with when it gets down to those last 50," Jarrett said.

In the end, race day at Martinsville adds up to a taxing exercise.

"It's probably one of the tougher ones. I mean, it's tougher than all the mile and a half tracks we drive around," said Matt Kenseth, who is second in the series, 25 points behind Marlin with both having won twice in seven races.

"This is one of those tracks where you can't let your guard down for a second. You've got to be paying attention every single time because even though it is a very slow track, there is very little room to get around a wreck if one does happen. ... You've got to be ready for anything."

In 47 previous trips to Martinsville, Terry Labonte has seen all kinds of mayhem on the track.

"It's easy to get in trouble here," said Labonte, who has been second three times but never won here. "It's such a tight track with tight corners.

"Anything can happen. Somebody could dump oil down, somebody could run into you and spin you around. It's hard to pass."

Accidents, Marlin said, are a guarantee on Sunday.

"It's Martinsville," he said, "and I love racing here."


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