Martinsville known for bumping and banging

MARTINSVILLE, Va. --- There used to be an unwritten code of conduct -- honor among thieves, if you will -- at the paperclip-like Martinsville Speedway that allowed for bumps and bruises.

Just about everyone in today's Goody's Cool Orange 500 will get rear-ended by an anxious competitor, and, in return, they also will use their front bumper as a battering ram.

NASCAR's new winged car, however, may have taken the bump and run to a new level.

"There's not a fine line anymore," said Jeff Gordon. "This car, definitely, it's tough to get around this racetrack, but as far as the short-track action, bumping and banging you can hit guys pretty easy with this car and the bumpers line up and all those things are good, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to move the guys enough to make the pass.

"In the past, if you tapped the guy, usually your bumper actually went underneath their bumper, lifted them and then made it hard for them."

The new car is wider and taller than a traditional stock car. The front bumper also has a snowplow-like lip that's supposed to create downforce. It lines up with the rear bumper of another car so drivers can't easily push somebody out of the way. Instead, they have to body-slam them.

Today's race is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. (Fox-Ch. 54), but Mother Nature may deliver a knockout punch of her own.

There's a 50-percent chance of rain today, a 60-percent chance on Monday and a 40-percent chance on Tuesday.

If and when the race starts, Gordon will be on the pole. He's willing to wait out the bad weather because Martinsville has turned into one of his favorite tracks. Seven of his 81 career Cup wins have come at Martinsville, which is celebrating 60 years of NASCAR races.

Gordon ran 96.288 mph in time trials for his seventh pole position at Martinsville. Denny Hamlin is second at 95.757 mph.

Kevin Harvick, who starts 11th, said the way to make passes didn't change with the new car -- just the magnitude of impact. Taps can even turn into collisions.

"This car is actually a lot more durable than the old car," he said. "... But it's just kind of part of the game here at Martinsville. ... Everybody seems to lean on each other, and it's just good short track racing."

Hendrick Motorsports has dominated at Martinsville, with Gordon and Jimmie Johnson each winning four times.

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.

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