Martinsville remains, well, Martinsville
Other than a new version of the car raced in NASCAR’s top division not much is different again at Martinsville Speedway.
The track still has long straights and tight turns, leading to drivers worrying about wearing out brakes, blowing tires and getting caught in wrecks, some of them of retaliatory feuds old and new.
The drivers who are usually fast getting around the .526-mile track are still fast, chief among them Jimmie Johnson, who is in his familiar spot as the favorite for today’s 500-lapper thanks to his seven victories here, winning the pole with a track record lap of 98.400 miles an hour and having won from the pole here last October.
“We had a great race in the fall and I’m expecting good things to happen again,” Johnson said before his pole winning run on Friday. “Regardless of car, rules package, (aerodynamic) implications, there is something about this track that is comfortable for us.”
A win would give Johnson triumphs here in three versions of Cup cars here. He won the track’s last race for the version that came before the so-called Car of Tomorrow in 2006, swept the facility’s first two COT races in 2007 and added wins in 2008 (from the pole) and 2009 in addition to last fall.
“(The car change) might change a small percentage of what goes in the car,” Johnson said. “But the majority of why you are successful here sticks with you. That is a nice thing to have in your pocket each time you come here you figure out the track.”
Johnson was also in contention to win here a year ago when he lined up beside teammate Jeff Gordon on the front row for a late restart. His shot at winning went out the window when Clint Bowyer tried to shoot past them going into turn one, setting off a big wreck.
“I had no clue what was going on,” Johnson said. “So much transpired in a short period of time. As the contact started, I heard ‘three-wide’ and by that time I was turned around.”
This time, drivers might take notice anytime Tony Stewart is close to Joey Logano as a continuation of Stewart’s ire toward Logano for blocking in the most recent race two weeks ago at Fontana, Calif. The block came as Logano was trying to keep the lead on a late restart. Stewart went after Logano on pit road after the race.
“If you see those two near each other, you are going to watch for a lap or two and make evasive moves if you need to,” Johnson said. “Short tracks are where these things settle out and find a home. But, there might be some other issues kind of lingering that aren’t so notable that might flare up. It’s just something you deal with.”