News & Media


Happy Hour: Truex knows damage is coming Sunday

March 30, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Tight quarters, flat corners lead to plenty of bumping and banging for 500 laps

When Martin Truex Jr. takes the green flag for Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500, he knows there's almost no chance that his pristine No. 56 Toyota will look the same by the drop of the checkered.

Welcome to Martinsville Speedway. When you're trying to thread your way through 42 other cars on NASCAR's shortest, tightest, flattest track for 500 laps, there's bound to be contact, incidental or otherwise.

"Obviously you don't try to run people over, but at any time during the race you're going to be running into somebody or getting run into. It's just the way it is here."

--MARTIN TRUEX JR.

"There's times when you just bounce off the curb a little, [because] the guy on the outside will pinch you off a little too much," Truex said Friday. "It's just a part of racing here, beating and banging a little bit.

"Obviously you don't try to run people over, but at any time during the race you're going to be running into somebody or getting run into. It's just the way it is here."

The key in Martinsville Happy Hour is not to give your crewmen additional practice in bodywork repair, and that was the case Friday. The 90-minute session was run incident-free.

Jeff Gordon backed up his morning run by running the fastest lap in Happy Hour. However, most teams concentrated on race setups, with Kyle Busch turning a practice-high 110 laps. Truex, who was sixth-fastest in the first session, was 19th-quickest in the second.

Many of the teams required to qualify on time were more interested in turning one quick lap -- and six of the top 15 times in Happy Hour were recorded by "go or go-homers," with David Stremme's No. 30 leading the way.

When a second separates Gordon at the top of the leaderboard from Travis Kvapil on the bottom, minor differences mean major differences in speed. For instance, Truex said for two or three laps, new tires can give a driver a significant advantage.

But that's also the time when a driver has to be most cognizant about things like air pressure, which at Martinsville can be as low as 8 pounds per square inch in the left front. For comparison, recommended pressures for passenger cars usually run around 32 psi.

"It takes a little time for the air to come up, air pressures to build," Truex said. "You typically run very low air pressure here. All those things -- combined with the tight race track and kind of a one-groove place -- you end up banging into guys and denting fenders."

At nearly every other track on the circuit, that would be a detriment. But at Martinsville, where Tony Stewart holds the track record with a lap of 98.083 mph, speed isn't determined nearly as much by aerodynamics as by the sheer ability to accelerate and decelerate quicker than the other guy.

"The cool thing about it here is you're not relying on downforce," Truex said. "If your fenders are beat in and your splitter's knocked in the air, you can still run fast."

Just because the average lap speeds are half of what they might be at the next two venues -- Texas and Kansas -- doesn't mean you can't get yourself into a serious situation here.

Consider what happened to Truex last spring. His throttle stuck on the entry to Turn 3 and he and Kasey Kahne slammed hard into the SAFER barrier.

Truex said you'd assume that things like that would happen in the blink of any eye, but in that case, it seemed like the accident occurred in slow motion.

"I don't know what it is, but it felt like it took 30 seconds from the time I knew my throttle was sticking to the time I hit the wall," Truex said. "I guess when you get scared, just somehow things all slow down and it all happens kind of weird.

"It's kind of an eerie feeling, but yeah it was a crazy crash."

When the series returned to Martinsville last fall, Truex finished eighth. And he's been in contention at nearly every track on the schedule since, with six top-10 finishes over the past nine races.

It's difficult to get on a roll like the one Truex is on right now and perhaps even harder to maintain it. He showed flashes of brilliance in 2011 -- winning the pole at Dover, for instance -- but currently sitting fifth in the points, Truex believes the team may have finally turned the corner.

"I wouldn't say we're running that much better, but we're doing it consistently," Truex said. "We're being consistent. We're not beating ourselves. We do all the little things right and our stuff is good.

"That's what we need to keep doing. We need to keep staying there and keep constantly working on it. If you keep running in the top-five, top-10, then sooner or later you're going to put yourself in position to win. That's what we're trying to do."