News & Media

Patience a driver's best virtue at Martinsville

April 02, 2011, Mark Aumann,

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- If Bristol is a 500-lap physical endurance test, Martinsville is much more like playing chess in rush-hour traffic.

That's the opinion of a majority of Cup drivers, who say getting to the end of Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 with a car capable of winning will require a level of patience not necessarily compatible with the fender-rubbing that comes with close-quarters racing.

"When you get back in traffic, you're pretty much at the mercy of everybody else and you're watching the beating and banging that's going on," Kyle Busch said. "You're trying to figure out what lane's going to move -- it's like rush-hour traffic.

"There isn't a third lane. You're pretty much stuck in two so you're trying to weave your way in and out of traffic."

Patience is a precious commodity at Martinsville, and yet it proves invaluable at key moments during the race.

"You have to manage a lot of things," Ryan Newman said. "You have to manage your brakes, your bumpers, you [can't] knock the radiator in, you [have to] leave yourself a little bit of room on pit road.

"You know it is 500 laps and even if you get a lap down, the way the cautions work here, there are going to be several Lucky Dogs. Just things like that. You just have to keep thinking about [making a clean pass] instead of knocking a guy out of the way [who] won't move after four laps of [you] following him."

Teammate Tony Stewart agreed.

"You have got to have some patience because it is easy to caught up or get your car tore up at a part of the race where it really doesn't mean anything," Stewart said. "That is probably the biggest thing. A lot of that is dictated by how your car is driving."

And that's a major issue on the tight, half-mile paperclip-shaped oval. There's just not much time to chat when you're in a cacophony of cars swirling in what seems like a never-ending circle.

"Where I grew up a half-mile is a pretty big race track, but it feels so small in these cars," Carl Edwards said. "You would think that would make it simple, but it actually makes it much more difficult because you have less time through the corner to determine what the car is doing and to communicate it with your crew chief.

"The center of the corner is a very, very short duration here, so you don't have a lot of time to sit there and analyze what the car is doing. You have to be able to pick very small things up and then it's door-to-door, bumper-to-bumper for 500 laps, so it's a mentally challenging race just to keep your cool."

Martinsville is hard on the brakes, hard on the tires, and harder on the driver.

"I think the hardest thing is the corner speeds are so slow it's like you feel, 'I could roll it a little faster' but you can't, you really can't," Juan Montoya said. "You've got to be very patient and learn how far you can go with the car.

"We always seem to have good cars here. Last year our biggest issue was the brakes. We made some adjustments for this year. We've done some testing so we're hoping that it pays off and we'll be looking a little better."

Kasey Kahne tried to describe what it's like in the midst of the chaos.

"[It's] stop and go, just take off and then you slow down and take off and then you slow down," Kahne said. "There's a lot of cars around you so you're always bumping.

"You make a mistake, get frustrated and you can get taken advantage of really quick and get frustrated even worse. It's one of them tracks that can get to you and you've got to make sure it doesn't get to you and just stay out there. It's a long race. 500 laps here takes a good amount of time."

Matt Kenseth picked the wrong time to be impatient one year ago. On the final restart, he bumped his way past Jeff Gordon for the lead, only to get bumped up the track and out of contention.

"I'm probably the wrong guy to ask about that, but I think you've got to have a car that turns good and still drives off the corner without spinning the tires, and then you have to try to be patient and smart and be there at the end," he said.

Busch, not known for being a patient driver, summed it up.

"Here at Martinsville, it's tough sometimes," Busch said. "When you're outside row or eight [cars] back, you're stuck. You're pretty much battling as hard as you can to get to the bottom or to try to get into a lane that you can get away from some guys and not have them all over you the whole time or roughing you up a little bit.

"To me, that's just kind of Martinsville racing here. If you're in the top four, you can pretty much get single-filed out pretty quick and you can kind of ride your own race and pay attention to your own car and not have to worry about anybody else."