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This week the Winston Cup tour rumbles into Martinsville Speedway for the NAPA AutoCare 500. At just over a half a mile in length (0.526 miles), it is the shortest venue on the Winston Cup schedule, and with only 7 races left, it is also the last short track race of the season. As with any short track, and especially Martinsville, the battle is fast and furious. Sporting a long continuous pit road that starts on the third turn and exits in turn two, every fan and crewmember is right in the middle of the action.
You can expect Rusty Wallace to be loaded for bear when he returns this weekend, as the April race was a frustration for the entire team. The spring race at saw Rusty dominate the event, leading 343 of the 500 laps, but a late pit stop relegated him to a 14th place finish. This race is an opportunity for redemption.
You can bet that Wallace will be running on the razors edge when he returns to Martinsville.
"We're out this weekend and all the rest of the year trying to rack up as many wins and poles as we can," he said. "Even though the poles don't pay any points in Cup racing, we're proud to have us eight so far with three of them coming on short tracks.
But Wallace isn't the only driver who has done well at Martinsville, Jeff Gordon has won here three times since 1996, his last victory coming here a year ago at the NAPA 500. Gordon's crew chief, Robbie Loomis, also likes to run at Martinsville.
"You're so close to the track, and the crew can really feel like a part of it", explained Loomis. "You don't have to rely 100 percent on what the driver is telling you because you can see what the car is doing versus Michigan or a place like that where you can't see in the corners. You can watch the driver's hands on the wheel at Martinsville and tell what the car is doing and that's a lot of fun."
Loomis has a good rack record at Martinsville. Last year, while working for Petty Enterprises, John Andretti claimed his only victory of 1999 in the spring race. While only leading the race for four laps, the last four, Andretti recognizes that Martinsville is a tough track to race.
"Martinsville is a lot like a WWF wrestling match", said Andretti. "You see guys wrestle their cars to get around the track and then after the race, sometimes you see guys wrestle each other. It is just the way short tracks are and with the end of the season here, sometimes patience is not a virtue but more of an exception. They have everything there the WWF does, maybe not including the 'Lights Out Texas Chain-Saw Death Match.'
But for all the rough and tumble driving at Martinsville, it is also one of the tracks that Andretti feels he has an advantage.
"I am little biased towards Martinsville because I run so good there", he said. "That attitude gives me an advantage over the rest of the field going there, or at least I hope it does. Racing is just as much mental as it is actually driving the car, and when you go to a track where you have had some success, then it gives you that mental advantage. How much a mental advantage can help you I don't know, but I know how many people in this garage don't like going into Martinsville because of all the wrecks. So maybe that will help this team out."
With good finishes the last few weeks, maybe Andretti will find his way back to victory lane at Martinsville, after all, he knows the way.
Martinsville Speedway has hosted Winston Cup events since 1949. Since then, the 0.526-mile speedway has seen many improvements and has gracefully aged to perfection. In their pursuit to make the track more fan friendly, the concrete seating is being replaced with metal seats with backs on the concrete bleachers on the track's front straightaway. In addition, Martinsville has also constructed new concrete retaining walls, separating the track from the pits.
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