The top five Chase drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this week–Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch–talk about the 5.26-mile oval with 12 degree banking at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia. The track is often called a paperclip because of its tight corners and long straight-aways, not typical of a half mile track.
The Tums Fast Relief 500, race 6 in the 10-race Chase to the Sprint Cup, commences this Sunday at 1:00 p.m. on ESPN.
This fast series includes comments by three of NASCAR’s most popular drivers—Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup is at the halfway point and six of the 12 contenders are more than 200 points back from the leader Jimmie Johnson. It could be argued that only Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are within reasonable striking distance. The importance of the next two races can be detected in their words going into this race.
This week it seems some of the best action on the track will be a direct result of Chase contenders trying to catch up. The big prize is getting closer.
By comparing top driver’s thoughts about Martinsville and the Chase, a fan might be a lap or two ahead of the action. Johnson talks about who he wouldn’t want next to him. Hamlin talks about Johnson. Harvick sums up strategy.
FYI WIRZ is the swift presentation of pertinent motorsports topics compiled, condensed and often written by Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com. Quotes provided by NASCAR and Sprint Cup team media.
Jimmie Johnson (No.48 Chevrolet)
“You have more control over your car at Martinsville than at any of the other tracks on a double-file restart,” Johnson said. “We’ll see. Who I wouldn’t want next to me? Man, I guess whoever would be second in points. We’re going to be gouging for every single point at that part of the race and the way the points are stacked up, the top-five are all guys that are really good at Martinsville. It could be exciting.
“The track, especially when the rubber is laid down, reminds me of some of my off-road stuff where we would have barrels or tractor tires stacked up as the turn-marker, but it was that tight of a radius. And when the rubber lays down, especially the right-side rubber on corner exit at Martinsville, you have to change your line to not run through the rubber at the wrong spot.”
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota)
“I really have been catching a lot of flack on how conservative or whatever you want to call it that I’ve been the Chase, but it just works for me,” Hamlin said.
“I feel like I am within striking distance. Talladega is such a wildcard in the sense that it can go 100 points one way or another. But unless we go out there and lead the most laps and Jimmie has a struggle in Martinsville, that’s probably not going to happen.
“So we just hope to close the gap once we leave Martinsville, then I’m going to keep him right in front of me for the entire Talladega race. If I’m going to get in a wreck, I’m going to make sure he’s in it as well. We’ve got to just make sure that we keep him in our sights.”
Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Chevrolet)
“When it comes to thinking about being or not being aggressive because it is in the Chase, in my mind, nine times out of 10, the aggressor comes out up top,” Harvick said. “So, I’ll take that 10 percent chance of making a mistake and having things happen. But, if you don’t protect yourself in trying to go forward, you are going to get run over. Usually, by trying to stay out of trouble, you usually find more trouble than you will just going and racing like you normally do.
“Here is my motto through the whole thing. You don’t have to win it in one week, but, you sure can lose it in one. So you just have to go out and protect yourself the best you can and race as hard as you can and get the best finish that you can.”
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Chevrolet)
“I always love going to Martinsville,” Gordon said. The cars handle well there. I like the track.
“I would like to see more short tracks (on the schedule). We only have two half-mile tracks. Richmond is a nice short track but it’s even a little bit big. It acts a little bit more like a Charlotte. Aerodynamics plays a pretty big role there. It would be pretty cool to have something sort of in between a Martinsville and a Bristol; a little bit more banking and a little bit more sweeping corners. That would be very cool. I’m a big fan of that.”
Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota)
“Jeff (Gordon) is so good there, and Jimmie (Johnson), and Denny (Hamlin) are all so good there,” Busch said. “They are probably the three most difficult guys to pass there because they know the place. They know how to get off the corner and how to roll the middle of the corner there. Everything is timing, and their stuff just works, whatever it is.”
“You want to drive into the corner one foot deeper than that other guy. You want to step on the gas one foot sooner than that other guy, and you want to roll a half-mile-an-hour better than that other guy. That’s why it’s so finicky and so hard there because everybody runs so tight that, any little thing you can find, it can help a lot.”
Tony Stewart (No. 14 Chevrolet)
“During the race, the track changes quite a bit, but you know when you kind of have that rhythm,” Stewart said. “You just know what that feel is in the car that you’re looking for, not necessarily to be good in Happy Hour as much as to be good for the race.
“When you’ve had a good weekend, the next time you go back it’s just easier to try to go back and mimic that feel. That’s why when guys hit on something they’re normally good for a while until the package changes quite a bit, and then once that changes, you have to learn a different feel. Normally for a while you can have that, and different guys, if you look over the history, have kind of had runs at it.”
Kasey Kahne (No.9 Ford)
“It’s a tough track and I think that some people pick this track up quicker than others, but I also think that you need a car with a good set up to win a race at Martinsville,” Kahne said.
“It’s more about handling and getting the car to turn and trying to get as much forward drive off the corner as you can. That’s the good thing about Martinsville, there’s no real aero tight there. If you’re tight, you’re tight – your car just isn’t turning that day.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Chevrolet)
“I love going to Martinsville,” Earnhardt said. “There is just a lot of good history there. It is an old racetrack, and it is a short track. Martinsville is so unique being a paperclip and flat. You have to really get your car working pretty good through the corners and be able to be competitive in the race; it is really, really imperative that your car handles well, because there is not much adjustment to the line in the corner that you can make to try to make up for something that your car isn’t doing correctly.”