Mac Track: Flat Martinsville tests COT, brakes

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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

Martinsville Speedway is the smallest track on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule, and it's the type of facility where many of these drivers and crew members cut their teeth on and got their start. It's a little over a half-mile, and it's fairly flat. But there are so many unique things about the venue. It sits in the middle of a neighborhood. It's not in the midst of a couple of interstates or out in the middle of nowhere. You walk out of the grandstand and up a street with houses on each side. Some tracks are asphalt and some are concrete. Martinsville is the only Cup racetrack with both. It has concrete in the corners and asphalt on the straightaways, which creates a little bit of a challenge hooking up the rear wheels when you put the power down and make the transition off of the concrete to that asphalt.

Who to Watch

  • Jimmie Johnson: Going for his third consecutive win at Martinsville, Johnson has 11 starts at the track and 10 consecutive top-10 finishes so he's going to be awfully good. In April, the driver of the No. 48 became the eighth driver in 117 races at Martinsville to win after starting 20th or worse because he had an awfully good race car. But the irony of Johnson beating teammate Jeff Gordon in the spring is that Johnson's team put Gordon's setup in the No. 48 car on race morning after struggling all day Friday and Saturday. Then, Jimmie ended up beating Jeff as they beat and banged back to the start/finish line.
  • Jeff Gordon: The two guys that battled for the win there in the spring will be strong, and Gordon's record of seven wins at the venue speaks for itself.
  • Denny Hamlin: Running third to those guys in the spring, Hamlin will be good again. I'll be covering him for DirecTV Hot Pass at a home-state track for him. The No. 11 team's performance hasn't been exactly what they wanted in this Chase, but they have had the worst luck in the world. When I covered him at Kansas, they actually had a pretty darn good race car. They kept making it better and better. When they made a green-flag stop, the caution came out, and the day went downhill from there.
  • Tony Stewart: Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate will probably run awfully well, too.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.: I've never seen anybody make such a turnaround at a track. When he first went to Martinsville, Earnhardt Jr. hit everything but the lottery. But he's actually been pretty solid there the last few years.
  • Kurt Busch runs awfully well at Martinsville. He should have a good day.
  • What to Watch

  • Hard braking: Over 500 laps, brakes are a huge concern. Drivers will use them hard twice every single lap. I don't anticipate this race will come close to going caution-free, but even if we have 100 laps of cautions, you're on the brakes hard 800 times — twice a lap for 400 laps.
  • Where to win on the track: The key for the crew chief is to tell your driver not to worry about how to get down in the corner. You don't beat people getting into the corner at Martinsville. Where you beat them is getting the car to roll through, turn in the middle and get good forward bite off of the corner. If you do that, then you end up winning the battle, beating them to the end of the next straightaway and the entrance to the next corner.
  • Indy, Pocono preview? So many things are magnified by the Car of Tomorrow, like the heavier right side and the higher center of gravity. Next year, Pocono and Indianapolis are probably going to be the real challenges with this new car because you have to make high-speed entrances there with fairly flat corners, like Martinsville. A lot of drivers feel like we've run this car at some of the more challenging, flatter tracks. During testing at tracks like Atlanta, Matt Kenseth told me the banking at those higher-banked tracks helps turn the car.
  • Qualifying is key: One reason Jeff Gordon has been so successful at Martinsville is his phenomenal qualifying record, which includes five pole awards. When you've got track position from the get-go, you don't have to over-abuse your equipment getting to the front. But the most important thing you gain is pit selection. If you sit on the pole, and you get that very first pit stall leaving a very tight pit road with very small pit boxes, it can help you make up two to four spots every stop. Even thought it's a 500-lap race, teams need to qualify well.
  • Speed Mail Larry McReynolds
  • Qualify in the rear? Never fear: Winning from the back is possible, but it's difficult. Even though we don't have "the big one" at Martinsville, it's awfully easy to get swept up in someone else's problem. If you're at the back of the pack and a caution waves early with no drivers a lap down, you're over half a lap down on a single-file restart. You have to start abusing your equipment so you've got to try to get off-sequence on pit stops. You don't want to just follow the leader all day. If you get a caution at lap 20 or 25, a lot of leaders probably will stay out so come in, get four tires and fuel and then run another 20 or 25 laps and hope for another caution. You stay out, and all of the guys that didn't pit the first time will come in. All of the sudden, voila, you've got track position. That's when you need a long green-flag run to get back on sequence with everybody.

    NASCAR Performance (SPEED, Sun. 8 a.m. ET)

    James from Winter Park, Fla.: When does NASCAR mandate the change over for all GM teams to the R07 since it was approved as the GM engine for 2007. How long is the grace period until there will be only one GM engine? Larry McReynolds: That's a good question, and I asked the GM people at Talladega. Right now, you can still run both in 2008, and I don't know if there is a set period. NASCAR and GM will allow teams to continue to run the SB2 because it would be very stressful for teams like Morgan-McClure Motorsports to switch over 100 percent to the R07. On NASCAR Performance at Martinsville, we're going to have Jim Covey, NASCAR engine development manager for GM Racing, and he will demonstrate the difference between the SB2 and the R07. I certainly anticipate asking him your question again.

    FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 25 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, crew chief and broadcaster. He and his fellow Crew Chief Club members take you behind the wall at

    "How to Become a Winning Crew Chief" is on bookstore shelves, or you may order your own autographed copy from

  • Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth

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