Short tempers sure bet at Martinsville

Published Mar. 29, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

Short-track racing is back this weekend as NASCAR heads to Martinsville Speedway. And when drivers start racing around in tight confines, that can mean only one thing: Tempers are going to flare.

Who will be the first to blow up?

I think you have to start at the head of the class and look at Kyle Busch, who hasn't had the season he’s accustomed to. Competitors have to know that it’s going to be easy to get Busch frustrated because he has not gone to Victory Lane in either Sprint Cup or Nationwide competition so far this year.

It’s early in the year, but we’ve gotten so accustomed to seeing him win that it’s rare when he gets off to a start like he has this year. I mean, look at California: He led 80 of 129 laps in the rain-shortened Cup race Sunday, and he led 13 laps Saturday but was running up front for a long stretch of the day in the Nationwide Series event. But he left without a win.

That has to frustrate you as a driver, particularly someone as competitive and determined as Busch. Just like this weekend, you can have a great car, but all it takes is one small mistake by the driver or pit crew, one bad adjustment, you brush the wall or even a bad set of tires, and you don’t get the result you expect. That hurts. That really, really hurts.

Throw in the fact that Kyle is also trying to run his own Nationwide Series team, and that’s been struggling — well, mix everything up, and that’s got to wear on a competitive driver like Busch.

That being said, you have to be prepared for the expected. The Martinsville race on Sunday could very easily come down to a pushing-and-shoving match at the end of the day among the guys running well. If a guy like Busch wants to get a good result, he’s going to have to do some stuff that we’ve gotten used to seeing him do.


How will Busch handle it? How will he approach the race? That will be interesting to watch. At a place like Martinsville, his internal “pop-off valve” might be set a little bit lower because of all this.

But, trust me, he’s not alone.

Martinsville will bring out the best and worst of drivers, no matter what else is going on. There’s just so much traffic. The track is so small, you can’t get around people as easily as you would at a place like Auto Club Speedway, where we raced last weekend. Guys simply aren’t just going to pull out of the way.

Also, keep an eye on the Ford bunch. Roush Fenway Racing cars have not run well on short tracks. Championship leader Greg Biffle brought that into focus during an interview the other day. This is the type of track where that group needs a vast improvement, and neither Biffle nor Matt Kenseth has been that good there.

We know the guys who generally are going to be good at Martinsville — Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin, etc. Their records speak for themselves at the short track.

But there are plenty of drivers who want to crash that party, and there are only a few ways to do that at Martinsville. So strap in tight this weekend and get ready for lots of action — and a few drivers who might explode.


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