There are certain Sprint Cup tracks where race wins seem to be more valued than most. Daytona and Darlington obviously fit into that category, along with Indianapolis and Charlotte.
And then there’s Martinsville. It’s the tour’s shortest track but certainly not its easiest. The track’s two 500-lap grinds each season demand persistence and patience, and visits to victory lane are not easy to come by.
Only four drivers – Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson – in the current top 10 in points own Martinsville wins. Among drivers still looking for victory No. 1 at the track are point leader Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.
The paper-clip-like track has been particularly brutal on Kenseth, who has only two top-five runs in 24 races there. Last fall, his Chase hopes were battered at Martinsville.
“Actually, I like Martinsville, and if I were a fan, it would be one of the top five or six race tracks I would want to go to see a race,” Kenseth said. “It has been one of those places that has been mentally tough on me. But I will say it has been better for me the last few times.”
Kenseth was sixth at Martinsville in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 a year ago and had a shot at winning in the spring of 2010 before late-race calamity pushed him back to 18th.
“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 be patient and smart and be there at the end,” Kenseth said.
Earnhardt Jr. almost logged his first Martinsville win – and picked up his first Grandfather clock, the track’s traditional trophy – last spring before Harvick passed him with four laps to go.
“Kevin just flat out whipped us and won the race,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We didn’t screw up. He just came on and drove by us. I kind of got over that part of it, because I don’t know how I could have beaten him. He was so good.”
One of the challenges at Martinsville is the tight pit road, one that forces drivers and teams to be on top of their games.
“It’s a short-track, so things are kind of slowed down,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “The speed on pit road is pretty slow. You don’t see quite as many accidents as you would imagine on pit road. You get boxed in a lot, and that causes you to lose a lot of time on pit road to somebody who boxes you in.
“They did a good job at that track to provide a decent place to get your pit stops done at such a small event.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.