The final short-track race of 1999 is scheduled to take place this weekend at Martinsville Speedway and there's a rather unique streak that is on the line. In the last 11 short-track events -- Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond -- there...
The final short-track race of 1999 is scheduled to take place this weekend at Martinsville Speedway and there's a rather unique streak that is on the line. In the last 11 short-track events -- Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond -- there have been 11 different winners. Ford drivers have won five of those races while Chevrolet has four victories and Pontiac two. Ford drivers weighed in with their opinion on why so many different drivers have found victory lane on tracks less than a one mile long.
DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- "I think that it's just that the competition is that good now. Somebody hits on something for a particular race, gets good track position at the end of a race. Maybe they weren't the best all day long, but I think there are just so many people. You talk about parity in other sports, I think we have that much here that when you get on short tracks where handling is the total key, that you don't have too many other things. Aero packages don't matter that much, the engine combination or having a lot of horsepower doesn't come into play that much, so you bring more people into the mix and that allows more opportunities for others to win."
RICKY RUDD --10-- Tide Taurus -- "I think you've gotta look at how close these cars run together now. It used to just be qualifying, but now you go to tracks like New Hampshire and during the race the whole field is almost within a tenth of a second of each other, so it's very competitive. Track position now means more than at any other time in racing history. I mean, your pit stops have really got to be right on so you don't lose and at least maintain or gain ground in the pits. I think there are quite a few teams that are capable of winning. The short track, I think it's much easier to have that closeness in the race because a track like Martinsville, Virginia, you can just about rule out aerodynamics. A track like Bristol, Tennessee, aero is a little bit of it but not much. So you get back to just the bare chassis and handling and shock absorber technology to build a good, strong, lightweight race car."
SO IS THE RACE TRACK AN EQUALIZER FOR SOME OF THE LESS-FUNDED TEAMS? "Anytime you get on a track where the speeds are down. Some of these teams are putting millions of dollars a year in an aerodynamic program and those millions spent make a big difference at a track like a Dover or a Charlotte or an Atlanta or a Michigan. You reap the benefits of a program like that, but that does absolutely no good for a Martinsville, a Bristol, a Phoenix, or a Loudon. At those type of tracks, that money is not money wisely spent."
JEFF BURTON --99-- Exide Batteries Taurus -- AS FAR AS THIS STREAK GOES, IS IT POSSIBLE THE SIZE OF THE TRACK IS AN EQUALIZER THAT GIVES SOME OF THE LESSER FUNDED TEAMS A CHANCE TO WIN? "It would surprise me that with the technology and everything that's in racing today, that there would be any race track that is an equalizer. Why would it be an equalizer? What would make it an equalizer because it's all built around handling? Well, I can make a case that more technology would be of more benefit at a place like that. I don't believe that, although statistics would indicate that short tracks make it more equal for everybody."
DO YOU HAVE ANY THEORY AS TO WHY THERE HAVE BEEN 11 DIFFERENT WINNERS? "I really don't know to be quite honest. I've thought about that a lot. I think it just shows the competitiveness of this series. It may be the experience of people -- everybody has experience on short tracks. Maybe that makes it the equalizer, the experience factor because a lot of people have run on short tracks in the past."
MARK MARTIN --6-- Valvoline-Cummins Taurus -- IS THIS JUST ANOTHER COINCIDENCE HAVING 11 STRAIGHT DIFFERENT SHORT TRACK WINNERS? "Absolutely, because Rusty should have won half of them because he's such a short track master. It's a coincidence that Rusty hasn't won more than one, that's for sure. It's real competitive right now, but it is everywhere. If you look at Winston Cup, the majority of the wins are by a few and that's pretty much how it is most of the time, but sometimes things just don't work out that way."
IS IT A CASE WHERE GUYS GROW UP ON SHORT TRACKS AND ARE MORE COMFORTABLE? "I don't think so. I grew up racing short tracks and I'm more comfortable on the one to two miles. I'm much more comfortable...they seem like real race tracks. On the short tracks, when you put 43 cars on them, is more like a game or something else. To me, racing has always been about the best guys doing the best jobs and when you put 43 cars on Martinsville it's tough, or 43 cars on Bristol. Even though the racing part of it is good at Bristol, the accident part and avoidance part is horrible there, but 43 cars on Richmond is sort of a different story. That race track is laid out and designed and works well for that many cars, but Martinsville is really, really, really tough. That's about 10 cars more than what you'd really like to see out there."
The following Ford drivers are candidates to extend the short track streak to 12. Here are their thoughts on this weekend's NAPA Autocare 500.
ELLIOTT SADLER --21-- Citgo Taurus -- DO YOU THINK YOU CAN MAKE IT 12 DIFFERENT WINNERS? "I don't know. My lack of experience at Martinsville, that's somewhere we did not run with the Busch car, so I don't really have that much time there, but I would love to make it 12. The team's probably good enough to do it, but probably not me yet. I'm not gonna try to force the issue. We just want to go there and make the show and run 500 laps at Martinsville and that's our goal. It's right there in Stuart (Va.), right there at home for all the Wood Brothers, home for Elliott Sadler. We just want to go there and be competitive. If we finish on the lead lap there, we're gonna call that a success from the way we ran there in the spring. The way we've been making improvements here the last two months, we think we can do that so we're looking forward to going back to Martinsville."
EVEN THOUGH YOU GREW UP ON SHORT TRACKS, IT'S A LOT DIFFERENT WITH THESE WINSTON CUP GUYS, ISN'T IT? "It is. It is short track racing and that's what we grew up on, but we didn't grow up manhandling 3400-pound cars with 700 horsepower and when you step in these kind of race cars you're stepping in these veterans' backyard. They've been doing this a long time on all kinds of different tracks, so it makes it hard for us rookies to come in there and actually manhandle for a long run. Yeah, we might be able to cut one or two laps and qualify good there, but it's tough to run with those guys on short tracks, it is for me. Until I get some experience of how to get the car to roll through the center and loose off. When I was behind those guys, I couldn't believe how they could control how sideways their car was for the whole race, but it's tough and we're learning. I grew up on short tracks, but I'm more comfortable on the mile and mile and a half tracks. I can't explain it, but that's just the way it goes."
JEREMY MAYFIELD --12-- Mobil 1 Taurus -- HOW ARE YOU AT MARTINSVILLE? "I like Martinsville. Martinsville is a good place. I've run in the top five there several times, but there are times I've run bad. So Martinsville has been good and bad to me. But I think what we know now and what we've learned about our race cars, I feel like we can go there and run good."
WHY DO YOU THINK THERE HAVE BEEN 11 DIFFERENT WINNERS? "It's just so competitive. There are a lot of good cars right now and a lot of good teams running good. It's just a case where everybody is heading in the right direction. If we can get our momentum going and just get a little luck we can do it. If we get a little bit of luck, we've got the team and the cars to do it."
JOHNNY BENSON --26-- Cheerios Taurus -- YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO MAKE THE STREAK 12 AT MARTINSVILLE. HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL? "You never know. I've run good there in the past, so that would be great. I don't know, it's just a matter of how things go and how the car unloads off the truck. If that's what we've gotta do to keep that tradition going, we're gonna do everything we can."
THERE SEEMS TO BE A TREND GOING WITH FIRST TIME WINNERS TOO. "Yeah, I was hoping Loudon would have worked out. We ran good and ended up seventh. I was doing everything I could, but Joe won it. At Dover we didn't have a car good enough to do it there, so it looks like we'll have to wait until Martinsville."
WHY DO YOU THINK THIS STREAK OF DIFFERENT WINNERS HAS GOTTEN SO LONG? "I think since everybody grew up on a short track there's no advantage or disadvantage to anybody there. I think it's just a matter of having a really good race car coming off the truck and then being able to fine-tune it the whole weekend. I think that's the key at Martinsville because coming from 30th isn't gonna happen. You've gotta be up there and qualify in the top 10. I think if you're in the top 10 and you've got a good race car, then things could shape up. I think that's the best opportunity."
Here is the list of drivers who have reached victory lane in the last 11 short-track events on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series:
1998 Food City 500 (Bristol) Jeff Gordon Goody's 500 (Martinsville) Bobby Hamilton Pontiac Excitement 400 (Richmond) Terry Labonte Goody's 500 (Bristol) Mark Martin Exide Batteries 400 (Richmond) Jeff Burton NAPA Autocare 500 (Martinsville) Ricky Rudd
1999 Food City 500 (Bristol) Rusty Wallace Goody's 500 (Martinsville) John Andretti Pontiac Excitement 400 (Richmond) Dale Jarrett Goody's 500 (Bristol) Dale Earnhardt Exide Batteries 400 (Richmond) Tony Stewart