This Week in Ford Racing April 8, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup The number of cars making up the starting field at Martinsville Speedway has varied over the years. In the '70s and '80s, there were no more than 32 cars in any NASCAR Winston Cup race...
This Week in Ford Racing
April 8, 2003
NASCAR Winston Cup
The number of cars making up the starting field at Martinsville Speedway has varied over the years. In the '70s and '80s, there were no more than 32 cars in any NASCAR Winston Cup race at the half-mile oval. In 1993, that figure rose to 34 and from '94-'96 it increased to 36. The field expanded again in the 1997 season to 42 cars, and ever since 1998 there have been 43 starters. What is the ideal number of cars for Martinsville? Ford Racing asked some of its veteran drivers what their thoughts were on the issue.
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus
WHAT WOULD BE THE OPTIMUM NUMBER OF CARS TO HAVE A GOOD RACE AT MARTINSVILLE? "In this day and time 30 would be plenty there. Even when they used to have 30 (like back in 1975 when Rudd competed with that number of cars in the field), there wasn't 30 good cars. There might have been four or five and the slow cars and fast cars might have been separated by three-quarters of a second. Now two-tenths separates them, so it's a whole lot more crowded now on that track than it used to be - other than cars are smaller and shorter. If you've had problems and have to start at the back of the field, you can literally see the leader in your rearview mirror when the race starts off. Then again, if you're leading the pack, you see the back of the pack when the race starts. It's not as bad now because you have two grooves at Martinsville. They just fixed that. It happened by accident this last race, but that has made things a little more forgiving because the inside and outside lanes are pretty equal to one another on speed."
SOME GUYS HAVE SAID 43 ARE TOO MANY, BUT IT'S NOT FAIR TO SEND GUYS HOME EITHER. "That's a lot of cars on the race track, but it just tries the driver's patience a lot more - at Martinsville and Bristol. Richmond isn't an issue, but Bristol is an issue and so is Martinsville. It's very important because I'm sure Pat will make a lot of decisions on Sunday debating about where you are. You don't want to be at the back of the pack with a good car because the leaders will be out there in clean traffic and you might find yourself just trying to stay on the lead lap. You can get out of sync on a pit stop or come in and put on four tires. I think the last couple times up there people didn't get tires like they used to and a lot of guys stayed out."
THE PAVING JOB HAS HELPED IN YOUR OPINION? "When they worked on the race track, they slowed it down. The preferred line is on the bottom and always has been, but that took grip out of the bottom of the corner. The exit speed out of the corner slowed down, so what it did was even up the inside and outside lanes on the stopwatch. In race trim now, the two lanes are fairly equal to one another. It's almost like a Richmond where you have two lanes of racing. Martinsville always had an outside lane, but it wasn't the fast lane. You'd go out there if you had to, but it wasn't the fast lane. Now they're equal, so it's made a difference and changed the whole complexion of the race track. That has help alleviate the situation of having 43 cars out there."
NOTE: Rudd made his Martinsville debut on Sept. 25, 1977 in the Old Dominion 500 and finished 27th in a 30-car field.
MARK MARTIN - No. 6 Viagra Taurus
MATT KENSETH SAID LAST WEEK THAT 43 CARS WERE TOO MANY ON SHORT TRACKS. YOUR THOUGHTS? "I said that from the first time they ever did it. Having 43 cars is ridiculous there, but sending people home is ridiculous, too. I contend we shouldn't be racing there because 43 is too many and sending cars home is wrong, so there you have it. That's the bottom line. The only thing you can do is run 43 because you can't send all those good cars home if you're gonna race there."
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS A GOOD NUMBER FOR A PLACE LIKE MARTINSVILLE? "I recall 34 and that was obviously better than 43. Bristol is the same way - 43 is way too many there, but what are you gonna do? You've got to start 43 cars, but I think 30 or 32 cars would be plenty."
WHAT IS THE TOUGHEST ELEMENT TO CONTROL THERE? "It used to be brakes, but it's not really anymore. Technology has come to the point where it's not really a factor. Now it's just keeping from getting wrecked and handling. It's hard to stay off of one another there and stay out of other people's accidents."
NOTE: Martin finished 3rd out of 30 cars in his first Martinsville event, which was the Old Dominion 500 on Sept. 27, 1981.
DALE JARRETT - No. 88 UPS Taurus
WHAT DRIVER SKILLS ARE NEEDED AT MARTINSVILLE VERSUS MAYBE SOME OTHER TRACKS? "It's a difficult race track. There are so many things that you have to do there as a driver. You can have a really good car, but if you're not careful and you wear it out and use it up, then you're not gonna be there to show that at the end of 500 laps. There are so many things that you can abuse. You can turn the engine too many RPM's, you can burn the brakes up, you can beat the fenders off of it and get yourself in bad position there, so, yeah, there's a lot that a driver has to do to make sure that you have something to race with at the end. If you run in there and you're hitting the curbs all the time, then you're gonna knock the toe-in out or in - one of the two - you're gonna mess it up. So you have to really do your job as a driver to try to keep the wheels going straight and keep the tires on it all day."
DO YOU HAVE MORE OF AN INFLUENCE THERE AS A DRIVER? "Absolutely, and it's very difficult trying to make a pass there with all the cars so equal now. You have to work hard as a driver there. It's as tough as what Bristol is physically and mentally all day. You just work your tail off all day. It's a fun race, but you work hard." IS 43 CARS TOO MANY? "I don't know that I would say too many because if we cut it back, then that's sending people home and I don't want to do that. You understand that's what you've got to work with and you make the most of that."
IS THAT WHY THERE HAVE BEEN 11 DIFFERENT WINNERS IN THE LAST 11 RACES AT MARTINSVILLE? "Yeah, you have to have a lot of good fortune and have things go your way like making the right calls. I've not won races that I thought I had a car capable of doing it and, actually, the day I won the race there we got fortunate in that we made an adjustment on our car late thinking that was our last pit stop and we were going on from there and the adjustments, coupled with the set of tires that we put on it were terrible, and we got another caution. We came in and pitted and that worked to our benefit by having better tires on at the end, so, sometimes you just have to be lucky. Track position and being able to keep yourself out of trouble and not abuse everything for 500 laps there is quite a job."
NOTE: Jarrett made his NASCAR Winston Cup debut at Martinsville on April 29, 1984 in the Sovran Bank 500 and finished 14th in a 31-car field.