MARTINSVILLE, VA. (March 28, 2001) -- For the most seasoned Winston Cup veteran, Martinsville Speedway can be a nightmare. For a rookie it can be even worse. That's why four Winston Cup rookies spent the last two days turning as many laps as ...
MARTINSVILLE, VA. (March 28, 2001) -- For the most seasoned Winston Cup veteran, Martinsville Speedway can be a nightmare. For a rookie it can be even worse.
That's why four Winston Cup rookies spent the last two days turning as many laps as possible on Martinsville Speedway's difficult .526-mile oval. Raybestos Rookie of the Year hopefuls Kevin Harvick, Andy Houston, Kurt Busch and Jason Leffler joined 11 more drivers over a two-day period testing for the April 8 Virginia 500 Winston Cup race at Martinsville. Harvick, Houston and Busch had all run laps here in the past in other divisions, but Leffler was a true Martinsville rookie. "This is the first time I've ever been here," said Leffler, driver of the Cingular Dodge owned by Gnassi Racing. "I've enjoyed it so far. It's kind of a neat track. I'm sure it's gonna get a lot more crowded when you get 42 other cars out there."
Busch has been on the other end of the rookie spectrum at Martinsville Speedway this week. Unlike Leffler, Busch has had a fair amount of time on-track at Martinsville. He competed in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race here last spring and made his Winston Cup debut last fall in the Old Dominion 500. "We've had some seat time here in the past," said Busch, who drives an unsponsored Ford for Roush Racing. "But every lap you make here, you feel more comfortable. It feels more like a race track than two drag strips with turns. We're just having a good time making a bunch of different changes and we're making good progress on our qualifying runs." Like Busch, Houston also has plenty of seat time at Martinsville. He's run NASCAR Craftsman Truck races here along with Late Model Stock events. And he 's been coming to Martinsville Speedway since he was a toddler, watching his father Tommy Houston run Busch Grand National races.
But Houston's familiarity with the track wasn't much of a help early in the two-day test. "Tuesday was a real struggle. We couldn't get any speed out of the car," said Houston, who drives the McDonald's Ford. "We kinda got a late start. We had a brand new car here, then we struggled getting speed after that. Then I spun out and hit the inside wall. "But today we're doing pretty good. We fixed the car I hit the wall with yesterday and when we ran it today, it was real comparable to what the other guys were running. I guess the experience here is helping some, but when you build a new car and are trying to get all the bugs worked out and trying to get the thing to handle, that's a problem in itself." Harvick, as has been the case all season, led the rookie class in testing.
He made so much progress, he was able to hit the road early. "Everything has gone good for the last two days," said Harvick, who picked up his first Winston Cup race win at Las Vegas after taking over the Goodwrench Chevrolet. "We're going to go home and get a little bit of rest and go to Texas tonight. I've raced here a couple times in the trucks and we just wanted to come and make sure everything was going to be the same as what they had before for me and as it was for Dale."