Martinsville Tests NASCAR Changes & Jimmie Johnson Fatigue

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By: Melissa S. Wollering

NASCAR drivers will use the spoiler in competition for the first time at Martinsville Speedway this Sunday since the new car’s debut in 2007. Martinsville doesn’t present any major handling issues, so the first real test probably won’t come until Texas later next month. But Martinsville is a paper-clip shaped short track and is one of Jimmie Johnson’s best—likely to keep his reign of terror alive.

This past week: Dale Earnhardt Jr’s tirade about his speeding penalty at Bristol gets overhyped, Carl and Brad simmer down since their crash, and as always we preview the top contenders for the week.  So put down your brackets for a wee bit, while we preview Martinsville!

After much hype about the use of the spoiler in competition starting this Sunday, there probably won’t be very much hype once the race actually starts. At least 41 drivers participated in testing at Charlotte this week and they couldn’t tell much of difference.

Last week, NASCAR trimmed two inches off the spoiler that will now replace the wing. They also reduced the size of the restrictor plate hole, hoping it decreases speed to the mid-190’s.  Drivers say they will probably be able to notice the results over time, rather than immediately. Perhaps the first real test will come April 18 in Texas, a track where the handling of the car could be more of an issue.

What could you, the fan, see as a result of the spoiler?  Maybe more side-by-side racing because cars should feel more stable with the spoiler and the part should also create a higher drag. Cars should also stick better in the corners. Honestly, I think fans just want these changes to slow Jimmie Johnson down.  Can’t say I blame them.

The drama is finally subsiding around Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards after Edwards intentionally wrecked Brad late in the race at Atlanta three weeks ago.

The drivers met last Saturday prior to the Nationwide Series race qualifications, pushing their qualies back a bit.  The outcome? Both acknowledged they race hard and they race similarly.  Both said they’d make an effort to give each other more racing room. Aww…shucks, hug each other won’t you?

And despite the way the media has portrayed it, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his Crew Chief are totally up for hugging.  Well, at least shaking hands. Some choice words were spoken last week at Bristol when Jr. was issued a speeding penalty that dropped him from 5th to 26th with 180 laps remaining out of the 500. Jr.’s Crew Chief Lance McGrew yelled right back at him and insists he did it to get Jr. refocused on the finish. Reporters are using the incident to pick apart the relationship between the two and they’re blowing it out of proportion.

What I find funnier is that Earnhardt used the opportunity to blast NASCAR’s governing body for the way it determines speeding penalties.  And he has a point. Earnhardt was miffed that Mark Martin gunned the gas moving towards his pit stall, but that Earnhardt’s penalty was issued because he exceeded pit-road speed coming out of his stall. Each saves time, each should be penalized is his argument.

Now to Martinsville, for your weekly Sprint to The Chase Preview, breaking down the top contenders.  Each week I analyze their strength for the race at hand as well as their chances for The Chase!  Foot, pedal, gas, throttle, green flag…

Denny Hamiln. Denny generates speed when he’s at Martinsville and he considers it his home track, too.  He won at this track last fall. Despite not finishing in the top 10 in any event yet, he place first in power rankings in fantasy stats up to this point and you know you want to believe in the fantasy. So maybe, maybe…

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He’s had a quietly consistent season actually! He’s already 8th in points and despite a few pit road speeding penalties, he’s been on the brink of some top finishes. Martinsvilled is also one of Earnhardt’s best tracks on the circuit. He’s been there 20 times and has 8 top-five finishes. He’ll be racing a car that was literally built for this event, too, with his vehicle courtesy of Crew Chief Lance McGrew.

Kevin Harvick or Jeff Burton. Both Richard Childress drivers tested well at Charlotte, posting top speeds.  Both are near the top in points. Both are consistent. Both have an equal shot at this track.

Matt Kenseth. I got nothing.  He’s just do for a win, darn it.

Predicted Winner: Jimmie Johnson. I’m sick of putting his name on here but this is the first time I cannot deny, he’ll probably win. Which is ironic because with the new spoiler put in place partially to slow his butt down, he’s gonna go ahead a smoke ‘em just to spite ‘em.

The numbers tell all.  He’s won over $2M over the span of his career here at Martinsville. He’s led more than 1500 laps on the track and he’s taken the checkered flag six times, including five of the last seven. He needs to lose, but it ain’t going to be this week.

No Way He’ll Win: Kurt Busch. He says he likes the changes to the car thanks to the spoiler. He had a better vehicle than Jimmie Johnson last week at Bristol. He led a season-high 278 laps.  Unfortunately, Johnson smoked him on the restart gutting his chances of victory lane. Busch responded by punching his car with his fist and swearing up a storm.  Oooh….nasty!

Busch displays the symptoms of a condition many drivers are suffering; #48 fatigue. However he won’t beat the man at his game here this week. Busch isn’t good at Martinsville, it is one of this worst tracks on the circuit.

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