by Jeff Hammond
Slow down and go fast.
That's my advice for rookies at Martinsville. The race track will sucker you into driving too hard into the corner, wearing out your brakes, sliding up the race track and getting yourself in trouble. It's a timing track. More than anything else, you've got to have finesse and respect the fact that having your foot off the brake and letting the car roll in the corner is so important.
A veteran like Rusty Wallace, who has been so successful on short tracks like Martinsville and Bristol, is one of the kings of knowing how to back off and letting the car roll down in the corner. Jeff Gordon is another great driver with car control who knows how to save his equipment. If you don't save your brakes, you can forget winning at Martinsville.
Wallace's Penske Racing teammate and Nextel Cup rookie, Brendan Gaughan, could easily be a factor this week. He did really well at Bristol after working closely with Wallace, and the 77 and 2 teams tested together again at Martinsville. Gaughan has raced at this track before in the truck series, and he understands a little more about it than he did Bristol before his Cup debut there last month.
It'll be interesting to see how Gaughan adapts with more horsepower because that gets a lot of kids in trouble. Even at a short track like Martinsville, a truck is like a natural air brake. It slows down and handles differently. A Cup car has more horsepower, and if you launch off of those corners, you find yourself at the end of those straightaways rather quickly. If he doesn't learn how to hit his marks, by backing off and understanding why a rev limiter is there, he'll wind up using up his piece before he gets through the race. In one of his first Martinsville races, Ryan Newman didn't back off and burned off his brakes pretty quickly.
At Martinsville, you've got to get enough rubber on the race track to really make a difference. When you test or practice up there, you're just trying to develop a rhythm. The people who win there always manage to get their cars to turn in the middle of the corner so they can run straight off the corner and take advantage of both of those rear tires. If you're running off the right rear tire, before long, you wear it out. If you're too tight, the left rear tire won't turn off the corner so you really have to hook up both rear tires off the corner.