Tom Jensen | Posted March 29, 2011 Charlotte, NC
NASCAR’s diversity plan seems to be working. No, not that diversity plan, though it seems to be chugging along just fine.
The victory lane diversity plan.
So far in 2011, there have been five races run on very different race tracks:
Daytona International Speedway, a restrictor-plate superspeedway.
Phoenix International Raceway, a one-mile flat oval.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile intermediate track.
Bristol Motor Speedway, a 0.533-mile high-banked short track.
And Auto Club Speedway, a 2-mile intermediate track.
Those five races have produced five different winners from five different teams: Trevor Bayne (Wood Brothers Racing), Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports), Carl Edwards (Roush Fenway Racing), Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Kevin Harvick (Richard Childress Racing).
It’s not yet as impressive a streak as when 10 different drivers in a row won last summer, but it’s getting there.
In all likelihood, Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway ought to produce a sixth different winner this time out. The clear favorites, of course, are Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, who have combined to win 10 Martinsville races, including the last nine.
But don’t overlook some other drivers who might have a big say in what goes on at the tiny 0.526-mile Martinsville paperclip.
If Hamlin or Johnson somehow falters, look for Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman to step up.
Stewart is a two-time Martinsville winner and has led 1,194 laps at the track, an impressive total, to be sure. And Newman has been one of the season’s quiet surprises, posting three top-five finishes in the last four races after leading the most laps at Daytona.
Newman said Martinsville, despite being the shortest and slowest oval in the Sprint Cup Series, is brutally hard on equipment.
“In itself, Martinsville being Martinsville, is part of it,” Newman said when asked about the dominance of Hamlin and Johnson. “The other part of it is the drivers have to really modulate that brake pedal which is another part of it. You can have the best car there and burn the brakes off it is and finish 35th. I have actually blown two tires out, melted the beads on two tires at one time and blew both of them at the same time which I thought was pretty cool afterwards.”
Three times in his last four starts, Newman has finished seventh or better at Martinsville. He’s looking to take it up a notch this weekend.
“We’ve been good there, we have been really good, especially on Fridays and we seem to start off a little slow on Sundays and end up in the top five or top 10,” said Newman. “I think that last fall was going to be a good race for us had we not lost a gear because we were leading at the time. I think we have made some pretty big gains to try to catch those guys and surpass them.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.