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NASCAR: Old track poses new questions

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posted on Oct, 24 2004 @ 09:43 AM
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Rusty Wallace is the leader among active drivers at Martinsville Speedway with seven career victories, and even he's unsure how the track's new surface will respond to racing today. The surface has been commended by drivers this week for being smooth and fast, but questions remain about whether it will feature two grooves for racing when the Subway 500 in the Nextel Cup Series is run.

"I think there are a lot of unknowns right now," Wallace said.
The new surface, with concrete in the corners and asphalt in the straightaways, was put down this summer, after part of the concrete came loose in the spring race, possibly costing Jeff Gordon a victory.

New tracks typically present problems immediately after they are installed, largely because they haven't been raced on. Over time, small bits of rubber that come off tires will fill nooks and crannies in the surface, easing its grip on tires and allowing for more consistent racing. Among the concerns about Martinsville: Are the hunks of rubber coming off tires and being deposited along the outside walls creating a treacherous zone where cars should not venture? How feasible will passing be as the race goes on?

Drivers were watching to see how the track responded during a practice Saturday, and Jeff Green, for one, emerged still pessimistic.

"Everybody is running about the same speed and if you get off the bottom, it's seems like there's so much stuff on the outside it takes a lap to get your tires cleaned off," the Petty Enterprises driver said.

"It's going to be tough to pass, I think."

Changes, and questions, are among the last things Gordon wanted to have to deal with at a track where he has dominated in recent years, winning three poles and two races in the series' last three visits. Gordon, a four-time champion, is third in points, 74 behind Kurt Busch and 50 behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. halfway through NASCAR's 10-race playoff.

"We've got a new challenge on our hands," said Gordon, who starts 15th. "I don't think you can really predict who's going to be good and who's not."

There are those he has to assume will be good. In the first five playoff races, Busch and Earnhardt haven't finished outside the top five.

"They're running good everywhere," Gordon said Saturday. "It's our job to go out there and make something happen. This is a place that I think we can make something happen."

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