Tight Martinsville may be bigger challenge

Teams and drivers got to practice at Bristol with the Car of Tomorrow, and that helped them learn what to expect. Martinsville is up this week, and with no testing done there, things could get wild. Terry Blount's Blitz

Updated: March 30, 2007, 4:04 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

If the Nextel Cup teams thought it was hard to get the Car of Tomorrow to turn at Bristol, wait 'til they get a load of Martinsville.

Jack Sprague (60), Johnny Benson (23), and Travis Kvapil (6)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images for NASCARNextel Cup drivers might consider asking Truck brethren like Jack Sprague, top, Johnny Benson, bottom, and Travis Kvapil how to wheel a car around Martinsville.

A high-speed turn in downtown Charlotte is easier to negotiate than the flat Virginia track.

The teams had 36 degrees of banking in the turns and 16 degrees on the straights to help them turn at Bristol. No such luck at Martinsville, a comparatively flat, paper clip-shaped short track.

The half-mile oval at Martinsville has no banking on the straights before the drivers make a sharp left onto only 12 degrees of banking in the turns.

It's difficult to make any car turn smoothly, but getting the new COT model to do it will take some major adjustments from the crew chiefs and their teams.

The COT doesn't turn easily. That's the biggest complaint from the drivers. It's bigger, boxier and has less downforce than the old model.

The Cup teams had test sessions to figure things out for Bristol, but Martinsville is new for everyone. The crew chiefs will earn their money this week with only two days to work on it.

Another problem is braking. No track is harder on brakes than Martinsville. Drivers are braking heavily 1,000 times in the 500-lap race. The brakes get white hot.

Since the COT is more difficult to turn, drivers are using the brakes more. Consequently, keeping the brakes from burning up is a real issue at Martinsville this week.

The Cup teams might seek advice from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck teams, which also are racing at Martinsville this weekend.

The handling characteristics of the COT are similar to those of the trucks. The NCTS has raced at Martinsville since the series started in 1995, so this is a weekend when the Cup teams can learn a lot from the truck racers.

It's a bit surprising only four Cup drivers -- Kevin Harvick, A.J. Allmendinger, Ken Schrader and Paul Menard -- are running in the Kroger 250 truck race Saturday.

Cup teams that run regularly in the truck series -- Roush Fenway, Wood Brothers and Bill Davis -- should have some notebook info they can use from past Martinsville races.

Hate is a strong word
Kyle Busch has a real love-hate relationship going on these days.

Busch standing in Victory Lane at Bristol and saying how much he hates the COT is strange considering how he always says how much he loves racing in the truck series.

Busch has four victories in a truck, which drives a lot like the COT. Busch should thank NASCAR for switching to the COT. Apparently it's the type of vehicle that plays to his skills as a racer.

Sponsors wanted
One thing hard not to notice in the IndyCar Series season opener at Homestead, Fla., Saturday night was the number of cars (more than a third of the 20-car field) that didn't have a primary sponsor on the side pods.

The list includes the two cars for Roger Penske, but Penske's situation is a little different. Contrary to some reports, it isn't due to federal tobacco laws limiting the involvement of Marlboro, Penske's long-time sponsor.

Philip Morris, Marlboro's parent company, still is sponsoring the team, but is taking a lower profile by removing its Marlboro brand name from the cars. The Philip Morris Web site includes a statement about the change:

"This is consistent with the company's efforts to reduce the overall profile of its cigarette brand marketing to the general public. Adult smokers on our mailing list and trade partners will continue to be invited by the Marlboro brand to IndyCar Series races around the country to support Team Penske."

The real Busch standings
Six races into the Busch season, the real points leader is Tasmanian rookie Marcos Ambrose. He is seventh in the standings, but six Cup regulars rank ahead of him.

Ambrose, Mike Wallace (ninth) and Bobby Hamilton Jr. (10th) are the only Busch regulars ranked in the top 14 in the standings.

Busch regulars are nearing extinction. Only 11 drivers who aren't full-time Cup competitors have raced in all six Busch events.

Interesting stat of the week
Two drivers who haven't competed in every Cup race -- Joe Nemechek and Johnny Sauter -- have guaranteed spots in the Cup race at Martinsville on Sunday.

Both men rank in the top 35, assuring them of a spot in the field.

Two drivers who have raced in all five Cup events -- Dave Blaney and Scott Riggs -- don't have a guaranteed spot. They both rank below the top 35.

One driver who deserves special recognition is Sterling Marlin. He started the season in a car that had to make the race on speed each week.

Marlin went 5-for-5 and now ranks 31st in the standings. Marlin goes to Martinsville knowing he's in the race without having to sweat it out.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

ALSO SEE