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Rusty Nails It: Tony has tamed Martinsville

4/12/2006

The reason Tony Stewart has performed very well at Martinsville was due to the testing he did last year at the track. I happened to be at Martinsville at the time when Stewart tested, and his team hit on something. During that two-day test, all the things he was unsure about, they figured it out. Stewart figured out what brakes, springs and shocks they wanted to use and got the car to perform the way Tony wanted it to. Ever since that test, Tony has been amazing at Martinsville.

Tony also had a successful test at the start of the 2005 season at Michigan. They figured out suspension points, spring shocks and he's been on a role ever since that test session. He'll tell you today what he learned last year at Michigan carried him for the 2005 season.

Stewart now has two wins at Martinsville, which is a track he didn't use to like. A track I used to despise was Daytona because I always crashed and never could get my car to handle right. But we kept working on aerodynamics, the shocks and springs because it became evident what the trends were at Daytona. Cars would get very tight in the race off Turn 2 and I never worked hard enough on that and I got myself in trouble.

We started working on the aerodynamics and concentrating on the exits of Turn 2 knowing what was going to happen, and ever since I had some of my best finishes at Daytona. I never won the Daytona 500, but in my heart I should have won it three times. I went from hating it to loving it.

I did notice something very strange last week at Martinsville. The bump and run, which started happening about four or five years ago. (Bump and run is when you hit a driver in the left rear quarterpanel and knock his car sideways. While he tries to wiggle up the track, the driver who bumped then runs underneath and makes a pass.)

Everybody was doing it at Bristol two weeks ago, but at Martinsville I saw Tony Stewart beating the daylights out of the 48 car for three or four laps. I then saw the 48 car doing it back to the 20.

The pace was so fast at Martinsville that everyone was losing breaks. The cars keep going faster and faster at Martinsville every year, so brakes become more important. I saw the 17 and 32 lock up the rear brakes, and my old No. 2, now driven by Kurt Busch, got locked up. I've never seen so many brake failures and never seen such aggressive driving like I did last week at Martinsville. Ironically, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth with right front corner of his car missing. The brakes were getting so hot that when that front end was ripped off all that fresh air went right to that tire and kept the brakes cool. That probably wasn't a bad thing for him.

As aggressive as last week was, I wouldn't doubt if NASCAR stepped in and told the drivers they were a little over the line. We want aggressive driving so the fans stay excited, but they were over the line.

Speaking of Earnhardt Jr., I absolutely see him finishing in the top 10. They've ran well this year. He's been hot and cold, but I believe he's just got to smooth out some of his rhythm. I don't think you are going to see another year of Dale not being in the top 10. He is back together with his crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., and I expect him to be in the top 10.

As for the rest of the chase, I see everything as usual right now. Stewart is running well and the Hendrick cars are strong. The rest of the field does jump all over the place, and I see some strange things going on with the Roush camp. It was real refreshing to see Jamie McMurray get back on track last week with the team he was dying to get to and have a great qualifying run and finish in the top 10. Greg Biffle ended up crashing the car by himself because of a real aggressive move. Mark Martin, who has had a good handling car all season, had a bad handling car in Virginia. I'm seeing a little inconsistency out of the Roush camp.

This week it's on to Texas and the Samsung/Radioshack 500. After two weeks of short track racing, the drivers' mind set will go back to a mixture of California (Speedway) and Atlanta. Texas is all about speed, down force, and keeping the nose real low to the ground and the back of the car real high in the air. You will see the teams working hard trying to get that nose low and the rear end of the car up so they get as much down force and better cornering speed. It's all about handling and horse power because Texas is a track that takes a lot of power.

My worst memory of Texas was the inaugural race when Turn 4 was so flat that everyone was crashing into the wall, including myself. The next year, Turn 1 was pouring water out of it. Texas Motor Speedway was controversial for a while but they did a total revamp and ever since then that race track has been fabulous, a fun race track to drive.