Martinsville a formidable opening challenge for Eliminator 8 in Chase


For those still standing in the Chase, there’s something more than a grandfather clock on the line today at Martinsville Speedway.

Not to say that the clock – previously manufactured for decades in the track’s home city of Ridgeway, Virginia and given to all Martinsville winners – isn’t a worthy prize on its own.

But a win in today’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 for any one of the eight drivers in the Eliminator Round also means the chance to put themselves on the biggest stage of all: Next month’s championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

However, regardless of whether a Chaser or a non-Chase competitor wins today, they’ll have definitely earned their money. NASCAR’s biggest track, Talladega, may be considered by many observers as the wild card every post-season run, but Martinsville – NASCAR’s shortest track – can be every bit as diabolical.

The track’s owner, International Speedway Corporation, has dubbed Martinsville as the “Half-Mile of Mayhem.” You can’t accuse them of false advertising.

To succeed at Martinsville takes so many things. There’s the physical aspect – slinging your car around two flat turns 1,000 times with mere seconds to rest on the straights. And there’s the mental aspect – keeping your cool when your rivals constantly beat on the sides and back bumper of your car.

“It’s a difficult race track that requires a balance of finesse and focus and aggression that is really unlike other tracks,” one of the Eliminator 8, Carl Edwards, said on Friday. “If you watch these restarts from an in-car camera view, you can’t see past the guy in front of you and there are guys up there bumping and banging and hitting the curbs. If you get pushed out of the groove, there are all these marbles up there and you do everything you can just to merge back into traffic without getting wrecked.

“It’s a long race. If you watch the guys after the race when they get out of their cars, most of us will be sitting down and be breathing heavy.  It’s a physical, tough race track. It’s not like Talladega, where you’re waiting around for something to happen. There’s always something happening here and you’ve got to be vigilant and focused the whole time.”

That’s something any dyed-in-the-wool NASCAR fan can appreciate: Hard-nosed action, with drivers constantly riding the edge between chaos and control.

None of the Eliminator 8 can afford to fall into chaos. As another Chaser, Denny Hamlin, said himself on Friday, one ill-timed moment – self-inflicted or otherwise – can ruin your season now.

In addition to flaring tempers and potential Chase-changing moments, we also have to keep an eye on the non-Chase competitors that can steal a win and change the Chase by 1) erasing an automatic berth in the Championship Race; and 2) ensure that at least two of the Eliminator 8 can make Homestead on points if necessary.

As Kyle Petty himself noted this past week on NASCAR AMERICA, all but one of the eight eliminated Chasers has earned a victory this season. Considering we’re at Martinsville, eight-time track victor Jimmie Johnson immediately comes to mind as a major threat from that group. Then there are other potential interlopers such as pole sitter Jamie McMurray and Ganassi teammate/super-rookie Kyle Larson (starting 12th).

Altogether, we should be in for a superb, short-track afternoon.