Martinsville: The hot dogs have changed but the racing hasn’t.

Greetings from beautiful Martinsville, Virginia . . . where the hot dogs have changed but the racing hasn’t.  Last year at this race, I totaled my car after running in the top five every lap until the last 20.  The race before that, I totaled the car right around half way through the race.  In short, I’ve only completed this race once in the last two years.  Me and Martinsville . . . we don’t get along.

So, to help prepare for this race, I bought myself a brand new race car and a specialty short track engine.  I studied the Cup races for the last two years.  I set the car up exactly like the car that I ran last year, right down to the tire and suspension settings.  I even ate three of the “new” hot dogs . . . which by the way aren’t near as good as the old hot dogs.

After the new car, I’m down under two million in the bank for the first time this year.  To make matters worse, the prize money for this race won’t make up for the money spent on the actual race . . . even if I win.  Even after sponsor money and endorsements, I’ll still be short.  So basically this is strictly a “let’s make the damage as small as possible by surviving” type of situation.

In the spirit of this, my game plan for this race is to do what is necessary to survive for as long as possible.  I’m going to hang out at the back, try to stay out of trouble, try to stay away from the trouble makers and the dudes who want to race way too hard way too early, and try to stay on the lead lap.  That’s it, that’s all I want to do.  If everything works out perfectly, by half way at least half of the cars will be one lap down or more, and maybe a few will even be off the track.  Then I can see what I can do about making my way up the field.

So, even though I qualified fourth, I start from the pits.  You know, I never will understand why they hold cars in the pits for the start of the race for so damn long.  I’ve got the fourth pit stall, and by the time I leave pit road, the leaders are right on my butt.  Two laps later, I’m in the thick of it as I let the field go by.  This was NOT the plan.  At least I know that I’m in prime position to take the free pass when the first caution comes out . . . and you know it WILL come out.  Its inevitable; like stinky feet on a hot day.

And I’m right.  Lap Six is the first caution and I get the Lucky Dog.  Yay inevitability!

To save time and my fingers, I’m not going to recap every caution of the race.  Lets just say, there were a lot of them.  A LOT.  17 cautions for 85 laps.  Yeesh.  I can’t review all those.  Sorry peoples.  But I will tell you that my plan for staying at the back did not last long.  By Lap 21, I’m already up to 12th.  How the heck did that happen?  And I can’t really go back because now the back of the field is full of wrecked cars who are too slow to stay ahead of the leaders for very long.  I even made it up to second at one point, and it wasn’t even past the 100 lap mark.  Ugh! Frustrating doesn’t quite cover it.

Martinsville: The more things change the more they stay the same.

So, new game plan.  I’m going to try to stay behind the non-damaged cars, but ahead of the lappers.  I do this yo-yo dance up and down the field every time the yellow flag waves . . . pitting extra times to try to stay out of the top 10.  And it works.  I stay clean, even when cars spin right in front of me and I have to do a left-right-left maneuver like a scene out of “Gone in 60 Seconds.”  And, as the cars fall out or get too wrecked to keep up, I climb.  By lap 100, I’m in the top 15.  By lap 125, I’m in the top 10.    By 150, I’m solidly in sixth with very few real challengers behind me.

The race is going so good, it’s almost easy to ignore the arguing going on over the radio.  You know, I don’t normally complain in these recaps, but sometimes you just have to say something.  This time, it was what I call the “Grandpa teaching the kiddies” effect.  We’ve got an older gentleman, who shall remain nameless, who’s had some issues and is finding it a little hard to keep pace.  And of course, this is Martinsville right?  There’s only one race groove and everyone wants in it.  So when this veteran refuses to move from the low groove, of course the squirrels in the room think it is their job to complain.  Loudly.  And grandpa just keeps on truckin’.  He’s not moving out of that groove.  And those of us who’ve been around the track a few thousand times know he doesn’t have to.  Sure, its the polite thing to do, but that doesn’t mean he HAS to do it.  He doesn’t.  If he wants to stick to that low groove and make everyone pass him high, he’s got a right to do it.  As long as he holds his line and keeps control, and as long as he makes EVERYONE go around on the outside, I don’t see what the problem is.  I made it around this gentleman several times without issue.

And yet, the squirrels just keep on chirpin’.  Life goes on.

Back to the story, we’re almost to Lap 200.  I’m still clean, and we’ve been getting some decent green flag runs in.  Things are looking pretty damn good.  But once again, this is Martinsville, I know better than to let my guard down.

And then it happens.  Contact.  Ugh.  My hood is bent up on the left front, right in my field of vision.  At least the car is still driving well, so I guess I avoided wheel damage.  I pit for tires with the rest of the field and the crew is able to bang the hood back down with a giant mallet.  How cool is that job?  “I bang on sheet metal with a big hammer.”  Awesome.

Maybe it made the car better.  That happens, right?  Lap 201 is my fastest lap of the race.  The car is amazing.  I’m up to second and nipping at the heals of first.

And then it happens again!  Contact on Lap 224 brings me into the pits again.  This time I drop all the way back to tenth, but on the restart I quickly start to climb again.  The car doesn’t roll the corners as well, but it is manageable and we’re on our way up again.  As the laps count down, I pick off the top 10 one at a time.  Like dominoes they fall before me.

We finish in third.  Overall, I’d have to say this was probably my best race here, possibly my best race of the year.  The winnings are enough to get the bank account back over the 2 million mark, but we’re still negative for the week.  If there’s a positive spin, we still have a good short track car for Bristol in two weeks.

I’ll take it.

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