The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series comes off a break for Easter weekend by heading into Martinsville Speedway, the track that has been on the NASCAR schedule since its first sanctioned race on July 4, 1948.
The current leader in points, Dale Earnhardt Jr., had much to say about the unique paperclip configuration of the .526-mile racetrack with 12-degree banking.
Earnhardt, along with 42 top NSCS drivers, will get the green flag for the STP Gas Booster 500 at 1:00 p.m. April 7. All expect fast short-track action.
Fans in the 65,000 seats in Ridgeway, Va., and those watching on Fox this Sunday, might want to check out Earnhardt's select thoughts about the fabled paperclip track.
While on recent a NASCAR teleconference, Earnhardt covered many subjects, but about Martinsville he elaborated on six topics: history, rookies, short tracks, momentum, adjusting and 600 starts.
Earnhardt's comments are presented in complete form.
The history of Martinsville
Martinsville has a long history, and Earnhardt appreciates history.
"Just driving into the racetrack, helicoptering into the racetrack you get a good sense just being able to see it all from one point of view, seeing the entire complex," Earnhardt said. "But when you drive in when the weather is bad and we drive up in the morning, just turning into that road, nothing has changed. You park your car in the driveway of the first house on the corner. That house has been there for I don't know how many years, just everything about the entrance and your first impressions bring you back to the mid '70s and things look pretty much the same.
"The only thing that really reminds you of where you're at and what decade it is the model of the cars in the parking lot and all the souvenir rigs and all that stuff going on. But the grounds themselves really haven't changed that much.
"I love race tracks like that. Every track has something about it that you like or something characteristic about it that you enjoy. But Martinsville is just a fun place, really fun track to race on. I think the fans get a great event. They get a great show when we're there. I think it's a good ticket between it and Bristol and Richmond. It's some of the best short track racing in the country that you can see. I feel like it's always a lot of fun."
Running into everything as a rookie
Martinsville is especially challenging for a rookie, and Earnhardt was swift to share his first experiences.
"You would think that it fits right in your wheelhouse because of the style of track it is and the type of racing you do," Earnhardt said. "I remember the first several races I ran there, I ran into everything. I ran into other race cars, walls, pace cars, just about everything that could be ran into, I found it.
"And you know, it was real frustrating because I had thought of myself as a short track driver, and I thought that I had honed these skills on these short tracks in the Southeast, and this should be where I excel the most."
Earnhardt expounded on this short-track reality.
"Short track racing can really allow you to get carried away with yourself, and you forget," Earnhardt said. "Last year, we would run 100 laps and I'd have the car torn all to hell down both sides and have to remind myself this is a longer event than you realize, and you've really got to preach patience to yourself and really rein in your emotions and your excitement because you just really want to get in there and gouge every corner, but there's just not enough race car to do that for 500 miles."
Taking momentum into Martinsville
All should agree that the No. 88 team has momentum in 2013, but Earnhardt was more concerned at the task at hand.
"That race track isn't quite the momentum racetrack you think," Earnhardt said. "If you get some clear room and a bit of space between you and your competitors, you can get into a rhythm where you're doing things repetitively from corner to corner that are working and that gives your car speed, and you'll find a line that you like and you'll just continue to repeat that or do little tweaks on it each time you go through the corner and find things that work and don't work.
"So it's not really more about momentum there as it is about repetition, finding things that work on entry, through the middle and off the corner that work lap after lap, and as the track changes, that all where you need to be running and where your car wants to run changes and where the rubber gets laid down.
Adjusting to the paperclip
Adjusting to 23 different racetracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit is what every NSCS driver must master. Earnhardt explains in detail how to adapt at Martinsville.
"So you do a lot of adjusting," Earnhardt said. "Run after run after run on what you're doing in the corners and being able to put repetition together and do things consistently corner after corner, and then you're going to so you run a guy down, you've got to change everything you're going to get by him and go back to what works. Being able to do that is important. A lot of guys might struggle with being able to go back to what they were doing. They might just end up totally forget what they were doing when they get into some traffic. But it's the guys that can really discipline themselves inside the car and not over drive it and not really get to seeking all over the racetrack.
"You've got to be flexible and open minded to where your car wants to be and where it wants to run, but when you do find what works, you've got to be able to repeat it over and over without getting too greedy about getting into the corner faster or trying to get into the throttle sooner, doing things like that.
About 600 starts
This weekend, Earnhardt will be making his 600th start at Martinsville Speedway.
"I take a lot of pride in what I've accomplished over the years," Earnhardt said. "I'm proud of the two Nationwide championships, the wins in both series and having worked with a lot of talented people. And it's an honor to have the fan support that I do. I like that I'm able to do what I do for a living. Hopefully there's another 600 in there."
Another quest for 600 starts begins after Sunday.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.