NASCAR Race Weekend Central

News & Notes – Martinsville

*Tires Causing Concerns, Again*
For the second time in three weeks, tire concerns are dominating the weekend conversation leading into Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500. Much like two weeks ago in Bristol, Goodyear brought a new tire compound, but the new tire has failed to rubber in the track. Instead, the rubber is coming off the tire like a powder and not opening the groove.

“After 12 laps, everybody was kind of falling off pretty fast,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. “There was no rubber built up and there was a lot of marbles. You couldn’t get out of the bottom groove. You had to run right next to the curb. If you got in the marbles, it would ruin you. Once you got in the marbles, you ruined that set. I mean, there is no way to get them off. We don’t go fast enough here to really grind them off. It was messy. It was just real messy all day.”

For Earnhardt, it is no coincidence this is the second issue in three weeks for Goodyear.

“No, it is not coincidence,” he said. “I think there’s a good explanation for it. I talked to some people at NASCAR and got a good explanation and you guys can probably go get the response that I got and it made a little bit of sense. We’ve had some good events here and hopefully we’ll get lucky and the track will rubber up. But it’s not looking so good right now.”

Outside pole-sitter Ryan Newman said there is really no telling what the tire will do under race conditions and that has presented a unique to drivers and crew chiefs alike.

“From what I was told, [Goodyear] made a minor tweak to the tire and came here and I guess didn’t know the answer of what it was going to do. They speculated,” he pointed out. “It could change all over again tomorrow. That is the biggest question we all have in our head. What is the track going to do when we have 43 cars out there with the exhausts being down on the race track? Is it going to lay rubber or not? If it does, it is going to change a lot of things.

“I think it will take two different setups to be able to be successful in either of those situations,” Newman added. “Whether it rubbers up or whether it doesn’t and it continues to eat tires up throughout a run. The way it looks on paper, there is no way we could do even close to a fuel run tomorrow. But I think the track will change, I just don’t know how much and when that will happen. If that will happen on the first run or the last run of the race. We have seen places like Indy (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) until later in the race and I don’t think that is the same type of situation that we have but you never know if that is going to happen, if it does.”

Jeff Gordon said the issues were different than those seen two weeks ago in Bristol, but still caused some concern.

“The only concerning thing that I have is that we’re making tire changes without testing,” Gordon said. “And they keep coming back and saying they’re minor tire changes. So I don’t know. There are so many things that come along with tires changes these days, it’s not just a compound change or a construction change these days, there’s all kinds of different chemicals in the tires that we don’t know about. But I’m definitely a fan of if you’re going to make a tire change from the last time we were there; I’m a fan of a tire test. So that’s kind of the only thing I have to add to it.”

Looking ahead to the Camping World Truck Series, many drivers and crew chiefs expected the 35-truck field to lay rubber down over the course of 250 laps. That did not happen, however, as the tires continued to shed rubber in balls instead of laying into the track. The inside line was the best way around, as a number of trucks that got high ran over the marbles and struggled for the next few laps.

“I’ve never raced for third or fifth in my life, just so I didn’t have to start on the outside,” third-place finisher Ron Hornaday Jr. said. “If you were fourth or sixth or started on the outside, it was tough because the rubber would get on the tires and you would just fall back.

“Have you ever seen me let anybody pass me?” Hornaday asked. “I’m going down the straightway counting and then I’d stop and let somebody pass me to get behind them. That was the stupidest racing I’ve ever done here at Martinsville.”

Runner-up and Cup Series driver Kyle Busch was disappointed with the lack of rubber laid down on the track and said to expect wrecked race cars on Sunday.

“There’s no rubber on the race track. It’s all marbles and balls – that’s it,” Busch said.

“To be honest with you, I wish it would [rubber up] because it would make for better racing.” he said. “We could actually probably get two grooves going, but right now there’s one groove. If you run on the inside down the straightaway, you’re running through marbles. If you run on the outside in the corners, you’re running through marbles. There’s only one particular lane that you’re not running through balls of rubber then you just slide in the next corner. As soon as you get into the next corner you might as well just park it because you’re just going to go through the corner. I don’t see it getting any better tomorrow. Anything could surprise us, but I doubt it.”

Not expecting a competition caution from NASCAR, Busch said a lack of cautions would not be a problem.

“We’ll just wreck each other so we’ll make our own cautions,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll have to throw cautions because we’re blowing tires or anything like that. We’ll wreck ourselves.”

*Official: Raikkonen To NASCAR With KBM*
Kyle Busch Motorsports made it official on Saturday morning that former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen would run the May 20 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Previously rumored to be coming to NASCAR with help from Foster Gillett, KBM’s announcement on Saturday put those to rest.

“I am really excited to have the opportunity to start my venture into NASCAR with Kyle Busch Motorsports,” Raikkonen said in a team release. “Kyle is one of the best in NASCAR, and being able to draw on his knowledge will be a valuable asset as I make my transition to a new form of racing. He has put together an experienced team that builds fast race trucks. I look forward to being a part of a team that has proven to be a winner on and off the race track.”

The current deal in place is only for the May 20 race in Charlotte, but Busch explained Raikkonen is interested in running three to five races in 2011.

“Apparently there’s an interest in him that he wants to run in NASCAR,” Busch said. “He’s shopped it around to quite a few teams and apparently we won the war. It’s exciting for us at Kyle Busch Motorsports. Kimi, from what I understand, was real adamant about trying to work with me and our teams and being able to put a deal together to go out there and try to get him success in NASCAR. With our trucks, the way we’ve been running this year, he felt like that was a good place for him to come.”

Raikkonen’s transition to NASCAR will begin on Monday, when he will test a KBM truck at Gresham Motorsports Park. The test will be closed to the public and media, and Busch will not be in attendance.

*McMurray Scores Pole In Martinsville*
Chevrolet claimed the top two spots for Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville with Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman sitting on the front row. Running a lap of 19.621 at 96.509 mph, McMurray earned his first pole at Martinsville Speedway.

“We have a really good car,” McMurray said. “This is one of my favorite tracks. I’ve always loved coming to Martinsville. It’s a unique race track and I think the guys the guys that enjoy coming here typically run well. We had a really good car in race trim yesterday. We struggled in qualifying trim. Bono (Kevin Manion, crew chief) and the guys made a couple of small adjustments.

“I didn’t think I drove quite hard enough, but in practice it was so easy to slide the tires and I felt like I was better off to just take what I could get and not try to get too much,” he added. “It was a good run for our Widia Chevrolet, the first race with this sponsor. It is a really bright car, be cool to have it up front. Excited with our run.”

Sitting second in points, Newman continued his early season success with his second-place run – his third top 10 start of 2011.

“I could tell that my first timed lap was a good one because I had hit the chip and I knew I ran a .77 yesterday and .62 was quick at the time when I hit the chip going into turn three,” Newman said. “I knew the first timed lap was really good. Just got a little bit free on my second timed lap which should have been a little bit faster I think it was four thousandths slower or a tenth slower. But either way, a good effort. I am proud of the guys to be sixth yesterday and step it up to second today. We’d have been fine if it wasn’t for McMurray.”

Kasey Kahne put his Red Bull Toyota third on the starting grid, while Joey Logano posted the fourth fastest time in a backup car. Four-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin was fifth fastest, while AJ Allmendinger, Bobby Labonte, David Reutimann, Kevin Harvick and Regan Smith rounded out the top 10.

When the No. 92 of Dennis Setzer withdrew after wrecking his only car in Friday practice, no cars were forced to race their way into the show. The qualifying time of Joe Nemechek was disallowed, however, after post-qualifying inspection found the car was too low.

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