MARTINSVILLE, Va. The bump and run. The chrome horn. Rubbin’ is racin’.
Call it what you will, the use of NASCAR’s car of tomorrow at Martinsville Speedway has altered one of the short track’s time-honored techniques.
“If you’re trying to move somebody out of the way by bumping them, you’re just going to have to do it a little differently,” Ford driver Carl Edwards said of the tactic of nudging the rear bumper of a car to open the door for a pass in the tight-quarters racing found at Martinsville.
It became especially evident near the end of the season’s first Martinsville race that things would be different with the new car. Jeff Gordon hammered on teammate Jimmie Johnson’s rear bumper pretty hard as they dueled for victory, but Johnson managed to keep going and won the race.
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But Gordon said the move can still work.
“I was just being kind to my teammate or trying to go about it as gingerly as I possibly could without making it just ridiculous,” he said.
“At that point in the season, it wasn’t worth creating a huge stir because I still respect the heck out of Jimmie and we are teammates and we are friends. There was not the championship on the line at that point.”
Now, of course, there is.
Gordon comes into Sunday’s Subway 500 with a 68-point lead over Johnson in the Chase for the Nextel Cup standings, with Clint Bowyer in third just 10 points behind Johnson.
Gordon said that going into this week’s race he’s going to be working on making his car better in this track’s tight turns so that he can pass Johnson – or anybody else – without needing to bump him out of the way.
“But the bump and run still works, you just have to be more aggressive with it,” Gordon said.
“You can’t just go in there and tap a guy like you used to be able to because with the old car, the nose actually went under the bumper, lifted the rear tires and took a lot more grip away from the guy in front of you. So you didn’t have to touch him very hard. This car doesn’t do that, it just lunges them forward.
“So if you’re going to do that, which to me is a last-resort effort and something that I don’t want to do to anybody, but if you do you’re going to have to really hit them hard.”
But Bowyer said he believes the fact that it will be harder to use your car’s bumper might make the racing at Martinsville a little less aggressive.
“I got angry at a guy at Richmond and I was going to knock him out of the way. He had done the same thing to me,” Bowyer said. “It just kind of shoved him forward; I thought that was pretty cool.
“I think it is going to be better for us. When things get tense, sometimes that is a good show for the crowd. That seems to certainly be what the fans in the stands want to see, is us losing our minds and getting in to each other and rubbing. But it is still going to be the guy with four fenders on his car at the end of the race who is going to win.”
Johnson won last time, his second straight Martinsville win and his 10th straight top-10 finish at the track. Since the start of the 2003 season, Gordon and Johnson have combined to win seven of nine Martinsville races and both have finished in the top 10 every time.
"I think we’re getting smarter with how to bump people,” Johnson said. “You can be a little more forceful and we’ve all adapted to that now and can certainly make the bump and run work.
“You’ve really got to time it when you touch a guy. If you hit them too late, on the corner exit you’re just going to accelerate them and move them along.... But people get really, really sensitive about touching them on corner entry, so you’ve got to catch them early enough to where you don’t make them so mad and make them feel like you’re trying to wreck them. You’ve got to catch them just before the center and give them a little nudge and break their rhythm to the center of the corner."