NASCAR & Auto Racing

Weather's better, so teams and fans back in business at Martinsville

The weather in southwest Virginia has been much better Saturday than on Friday, allowing NASCAR teams to go to work and fans to take in the action at Martinsville Speedway.

The all-day rain that washed out on-track activities Friday at Martinsville Speedway wasn't much fun for fans who wanted to see Sprint Cup and Truck Series practice and qualifying for Sunday's Tums 500.

But Jeff Burton had to admit it wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to him.

"I am a little concerned that my best average qualifying position here is when we don’t qualify," joked Burton, who comes into the sixth of 10 weekends in the Chase for the Sprint Cup second in the championship standings, 69 points behind Jimmie Johnson.

Friday's rain leaves Johnson with the No. 1 starting spot as well as the first selection of pit stalls, which is no small advantage at this .526-mile track. But it also puts Burton on the outside of Row 1 for Sunday, and that's better than Burton is used to here.

Burton has never started on the front row in 28 Cup races at the track. He has started third three times, but since the last time he did that in the spring race in 2001 he's started better than 18th only twice.

"Honestly, I came here today not looking forward to the questions about how I was going to finish and run any good from qualifying back there," Burton said. "I already had an answer in my mind.

"It's really exciting that all the guys that are racing for the championship start the race together. I think that adds a level of excitement and intensity. If I can keep him (Johnson) from leading the first lap, and maybe he won't lead any laps. If he can keep me from leading a lap, then maybe I won't lead any laps. Right off the bat there's a little bit of intensity there that I think is healthy.

"It changes the weekend for sure. ...I think it puts the focus especially on a short track, I think it puts the focus right on us. I think that's good for the fans. The cool thing is I think we respect each other a great deal as drivers and we'll race each other smart, but also hard, and we'll get to do that from Lap 1. I think that's pretty cool."

The other side, of course, is Johnson. He's started worse than 18th only three times in 13 Martinsville races. Perhaps more significantly, though, is the fact that Johnson has finished no worse than ninth in the past 12 of those races, with four wins and five other top-five finishes in that span.

"I was thinking along the lines that it's too bad we're all starting together because we could all be spread out," Johnson said. "It could be a situation where somebody couldn't overcome the track position. ...I think our qualifying effort would have been really strong and there may have been a chance to shake it up.

"But this is a long race. The thing about this track is you're going to lose track position at some point, maybe two or three times throughout the race, depending on the strategies that take place."

Greg Biffle, who trails points Johnson by 86 points, will start third alongside Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards on Row 2.

But seriously, folks ...

Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't take credit for coming up with the line of the day from Friday's media sessions, but he was the one who passed it along.

As he and Greg Biffle were being asked about impact the country's economic issues might have on racing, Earnhardt Jr. said someone told him a joke about it this week.

"He said it was even worse than being divorced," said Earnhardt Jr., who has never been married. "He had lost half of everything he had, but he still had his wife."

The driver's remarks weren't entirely frivolous, though.

"The economy is in a dire situation," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It is pretty severe and there is a good chance it is going to continue to get worse, I don't see how it can not affect every corner and every piece of the puzzle.

"Everyone who drags a race car to the track knows you don't do it to make money and ... if you are lucky, you break even doing it. It is a severe issue for all of us as drivers, owners. Every person walking in the garage needs to have a greater understanding of what their position is and a plan of action. ...It doesn't look like there is any relief anytime soon."

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