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Spring weather! Sunny and warm one day, cold and drizzly the next. So Martinsville's 500 gets reset for Monday noon

  This ain't no way to have fun. Carl Edwards holds the umbrella for crew chief Bob Osborne (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   With Denny Hamlin looking ahead to knee surgery this week, another Jimmie Johnson-versus-Jeff Gordon Martinsville race will likely be in the offering, unless there are some surprises.
   A cold drizzle forced postponement of Sunday's Martinsville Goody's 500, set set for the green at 12 noon EDT Monday. It's the first Monday Cup race here since 2001; the last tour event postponed till Monday was at Watkins Glen last summer.
   Two men who, any other week, would be heavy threats, are just hoping to get through this thing without any issues – brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch.
   Kyle Busch has tried to work on his image this season, but he's winless so far, and he says it may be time to go back to the old 'Give 'em hell, Kyle' style of driving.
    But here? Well, Busch knows what he's up against – Johnson, Gordon and maybe teammate Denny Hamlin, depending on that ailing left knee.
    And Busch may just have to wait a couple weeks to snap this slump.
    Martinsville Speedway is a deceptively simple looking track, a flat half-mile paperclip-shaped place, long straights, tight, flat corners. And it hasn't changed much since racing first started here in 1947.
   The number of NASCAR drivers who have managed to tame this place you could name on one hand.
   You think a lot of these guys get aggravated with the tour's road courses......
    "If I had Jeff Gordon's or Jimmie Johnson's success, I would be comfortable here," Kyle says. "I've had some decent runs, where I felt we had a car to win, and had a shot to win. Unfortunately we weren't able to get the track position toward the end of the race.
    "Jeff is so good, and Jimmie is so good. They are probably the two most difficult guys to pass because they know the place. They know how to get off the corner, and how to roll through the middle of the corner."
    Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth are on the front row for the 10 a.m. start, the grid set after Friday's rain washed out qualifying.
   "It's really hard to be patient at Martinsville," Kenseth says warily. "For me it always seems like you're getting run into or you're running into somebody.
    "It can easily become a frustrating track.
     "It's not a tricky place to get around, but it gets tough to tell my crew what we need to change on the car to have it handle."
    Kenseth isn't alone, of course.
      Roush teammate Greg Biffle grits his teeth thinking about this one: "It's obvious, by looking at my stats, that Martinsville has been a tough place for me."
    Consider: 25th, 28th, 12th, 20th, seventh, 32nd, 32nd, 31st, 20th, 29th, 17th, 35th, 19th, 18th......You get the picture of frustration here. 
     "We've had a few decent runs; but getting your car to turn can make the difference between a fun race at Martinsville and a long day at Martinsville," Biffle says. 
     "When the car is turning and you can get off of the corners on the gas, the race at Martinsville can be one of the most fun races of the season. But when it won't turn, or your brakes are failing, it is probably my least favorite track on the circuit.
     "I would say our goal is to leave Martinsville with a top-10 and hold our position in the standings."
    Biffle and crew chief Greg Erwin sit fourth on the tour, with Phoenix and Texas next up.

    Kyle Busch points to Johnson, Gordon and Hamlin as the men to beat here: "They've had the dominating cars, and they've been the dominating drivers.
    "I'm not going to say I can get in Denny's (team) car (and win). I've been in equipment that's pretty close; I've been in equipment that's been pretty close to Jimmie's too. I think I ran fourth to him that time."
    Fourth, three times.
   "It's a difficult racetrack," Kyle Busch says. "It's not easy for everyone.
    "Jeff Gordon went through a spell of being one of the best guys...Dale Earnhardt was one of those guys...Richard Petty.
     "I've gotten better, but still I've never really been one of the drivers to worry about.
     "Just being able to get through with a good, solid top-10, maybe top-five, would be good for us and our team.
    "Where we're at right now (only one top-10 so far), we want to get through Martinsville with a good, strong run....and then get on to Texas, where we know we can run well."

   Ironically it's older brother Kurt Busch who has been hot in these opening weeks of the season. In fact Kurt has led almost twice as many laps as any other driver so far.
   But Kurt too isn't that optimistic about this 500: "I struggle at Martinsville, and I've made no secret about it.
   "I've been on the pole before (2006), and I've won before (2002)....but I don't really know how I did either.
     "It's just tough, parking-lot-style racing."

   Was it really 70 degrees and sunny on Saturday? At least it's not snowing Sunday, and Kasey Kahne doesn't have icicles hanging from his ears (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Dodge engineer Howard Comstock says three key issues here are "Brakes, brakes, brakes.
    "If you can't take care of your brakes here, you'll never be able to get to the end.
    "Of course that's assuming you can make enough power to pull a 3450-pound car off the extremely slow and flat corners at 65 mph.
     "Accelerate, brake hard, accelerate, brake hard. Repeat 1,000 times.
    "That, and stay out of trouble, and you might just win this race."
     Kurt Busch says it's not simply the mind-numbing repetitious nature of all that, it's also that "You just stay so hard on the brakes into the corners that you don't know when you're going to slide over that edge.
    "I seem to almost always heat up my front brakes too much, and they lose the grip we need towards the end of the race."
    So this race, for Kurt Busch, may be a good test for new crew chief Steve Addington, who has made Kurt the dominant driver at Atlanta and Bristol, the last two tour stops.
   "If I have a weak spot at any of the tracks, Martinsville is definitely that one," Kurt Busch concedes. "I need to have more confidence -- to get comfortable and get a good rhythm going during the race."
   Plus there's the frustration factor and the aggravation factor too: "You're all on top of one another for the whole race, with cars behind you and in front of you, ramming and jamming, and beating and banging," Busch says.
    "Then you can have one slow pit stop and find yourself falling from the top-five all the way back to 25th.  You get mired in the traffic, and it's so difficult to pass.
   "We've been showing strength this season (sixth in the standings, with the Atlanta win and three top-10s in five starts), and I think we're really turning the corner overall as a team. 
    "But I've always struggled at Martinsville, so I don't think you could gauge our learning curve until several races on down the line."

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  A cold rain falling at Martinsville Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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