MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Midway through their 10-race playoff, the Nextel Cup contenders are at the shortest and slowest oval in NASCAR - a place that can be as damaging to title hopes as the fastest tracks.
The nearly flat half-mile Martinsville Speedway reminds no one of high-banked and ultrafast Talladega but presents its own set of problems.
"At Talladega, everybody talks about avoiding the big one," Jeff Gordon said. "There it's one big wreck that collects 17 cars. At Martinsville it's 17 little wrecks that collect several cars."
The four-time series champion knows of the problems a driver might encounter at Martinsville, where he has won three consecutive poles and has five career victories.
It could have been three straight victories, but Gordon was unlucky in the spring race. Running second to Dale Earnhardt Jr., Gordon's Chevrolet was damaged by a chunk of concrete that broke loose from the track. He finished sixth.
Worse for Gordon, 74 points behind series leader Kurt Busch and 50 behind Earnhardt, was management's decision to resurface since then.
"The new racing surface is smooth with a lot of grip," he said. "But I wish they had waited to make the changes. I thought we had a big edge on the competition."
Many drivers welcomed the resurfacing, though some have wondered whether a faster surface will make for a one-groove track with almost no passing.
"I'm somewhat fearful of that," said Tony Stewart, sixth in the standings. "But no one will truly know until we all get there and start running on it."
FORMULA ONE: Juan Pablo Montoya wants to go out in style, with a memorable Brazilian Grand Prix in his last race for the Williams team. He is moving to McLaren next season, ending a three-year stint with Williams that did not produce the wins many expected. "It would be good to end the year with a good result," he said Wednesday. "We had problems, as in any relationship, but I'm glad the way things worked out."
SOUTH OF THE BORDER: Mexico will play host to its first F1 race in 14 years in 2006. Businessmen will invest $100-million in a new circuit at Cancun under a five-year contract between the Quintana Roo state government and series chief Bernie Ecclestone's management group.