By Jerry Bonkowski
The Sports Xchange
When it comes to Richard Childress Racing, Clint Bowyer might be getting most of the attention because he sits third behind Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch in the Sprint Cup point standings. But Bowyer's RCR teammates, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton, aren't exactly lost in the shuffle, either.
Heading into Sunday's Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Harvick is 12th and Burton is 13th. The other RCR driver, Casey Mears, is 25th.
Like Bowyer, Harvick and Burton are both short-track specialists. And while so much focus is on Hendrick Motorsports and the 12 wins that Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have combined for at the tight half-mile bullring in southern Virginia, don't be surprised to see a strong overall showing from the RCR contingent in Sunday's race.
"(Gordon and Johnson's dominance is) good for the Hendrick group," Burton said with a laugh. "I think that without a doubt when you can beat them it puts a little special touch on it. Having someone dominate something, then being overthrown -- I think that is good for the sport."
While so much attention is usually focused on Gordon and Johnson's success at Martinsville, Burton, who grew up about 50 miles away in South Boston, Va., has a better than average record there: one win, 10 top-five finishes and 14 top-10s in 29 Cup starts; one win, two top-fives and six top-10s in 13 Nationwide Series starts; and one top-10 in his only Truck Series start.
"Facts are the facts: It sits right there in front of you that some people have more success here -- that's not out of luck," Burton said. "If you get up an advantage, you hold that for a while because the opportunity to go learn somewhere else other than here is limited.
"I know when we were running in the front here, leading a lot of laps and winning, it seemed like we did that for a period of time and we were always successful. Then it flipped and we went through a period of time where we weren't very successful at all and I didn't run well at all. When you get behind here, it's hard to catch back up because how you learn is so different here."
Harvick's record at Martinsville isn't quite as prolific as Burton's, but he too has been respectable across all platforms of racing that he's taken part in at NASCAR's oldest active venue (1948).
"This place is a lot of fun," Harvick said. "Obviously, we've run well in everything that we've run (there)."
Indeed, Harvick has six top-10 finishes in 15 career Cup starts at Martinsville as well as one win (in one start) in Nationwide Series competition and two top-fives and one top-10 in seven Truck Series events.
"This is a tough place to get around because it's so easy to overdrive and it's so tempting to go ahead and do that," Harvick said, recalling his first few races at Martinsville. "There are going to be situations during the day no matter how good or bad you're running that you get in situations that stuff's going to get banged up a little bit and you have to try not to get frustrated.
"The mental aspect of it is just as hard as the driving aspect of it. Really, there's a fine line, I guess you can say, on how hard you can drive the car here without just totally screwing the thing up to the point to where you can't make the thing work. It's still hard today to keep yourself in a rhythm and not overdrive the car."
Without question, the biggest keys to Martinsville are brake wear and fade, particularly late in the race, as well as tire wear and a finish that invariably seems to almost always wind up predicated on fuel mileage.
"This racetrack is a tough racetrack," Burton said. "It's a lot of fun to come here and race. There's so much history here. It's really cool because this track is essentially like it was 30, 40, 50 years ago. (But) it's a very tough racetrack, very demanding. It's a really long race. You know coming here it's going to be a challenge."