PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Title-chasing trio headline Martinsville testing at Motor Mile Speedway – JW Martin
For the driver of the Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, the objective is to not be caught.
With four races remaining in the 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, Ty Dillon is the frontrunner. The rookie racer from Lewisville, NC, clings to the championship lead by a minuscule one-point margin as the series visits Martinsville Speedway this weekend.
The Kroger 200 will mark Dillon’s second career outing at Martinsville Speedway. In his maiden attempt on March 31, Dillon tallied a stunning second-place finish behind Sprint Cup Series regular Kevin Harvick. Now, the Richard Childress Racing team is returning to the Henry County paper-clip with a championship in the balance.
With intentions of rekindling success at Martinsville Speedway, Dillon’s No. 3 team returned last Thursday to the site that helped spawn his triumphant debut: Motor Mile Speedway.
Since 2008, Motor Mile Speedway has experienced a groundswell of activity among myriad Camping World Truck Series teams. Banked 15 degrees in the turns, Motor Mile Speedway has a mere three degrees more banking than Martinsville Speedway. Certain commonalities are the reason why many organizations select the Radford, Va., short track as their proving ground for waging a competitive campaign at Martinsville Speedway.
The strategy is no secret. Dillon wasn’t the only notable truck series competitor aiming to glean an advantage from a Motor Mile Speedway test session this past week. In fact, all top four title contenders were represented over the week of October 14th, underscoring in unprecedented fashion the magnitude of Motor Mile Speedway testing.
Logging preliminary laps is crucial, considering the limited practice time allotted during race weekend. Presently, preparedness is at a premium given the implications the upcoming short track feature can have on the outcome of the championship.
Ironically, Dillon’s spring test session proved invaluable for the gains that weren’t made. Then, the No. 3 team learned what not to do.
“We learned a lot, but we didn’t learn the right things. When we unloaded at [Martinsville] we were terrible,” Dillon explains. “We’re shaking [the truck] down today and trying to learn a few things. We’re going back with a lot more experience, and hopefully we’ll have a good run, stay out of trouble and extend the points lead.”
Dillon is approaching a critical juncture in his championship quest. James Buescher and Timothy Peters, scored second and third, respectively, in the standings, also are vying for the series crown. Buescher is virtually tied with Dillon, trailing by only one point. Peters, who also has enjoyed a tenure atop the point standings this season, is within striking distance a mere 26 markers behind the leader.
Yet, Dillon remains undeterred and brimming with confidence. He has retained the same optimistic outlook he carried into Martinsville in the spring; that despite the challenges, his team is capable of winning more than just the race.
“We started the year wanting to win a championship. We put our minds to it, [and] I think we have a really good opportunity to finish it,” says Dillon. “There are a lot of racers who want it, but we’re gonna make it happen.”
Buescher wants to make sure it doesn’t. The 22 year-old from Plano, Tex., has notched a season-high four victories in what has become a breakthrough year for the Turner Motorsports driver.
“We’ve executed races well. Four wins—I feel like we should have six,” Buescher says. “We’ve had a couple that got away from us. In my mind, we’ve lost a lot of points to bad luck. But we’re gaining.”
Buescher netted a third-place finish at Martinsville Speedway in the spring—his best effort in six career starts. But he concedes continued gains must be made to maintain a grasp on his title aspirations, hence the team’s day-long test at Motor Mile Speedway last Wednesday.
“We’re here to improve on what we had at Martinsville earlier this year. We ran third; best we’ve ever ran. If we can improve on that, I think we’ve got a good shot at [the win],” explains Buescher. “I think we have to go run in the top five. If we can get out of there without losing points, then I’ll feel good about it.”
Situated third in the standings, Peters may not be the favorite for the title. But the Danville, Va., native is an undeniable favorite for Martinsville Speedway’s Grandfather Clock.
“What better place to kick off a four-week stretch than the place I love,” Peters says of his home track. “This race will have a big impact on what happens at Homestead. You know you’re gonna have the Cup guys come down and play—Harvick will be there, and we know he’s going to be good. But we’re gonna be better, we feel like. We’re gonna give him a run for his money.”
Statistics bode well for Peters. In the past three events, the No. 17 team has accumulated the most points among active drivers at Martinsville Speedway. Furthermore, he is the only top-five contender to boast a victory at the short track.
Then there’s experience. A veteran truck series competitor, Peters has thirteen starts at Martinsville— equal to the starts of the other four championship contenders…combined.
Peters acknowledges this weekend’s Kroger 200 could be the last best chance his No. 17 Red Horse Racing team has to regain a foothold in the championship fight. But the opportunity isn’t accompanied by increased pressure. With an undaunted attitude, Peters is entering Martinsville with a winning mindset, encouraged by the team’s practice last Tuesday. And for good reason: Compared to his championship counterparts, Peters’ No. 17 posted the best lap times spanning all test sessions.
“We’ve got a real shot at it,” says Peters. “We’re not out of it. We can come out of Martinsville with that 26-point deficit even or to the good.
“I’m proud of what the team has accomplished. We’re not going down without a fight. But regardless of the outcome, we’ve had a heckuva season.”
If past performance is any indication, a weekday test session at Motor Mile Speedway can translate into success on race day at Martinsville Speedway. And performance has never been more pivotal. The one-point separation in the standings is the closest championship battle entering Martinsville Speedway in the history of the Camping World Truck Series. The 50-point gap from first to fifth is the second-closest margin on record, eclipsed only by the 2011 points battle.
Just how important is this weekend’s Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway?
Ask the points leader.
“It’s very big,” Dillon says succinctly.
This time, a win at Martinsville Speedway could garner a checkered flag, a Grandfather Clock…and a championship.
View the entire photo album from fall testing HERE