"We're coming back into Martinsville with a lot of confidence and a really positive attitude about racing there this weekend," said Busch, who comes into Martinsville ranked ninth in the Sprint Cup points, but only 60 points out of fifth. "We've run very well there through the years, but you wouldn't know that by just looking at the statistics. The biggest thing is that it's been seldom that we've been able to put together a whole race at Martinsville. We'd start out strong and not be able to get the good finishes we needed. Many times we've been strong enough to win a 400-lap race there, but the problem is that Martinsville races are 500-lappers, not 400.
"Our spring race at Martinsville is pretty representative of how many of our days at Martinsville have gone," Busch said of the March 29 Goody's Pain Relief 500, the race that officially introduced NASCAR's "wingless" version of the Sprint Cup car, with the return to a rear spoiler instead. "We adapted quickly to the spoiler and had a super run going. The culprit in that race was a loose wheel."
After starting sixth in that Monday race when the original Sunday schedule got rained out, Busch was a mainstay among the top-five drivers for the first 200 laps. He led laps twice during the first 130 circuits on occasions where he was battling side-by-side with leader Jeff Gordon after double-file restarts.
Busch was solidly in the lead on Lap 140 after clearing Gordon, but yielded it later . He passed Mark Martin on Lap 181 to gain the lead again before his car's handling started to go awry. Busch fell back as far as 14th in the running order before getting cautions and having the opportunity to hit pit road for adjustments.
Busch had climbed back up to sixth in the running order on Lap 380 before a vibration got so severe that Addington called Busch down pit road under the green on Lap 386 for right-side tires. The culprit turned out to be a loose right-front wheel and the unscheduled stop relegated Busch to running 28th and two laps down to the leaders. Busch returned to the action and tried unsuccessfully to get back one of the lost laps by racing the leaders hard with his fresh tires.
When Regan Smith stalled and brought out the 11th yellow flag on lap 421, Busch stayed out, gained back one of the lost laps and was in a position to get the "lucky dog" free pass back onto the lead lap. Busch ran in that spot for almost 40 laps, but never got the caution flag he needed to return to the lead lap.
By the time the next yellow flag flew, this one on Lap 492 when Jeff Burton had tire problems and got into the Turn 3 wall, Busch was again two laps down to the leader. Running on severely worn left-side tires, Busch hit pit road one final time for fresh rubber. After that, he was destined to finish the race as the first car running two laps down, finishing 23rd and completing 506 of the 508 laps.
"What's so sad is that it was definitely the best car that I had there in years," said Busch of the spring Martinsville race. "We led laps and made changes that the car responded favorably to. That was so promising and shows progress enough to where Steve really has me pumped up going back in there this weekend."
After 20 career Cup starts at Martinsville, Busch certainly knows that the smallest track on the elite NASCAR circuit can offer the biggest challenge.
"It's just a tough parking-lot-style of racing," said Busch. "You're racing on a flat surface on the straightaways and all the way through the corners. You just stay so hard on the brakes into the corners that you don't know when you're gonna slide over that edge of how you need to be running. I seem to almost always heat up my front brakes too much there and they lose the grip we need towards the end of the race. Most of the time, we still have plenty of rear brake left as the race concludes and that really tends to create a loose handling situation.
"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," said Busch. "It's so tough on the drivers and the teams. You can have one slow pit stop and find yourself falling from the top-five all the way back to 25th. You get mired up in the traffic and it's so difficult to pass. You can do a complete tire run and maybe only make up half the positions that you lost earlier. Everyone has to be on top of their game just about for the entire race in order to excel there."
This weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule at Martinsville Speedway gets under way with Friday's practice from 11:30 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. Coors Light Pole Award qualifying to establish the starting grid for Sunday's 500-lap battle is set for Friday at 3:10 p.m. local (live on ESPN2-TV and MRN Radio). Saturday's first practice is scheduled from 10:00 a.m. till 10:45 a.m. The final "happy hour" practice session is scheduled from 11:15 a.m. till 12:15 p.m. (taped-delayed till 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2). Sunday's TUMS Bring It On 500 has a scheduled 1:00 p.m. local (EDT) starting time at the 0.526-mile high-banked facility. ESPN-TV and MRN Radio will provide live coverage of all the action.