You heard it all the way back in Speedweeks, when drivers, crew chiefs and owners at Daytona were mapping out their plans for 2010. There would be two regular seasons this year in the Sprint Cup series. The first would be a five-race stretch that started with the Daytona 500 and ended last week at Bristol. The second would start this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, where for the first time since 2007, NASCAR is replacing the rear wing on the cars with a spoiler, giving the stock cars a more traditional look.
But how will getting rid of the wing affect Johnson, who won 22 of the 98 races with the additional hardware? Probably not very much. Just listen to his teammate
One team, though, particularly impressed during the test at Charlotte:
"The car feels stable," said
As I wrote in the magazine this week, Busch has quickly emerged this season as one of top contenders to dethrone Johnson. He had a better car than Johnson at Bristol last week, leading a race-high 278 laps, but he got snookered by Johnson on the final restart and wound up third. Busch was so irate when he got out of his car that he punched his No. 2 Dodge, hurled a bottle inside the cockpit and let loose a profanity-laced tirade. I've seen drivers upset before when they've been beaten by Johnson, but never like this. Busch may as well be acting out for the entire garage, though, because the level of Jimmie fatigue within the sport is as high as it's ever been.
On the bright side for Busch, he probably won't feel the sting of narrowly losing to Johnson at Martinsville, because the paper clip-shaped short track is one of Busch's worst and -- you guessed it -- one of Johnson's best. In fact, if Johnson doesn't win on Sunday, it would be a major upset.
The numbers are staggering. In 16 career starts at Martinsville, Johnson has led an astounding 1,551 laps and won six times, including five of the last seven. He's also won over $2 million in his career at Martinsville alone.
Can anyone stay close to Johnson on Sunday? Well,
The one driver to keep an eye on is
There's also this: Martinsville is one of Earnhardt's best tracks on the circuit. In 20 career starts at the short track, Little E has eight top-five finishes. On Sunday he'll be driving a brand new car that McGrew spent months building for this event.
So who wins on Sunday? I think the second part of the regular season will start the same way the first portion ended: with Johnson reaching Victory Lane. Until proven otherwise, he's still the man to beat at Martinsville -- and virtually every other track on the Sprint Cup schedule.