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Drivers ponder new road surface

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Rusty Wallace is the leader among active drivers at Martinsville Speedway with seven career victories, and even he's unsure how the track's new surface will respond to racing on Sunday.

The surface has been commended by drivers this week for being smooth and fast, but questions remain about whether it will feature two grooves for racing when the Subway 500 in the Nextel Cup Series is run.

"I think there are a lot of unknowns right now," Wallace said.

The new surface, with concrete in the corners and asphalt in the straightaways, was put down this summer, after part of the concrete came loose in the spring Nextel Cup race, possibly costing Jeff Gordon a victory.

New tracks typically present problems immediately after they are installed, largely because they haven't been raced on, allowing small bits of rubber that comes off tires to fill nooks and crannies in the surface, easing its grip on tires and allowing for more consistent racing.

Among the concerns about Martinsville: Are the hunks of rubber coming off tires and being deposited along the outside walls creating a treacherous zone where cars should not venture? How feasible will passing be as the race goes on?

Many drivers were most interested to see how the track responded during a practice Saturday, and Jeff Green, for one, emerged still pessimistic.

"Everybody is running about the same speed and if you get off the bottom, it's seems like there's so much stuff on the outside it takes a lap to get your tires cleaned off," the Petty Enterprises driver said.

"It's going to be tough to pass, I think."

Changes, and questions, are among the last things Gordon wanted to have to deal with at a track where he has dominated in recent years, winning three poles and two races in the series' last three visits.

Gordon, a four-time champion, is third in points, 74 behind Kurt Busch and 50 behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. halfway through NASCAR's 10-race playoff.

"We've got a new challenge on our hands," said Gordon, who had five victories on the old surface and will start 15th on the new one. "I don't think you can really predict who's going to be good and who's not."

There are those he has to assume will be good. In the first five playoff races, Busch and Earnhardt haven't finished outside the top five.

"They're running good everywhere," Gordon said Saturday. "It's our job to go out there and make something happen. This is a place that I think we can make something happen. I'm excited about that."

BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX: At Sao Paulo, Brazil, the hometown favorite won the pole position at the Brazilian Grand Prix, after the seven-time world champion crashed during practice.

Rubens Barrichello completed a lap around the 2.678-mile Interlagos circuit in 1 minute, 10.646 seconds Saturday — 0.204 of a second ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya — for his 13th career pole and fourth this season.

NASCAR TRUCKS: At Martinsville, Va., Jamie McMurray held off Dennis Setzer on a restart with 12 laps to go Saturday and won for the first time in the NASCAR Craftsman Trucks Series, completing a career hat trick.

The Nextel Cup driver, making only his third start in a truck this season, became only the eighth person in NASCAR history to win in the premier series, the Busch Grand National series and in a truck.

Setzer didn't win, but he did erase a 79-point deficit to Bobby Hamilton in the series point standings, going ahead by one with three races left. Hamilton had multiple problems and finished 26th.