Repaving the Martinsville Speedway, with more tarmac replacing much of the previous tarmac/concrete mix, has not removed its challenges to a driver, but changed them, according to five times winner at the Virginia venue Jeff Gordon.

Interviewed before Sunday's Subway 500, four-time Nextel Cup champion Gordon said that the new surface had greatly smoothed out the surface. "It's less of a driver's track now than it used to be," he said; "I think that caught us a little bit behind yesterday because the track is fast, smooth, it's got a lot of grip and just getting sheer speed out of the car was important yesterday."

In the past, Gordon said, lack of grip had posed the biggest challenge at Martinsville. "The grip level was certainly not there. There were a lot more bumps and transitions from the pavement onto the concrete. I just think our team did an amazing job with that challenge to put together a great setup and that setup matched that type of driving style I've had around here. Now it's something we've got to change because it's not the same track and we don't have that edge and that same combination that worked before. I think it's going to work now."

Gordon added that the new surface had not dented his liking for the track. "We've got a new Martinsville even though I still like it. I still think that a driver that has patience, a driver that doesn't over-drive the corners and can really feel the car and transmit that to the race team, is going to run well here."

Gordon believes the faster conditions will make passing harder in the race. "This is a track where typically there's a lot of cautions. The new conditions by making the track faster are going to make passing even more difficult."

He also believes that he can't afford to slip up once if he is to maintain his hopes of a fifth Nextel Cup title - currently he lies third behind Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. "Those other two guys, they're running good everywhere. 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. When we leave here we got to make something happen in Atlanta. We got to make something happen in Phoenix. We got to make something happen everywhere. That's just the way this Chase is with the new points system."

With both Earnhardt Jr and Gordon battling for the title the media is playing up the traditional rivalry between them, but Gordon doesn't see it that way. "It's really not a rivalry between Dale and myself. It's competitiveness among all of us. The rivalry is up there in the grandstands, the fans that separate themselves whether they are Gordon fans or Junior fans because they're rarely ever both! That's where it really begins.

"I want to beat him because I want to win the championship. No different than Kurt Busch. No different than Elliott Sadler or Mark Martin or whoever else we're battling in this championship. You want to do that because you want to win the championship. You want to do that because you want to win the race. If it's Ryan Newman and Rusty Wallace this weekend, I feel the same way. I know that a lot of people would like to see it come down to us because of the popularity. It was the same way with Dale Sr. I've been fortunate enough to be one of the popular drives to be a part of that. It's been fun. It's exciting. You know when you race one another, those fans are going nuts. "

Gordon admits to liking the new private chase for the title in the final 10 races of the season, but adds that it can be improved. "I like having ten drivers. I still think there needs to be some adjustments made to it. It's not where it needs to be. It's still really a consistency points system even though we've narrowed it down to ten drivers for ten weeks. It's consistency. They haven't changed that part."

Some have suggested a separate points system fort chase contenders but Gordon believes that would be too complicated. He'd like to change NASCAR's points system as a whole though, in the interest of safety. "I'd like to see more points awarded to the winner and through the top five and more points spread out between first to second, third, fourth and fifth. Those top five to six positions (should be) awarded more points than what we currently have. Then when we get down to 25th and 30th, it ought to stay the same amount all the way to the finish. I don't think we should have wrecked race cars out on the race track riding around for points. I don't think it brings any entertainment value to the event. I think it puts some safety at jeopardy.

"For a driver, the worst thing that you can go through is to wreck on the first lap and have to ride that race car around the race track all day long. That's a biased opinion on that one.
Another thought could be if they wanted to have their own points system is maybe go somewhat like the rookie points system. Let's say we take the top ten guys that get down to the last ten races, if a guy finishes fifth and another guy in this Chase finishes 12th, he gets the points right up behind that guy. Basically those 10 guys are scored on a ten-nine-eight-seven-six- five-four-three-two-one type system. I think that right now the system has just a little bit too much consistency still on top of it which was a criticism of the old system."

The Subway 500 gets underway at around 1pm Eastern Time on Sunday, around 6pm in the UK. Stay tuned to Crash.net for the full story as the Chase for the Nextel Cup goes down to the wire...