The Frontstretch: Montoya AND Mystery Debris? The Perfect Formula For NASCAR To Ruin Martin's Hollywood Story ... Not by Thomas Bowles -- Monday September 21, 2009

Go to site navigation Go to article

Mark Martin’s been through the pain too many times before.

Forgive him, then, for breathing the biggest sigh of relief after somehow surviving round one of NASCAR’s ten-race prizefight known as the Chase to the Championship. For after a picture-perfect race that left him a shoo-in for a season-high fifth victory, it seemed the stars were aligned for a devastating disappointment once again.

At first, there was the mystery debris caution with 23 laps to go that took a brilliant pit strategy and left it on the cusp of combustion. As usual per television broadcasts as of late, the debris was never shown to the fans and left to the viewer to “trust” NASCAR was making the right decision. So why did the scanners of several drivers blow up quicker than Kanye West’s career after the MTV Music Awards? Between the lines of the yellow flag chatter ran a general theme amongst the garage: NASCAR couldn’t let this race run to its conclusion without an exciting finish.

It was a disappointing turn to a race that for Martin should have never been in doubt. Instead, NASCAR’s Charlie Brown was left with Lucy holding the football, left to try and kick it during the drama of a double-file restart. As the final laps ticked down, it turned out to be something he had to do not once but three times after the inevitable “Cautions breed cautions” theory came into play, drivers’ days ruined in the name of safety while the frontrunners battled tooth and nail. As the drama heightened with the No. 5’s disgust, it seemed like the perfect setup for a win that had played into Martin’s hands would suddenly blow up in his face – a scenario during a title run we’ve seen all too many times before.

There was the infamous penalty for an illegal carburetor spacer in 1990, a 46-point blow for a non-performance enhancing part during a time where most rules violations got little more than a slap on the wrist and a “please don’t do that again.” In the end, that proved the margin of error between Martin’s first Cup championship and Dale Earnhardt’s fourth.

There’s the long list of Talladega disasters, the restrictor plate roulette wheel Martin never seems to survive to the point he’s begun to call it the “lotto.” A 30th-place finish in 2002 proved the difference in a title he lost to Tony Stewart by just 38 points. Three years later, it was de ja vu all over again as wreck within the first 20 laps left him a mangled mess while Stewart finished second – again. The end of that year saw Smoke, not Martin, holding a second title while his one-time mentor ended up missing the 106 points needed to make up the difference.

That sorry luck transfers itself to big races, too – along with the suspect NASCAR calls. There was the Daytona 500 in his grasp back in 2007 before a last lap wreck that would usually lead to a timely yellow never happened – much to the surprise of Martin. Expecting a caution instead of the checkered, the veteran backed off just enough for Harvick to beat him to the finish line by about the length of his front bumper.

But for whatever reason, this year has been different, the outcomes no longer guaranteed to have that bad ending attached. In June, Martin even won a race due to someone else running out of fuel, something I never expected to happen in my lifetime under any circumstances (and I’m only 28). After running out of gas in that race in August, the No. 5 fell back to the clutches of the Chase bubble and looked destined for a freefall to 13th. So that’s where the bad luck was buried, I thought, and everyone braced for the devastating consequences.

Mark Martin continuously heaps praise upon crew chief Alan Gustafson. Could he prove to be the guardian angel that gets Martin that elusive title even as the racing Gods seem ready to try and take it from him?

But Martin and the team rebounded for a runner-up finish at Bristol the following week, setting up a three-race charge that left them not just in the Chase but the point leader to boot. So understandably, hopes have been raised that this year would be the one that finally breaks the back of Martin’s horror story – which is why being hit with this unexpected chapter at New Hampshire was so perplexing. Mystery debris was made for a man like Mark Martin; it just seemed natural it would lead to the start of his 2009 title demise.

That’s why it was such a head-scratcher that when those final 23 laps were complete, it was Martin – yes, Martin – celebrating not just a win but the expansion of his point lead to 35. Each double-file restart saw drivers take their shot – most notably human pinball Juan Pablo Montoya with less than three laps left – but the second the door seemed open, Martin had just enough to slam it shut.

“I have a lot of respect for Juan Montoya,” he said, seemingly oblivious to the 100,000 fans in the stands combined with millions at home that fully expected him to end up hard in the wall, rear-end first. “I still didn’t know for sure that he wouldn’t slip, because I know that he’s racing for his first oval track win. But I knew he wouldn’t slip on purpose.”

So much so that he forced the No. 5 down to the inside of turn 1 as soon as he was cleared, a defensive maneuver in which we all held our breath for the seemingly inevitable contact to come. But much to the surprise of everyone, it was Montoya left backpedaling, refusing to use his bumper and instead letting Denny Hamlin blow by for second and letting a race-high 105 laps led go for naught.

“I’ll learn from it,” Montoya said in the media center, quickly backing off from a heated “he screwed me” comment about a man he usually seeks for advice instead of in anger. “He’s probably the guy that I respect the most here.”

“With two laps to go, I would have done the same thing.”

Martin making mincemeat of Montoya? That’s something no one quite expected, as well as a white-flag spin turned caution flag that even worked in Martin’s favor. With A.J. Allmendinger stopped on the frontstretch, this time NASCAR finally did throw the caution coming out of turn 4. Of course, past experience left the No. 5 going at full song right up ‘til the checkered flag.

“Somebody came up there and ran into the back of me,” he said. “And of course I went back to accelerating. I knew the race was supposed to be over, but I’ve done lots of stupid stuff, and I didn’t want to lose this race.”

And somehow, he didn’t, this 50-year-old cheating destiny in rewriting the Hollywood ending that’s been in place for him for years. Stop yourself now and ask this question, whether you’re a Martin lover or hater: what were the odds you’d have believed any of this stuff would be happening to him five years ago? A Roush racer destined for a lifetime of consolation prizes, driving for Hendrick’s mortal enemy, I bet most fans wouldn’t have even put a dollar on this story even if the odds were 1 billion to one.

“Pinch me,” he said in Victory Lane, an improbable point lead now 35 over Jimmie Johnson. “I’m sure I’m dreaming.”

At this point, I’m beginning to wonder if we all are.

Tom Bowles is now on Twitter! Click HERE to become a follower… even though he’s still learning how to use it (be patient on that one!)

Contact Tom Bowles

The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Ah hah
09/21/2009 01:28 AM

I simply can’t buy into this even if my driver lost. He lost fair and square to a better driver.

09/21/2009 05:44 AM

I hope Mark wins the cup.I’ll believe it when I see it though.

The Turnip!
09/21/2009 07:18 AM

The FIVE (5) biggest hoaxes of modern day sports:

1) The race is a sell out!

2) The “CHASE” makes for exciting racing!

3), Yes, there really was debris on the track!

4) The POS is a wonderful car to drive!

5) Jr. really is a “race car driver”!

Mike In NH
09/21/2009 09:14 AM

I was at the race – yes, there was indeed debris on the track. The 82 was dragging what was left of his front end on the track (you could actually hear it), it probably came off him.

I wish TV would show the debris when these cautions come out so the conspiracy fans would get a grip. Though I’m sure they’d probably then say NASCAR put it there.

Also, having been there to see all of the cars whenever I wanted to, I can tell you there was a fair amount of exciting racing going on, though from time to time things got strung out. Nothing beats being there. TV just can’t capture it.

As for a sellout – from what I could see, it was close, maybe they did sell or comp away all the tickets, but I saw a few empty seats. There weren’t big empty patches though, the folks were spread out fairly thick with empty sets sprinkled through the crowd. I along with a few groups around me had extra tickets that we didn’t give away so we had room to spread out in the stands! :)

I can say that after the race, walking for a mile through the huge crowds of folks, I heard a lot of excited people and no griping (that seems to stay on the Internet). And one of my group, a first timer, can’t wait to go again – she loved the colorful yet friendly crowd, the exciting racing, the general atmosphere. It was a beautiful day. And no amount of Internet whining can top that.

The Turnip!
09/21/2009 10:10 AM

Hey Mike in NH, nice report, thanks, BUT! Your “There weren’t big empty patches though, the folks were spread out fairly thick with empty sets sprinkled through the crowd.”

Well, I turned on the TV with four (4) laps to go (perfect timing), AND what did I see on the TV?

ROW after ROW after ROW of EMPTY seats, not just a few “here and there”, but row after row!

Please watch a replay of the “event”, and you will see for yourself. I estimate that a full 25% of the seats were vacant!

And, I don’t need to spend hundreds of $$$$ to: “ It was a beautiful day” enjoy the day!

And make no mistake, a really nice day at the race track, particularly if your a newcomer certainly can be exciting and impressing!

Actually, there is nothing like it!

And the bummer is??

It is the POS on a Sunday, running a NA$CRAP event!

What a way to ruin the day!

For us disgruntled fans, of old, we not only want to enjoy the day, the atmosphere, we also want to watch and enjoy REAL RACING!

09/21/2009 11:10 AM

Hey, Turnip, do you really think that Junior’s crash was his fault? Oh, thats right. You only saw 4 laps, more than enough to qualify you as an expert.

09/21/2009 11:45 AM

Ha Frank, loved your answer. Darn straight Jr is a race car driver.

09/21/2009 12:55 PM

@Turnip: You can’t judge the turnout at the track based on the last four laps. A lot of folks head back to the parking lots with 15 or 20 laps to go to try to beat the traffic.

I was there. It was packed. But hey, you can choose to beleive whatever you like.

Also, there was good racing going on the entire race. Even when it was strung out, there was a group racing hard to stay on the lead lap. Maybe not the marquee drivers to show on TeeVee, but it was still good racing.

Kevin in SoCal
09/21/2009 01:10 PM

Of course Dale Jr is a race car driver. All it takes is money and someone will put you in a seat. Just ask Paul Menard or Eric Darnell.

The Turnip!
09/21/2009 02:06 PM

And for the record, I did state all I watched, or could bear to watch, was the last 4 laps!

So, from my angle of things, and pictures don’t lie, you don’t find ENTIRE ROWS that decide it is time to go home! These rows were EMPTY! Guarantee the only heat these seats felt was fom the Sun.

One wants us to believe that ALL of row 11 went to the parking lots, all at the same time, but row 12 stayed! Rows 14,15,16, they all decided to go home leaving those seats empty, but rows 17, 18, 19, all decided to stay!

HUH! Try again!

Yep! Great racing all right! (oh, by the way, it was a HENDRICK car that won!) RIGHT?

Can one say “parity”?

Nah, probably not!

And all the uproar over the “phantom” debris caution (no, I did not see it, nor do I have to, NA$CRAP has ALWAYS pulled these stunts), their track record at “inventing” competition is second to none in sports!

And who is saying that Jr. is a “race car driver”?


What? You think Jr.s excuse now is he has inferior equipment? Whoops, sorry, he used that excuse last year!

Oh, and once again to quote Mike in NH, “The 82 was dragging what was left of his front end on the track (you could actually hear it), it probably came off him.”

Yep, that phantom debris caution was “probably” a part from the 82 car?

PROBABLY? did you see the debris? or are you simply guessing?

Bear with me folks, I just like bringing out the obvious!

Gives y’all something to think about, and bash me back!

The Turnip!
09/21/2009 02:10 PM

Darn, I forgot!

But a FULL 82% of respondents on the poll question don’t believe there was any “debris”!

Speaks VOLUMES about the credibility of NA$CRAP!

82% WOW!

09/21/2009 03:08 PM

Okay, thread over. The Turnip has spoken.

Obviously his great insight from watching 4 laps on TeeVee will tell you everything you need to know. Disregard everything said by those of us who were there.

I tell you what Turnip, why don’t you just tell us, right now, how the season will end. Then you will be free to stay away from these comment sections, since you obviously don’t care at all about the racing. Clearly, you know everything about how good it used to be and how everything sucks now.

Get real. Many of us still enjoy racing – I was with over 100,000 of them on Sunday. If you don’t then that’s your loss.

09/21/2009 04:37 PM

Hey Turnip, You should go to the Daly Planet, as there are a lot of people like you on that site, even the author, who must be on another Planet with what he writes sometimes.He even believes that the Waltrip brothers are good, professional TV broadcasters.Give it a try.

The Turnip!
09/21/2009 05:02 PM

Sorry, no crystal ball here! Cannot predict the future, so sorry!

And glad y’all enjoyed the ‘race”, I just see things different!

And since we are on the subject! What subject? Why of course, NA$CRAP!

So, from the article above I quote: “ this time NASCAR finally did throw the caution coming out of turn 4. Of course, past experience left the No. 5 going at full song right up ‘til the checkered flag.

“Somebody came up there and ran into the back of me,” he said. “And of course I went back to accelerating. I knew the race was supposed to be over, but I’ve done lots of stupid stuff, and I didn’t want to lose this race.”

So, even though the checkered flag was out, and the YELLOW was out!

MM disregarded ALL SAFETY RULES and ran “full song” till he crossed the finish line?

SO? Sports fans! What if say that was a “Kyle Busch” that “raced” back to the checker EVEN THOUGH THE YELLOW WAS OUT?


Pick one, because you know that is what would have happpened!

See, NA$CRAP is not about the fairness!

It’s about how and when and with whom to “interpret” the rules!

And why would MM do such a thing?

Because he did not TRUST NA$CRAP!

Think about it!

By the way, I really do enjoy this! Try to keep you thinking!

Fair is fair, rules are rules, EXCEPT in NA$CRAP!

Have a great day people! I am!

09/21/2009 05:24 PM

Why do you care Turnip? Really, what difference does it make to you whether Kyle would have been black flagged? You don’t watch the races, you don’t like the sport, and you do nothing but complain about it. So, why do you care?

You should find a hobby. I hear basket-weaving can be very calming.

(BTW – I watched the final four laps of TV coverage over on NASCAR.COM. There weren’t large swaths of empty seats as you claim. You are either delusional in your hatred for the sport, or just plain lying.)

09/21/2009 05:57 PM

alan4s I have to agree with The turnip at the end of the race there were large sections of seats that were empty it looked like the fans started leaving with about 50+ laps to go. At the beginning of the race it looked like a good turn out which I believe is normal at Loudon. As for the debris cautions, I know at Bristol I listen to nascar control 461.2000 on scanner and I have seeen and heard the officials looking for the debris and confirming it is in the groove before the caution is thrown.

Richard in N.C.
09/21/2009 06:00 PM

I bet Felipe Massa would vote in favor of a debris caution when in doubt.

L Taylor
09/21/2009 07:31 PM


09/21/2009 08:12 PM

This is a little late, but if during a debris caution the pits did not open, there was no lucky dog and there was not 5+ laps of caution. This would do wonders to fix the problem. Just a thought

09/21/2009 08:19 PM

the 2 mystery cautions were for tire scuffed up into a roll of rubber in turn three 100 ft. from were i sat. they left it there for up to 30 to 35 laps on the second debris caution. take that to the bank.

09/21/2009 09:13 PM

All I can say is Woo Hoo. Can Mark Martin drive a race car or what? That finish was the determination we ask for from all the drivers. With Roush’s constant pissing contests with NA$CAR, Mark never had a chance. Now that he drives for their Golden owner he may actually have a legitimate shot at this thing. It won’t be fixed, he’ll race his butt off for this Championship. Just wish it wasn’t in the Chase.

09/21/2009 10:26 PM

well sorry wcfan, but I was there. There were no large swaths of empty seats, despite what you all may have thought you saw on TeeVee. It was packed, and I was witness to it.

09/21/2009 10:38 PM

Turnip, you have no idea what your talking about. I sat in Row 47 A, that is middle grandstands 3 from top. I purposely took note of the crowd both from my seat and walking back up between the too frequent bladder drains during the race. Why did I bother to look, McLaughlin, anyway. Other than a few sections of the Laconia Grandstand the place WAS full. However after JR wrecked a whole row behind me vanished, I mean it was weird all the green was gone like the rapture. The place was not empty at all.

09/21/2009 11:57 PM

alan4s, you need to go back and read your first post of the day. “A lot of folks head back to the parking lots with 15 or 20 laps to go to try to beat the traffic” I said at lap 250, I may have missed by a few laps
but you yourself said a lot leave early. I agree there was a good turn out for the race.

09/22/2009 12:08 AM

So Douglas became the turnip after getting spanked by the FS Staff last week for his indiscretions. Douglas, I know you went drag racing early in life. What was it, you couldn’t cut the mustard, and now you are bitter? Man, its time to move on.

Mike In NH
09/22/2009 09:28 AM

I’m sure there were more empty seats with 4 laps to go than there were most of the race. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of Junior fans up and left after he crashed, since a lot of Junior fans are fans of Junior, and not racing.

At least this year I wasn’t sitting behind the Junior fan that raised his middle finger at Kyle or whatever racer he deemed wronged Junior, which was really great with a kid along for the race.

And NHMS does take quite a while to get out of, even with most of Route 106 pointed southbound (closed northbound), so there’s always a segment (as there is at any sports event at a big venue) that leaves before the end of the race to beat the crowd (though why you’d do that when the ending is the best part is beyond me). My family actually walked a mile or so from the track to an outlying lot, then escaped through backroads, which wasn’t so bad. Besides, it was nice to stretch your legs after sitting for the race, and there was a real sense of community with the other fans as we all talked amongst each other in constantly changing groups along the way. I think most of NASCAR’s fans are just the best of any sport.

Don’t worry about Turnip/Douglas’ comments, he’s just being himself. Best ignored. You can’t argue with some folks; if the facts don’t fit their worldview, they make up their own facts. Let him be.

don mei
09/22/2009 05:45 PM

Anyone who takes comments here seriously had better get a life!!!


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Did You Notice? ... Drivers Still Make A Difference... But Silly Cautions Don't
Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters
Did You Notice? ... Keep On Asking, And You Will Receive A Qualifying Sigh Of Relief

If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.

Want even more Tom Bowles? Check out Tom's archive at