The Frontstretch: Fact Or Fiction: Releasing A Racing Veteran At The Right Time by Thomas Bowles -- Tuesday May 31, 2011

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Memorial Day Weekend brought us BBQs, warmth for most parts of the country and in the world of stock car racing? NASCAR history. The sport’s longest ever race, at 603 miles lived up to the hype, producing a summer’s worth of storylines that show every sign of simmering for weeks to come.

What are they, and what can be carried forward into Kansas? For answers, let’s play a little Fact or Fiction as the world heads back to the reality of the workweek this Tuesday:

FACT: Rick Hendrick Is Releasing Mark Martin At The Right Time: November, 2011

Just two years ago, NASCAR’s favorite runner-up finisher came within a whisker of winning a first title with Rick Hendrick. Scoring five victories, a career high seven poles and successfully revitalizing a downtrodden No. 5 program, it seemed like the veteran would finish his career driving that car – regardless of how much longer he wanted to stay in it.

But here we are, four months into 2011 and instead Martin and Hendrick look destined to end their partnership. A long-term extension was never signed, despite Martin’s change of heart that he’d consider running full-time beyond this season and all indications are Kasey Kahne will be sitting in the No. 5 seat, as planned come February 2012. On paper, of course it’s Martin who’s the one to blame for this predicament: he’s altered a decision about retirement seemingly every year for the past decade. But a closer look here reveals there’s more than meets the eye; instead, one of NASCAR’s savviest car owners may have realized that, at Martin’s age the chances of him remaining a championship contender are slim to none come 2012.
Why? Consider no one at age 53, Martin’s age come next year’s Daytona 500 has even won a race at the Cup level, much less contended for the Chase or earned a championship. And as much as Martin remains a mental master of mechanical setups, on the track he appears to be feeling his age more than ever. 14th in points, it’s how he’s struggled that’s raised some eyebrows: wrecking twice while causing at least two others, mistakes from Mr. Clean that we see oh, about next to never. Could it be that hand-eye coordination, regardless of Martin’s physical fitness regimen may be fading due to age?

Even Martin’s greatest asset, pushing the rest of the Hendrick shop to a higher level (especially as Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s shopmate) has been labeled all but irrelevant in 2011. Earnhardt has excelled in his new home, over in Jimmie Johnson’s shop while Jeff Gordon has struggled almost as badly as Martin and the No. 5. Whatever magic was there early in the partnership has faded, Lance McGrew merely a filler crew chief on top of the pit box and it’s now nearly a year-and-a-half since his driver as found Cup Series Victory Lane.

Certainly, the vast majority of both fans and the NASCAR garage would like to see Martin succeed. But history and Father Time tell us the odds are stacked against him… and that’s why it makes sense for Hendrick to pull the trigger now.

FICTION: Earnhardt Ganassi Will Make The Chase

Racing has a funny way of running in cycles: today’s rising superstar could be tomorrow’s driver holding a pink slip. Alas, such is the case for popular 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray, a man whose Chase bid all but ended with Charlotte’s blown engine Sunday night. Now 78 points outside 10th place, Jamie Mac has become one of the year’s big disappointments, almost certain to miss the Chase with just 14 races left in the regular season. Heck, even if the No. 1 car started winning a few it wouldn’t much matter; he’s 31 points outside the top-20 cutoff to be eligible for earning that “wild card.”

Across the way, Juan Pablo Montoya isn’t faring much better; 15th in points, with no top-10 finishes the last six weeks despite two pole positions since mid-March. What’s wrong with the No. 42? Simple: its driver needs to remember to balance aggression with the simple act of finishing races.

Should both these drivers miss, speculation will run wild as to what went wrong but my theory still rests on outside distractions. With owner Chip Ganassi focusing on an expanded IndyCar program, just a year removed from reaching the peak of NASCAR competition you could surmise the right resources aren’t being allocated in the right places. And sometimes, it’s just as simple as resting on your laurels during the offseason, getting just that little bit lazy… and paying the price.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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Andy D
05/31/2011 05:47 AM
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I agree on Mark Martin. I love the guy but he needs to retire. I don’t advocate running just a few races either. It’s diminished Elliott in my opinion.

As I said in another blog, he should be a scout/coach for Penske. They’re both no nonsense guys and Roger could use the help. He has never had a Cup team anywhere near as good as his ALMS or Indycar teams.

Forget team ownership. he’ll be broke in a year.

zhills fan
05/31/2011 06:13 AM
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He’d make a good spokesman for NASCAR. A lot better than the way they handle things now.

DexterMorgan
05/31/2011 07:28 PM
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Tom, people have been saying Mark Martin has been washed up since 2001 when he finished 12th in points. Then he challenged for the championship in 2002. Then he was told he should retire in 2003 when he finished 17th in points. The next 2 years he challenged for the championship. Rinse repeat wash. Im not going to say that some of this lack of performance doesn’t lay at the feet of Mark, but honestly, people have been writing columns like yours about Mark for 10 years now and somehow the guy still continues to contend.

The problems started for Mark last year when they gutted the second best Hendrick team to try and help Dale Jr. Ever since then he has run terrible week in and week out. How can a guy go from finishing 2nd in points at the end of 2009 to absolutely irrelevant by race 10 of 2010 and beyond? Something doesnt add up here.

sylvia richardson
05/31/2011 09:56 PM
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you do not like my posting about MARK or rick. sorry for you where is the freedom of speach. all i posted was thank rick for putting Mark in a very dark hole

CincyLady
06/01/2011 06:58 AM
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What kool aid of HMS have you been drinking that you put Mark Martin’s failures on his age? As one poster stated, you don’t go from being second in points to being irrelevant the next year. Its the equipment and what Mark’s team is getting. Don’t try to pass this off as anything other than Rick Hendrick wants Kasey Kahne in his stable now and Mark wouldn’t just go away last year as planned.
Rick Hendrick is a savvy businessman and saw a chance to get Kahne last year and took it. Mark Martin just didn’t go quietly into that good night… That’s the long and short of it.

ezrider714
06/01/2011 09:53 AM
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Even a blind person can see the various mistakes Mark has made this year and they are attributable to a slowing reaction time,that comes with,you guessed it AGE

DexterMorgan
06/01/2011 06:56 PM
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Mark crashed a lot in 2003 and 2005 too. I don’t recall his old man eye sight being questioned them. Also didn’t Kevin Harvick hit Martin Truex
From behind in the same way Mark Martin hit him at Bristol? Those things happen.

 

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