The Frontstretch: Playing It Safe: Martin's Team Trades Victory for Conservative Top 5 Finish. Why? by Vito Pugliese -- Tuesday April 15, 2008

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Playing It Safe: Martin's Team Trades Victory for Conservative Top 5 Finish. Why?

The Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday April 15, 2008


Mark Martin must have thought somebody had sent him through some cruel time warp last weekend. In preparation for Saturday Night's Subway Fit Fresh 500K, Martin had qualified fourth, all while posting both the third and fastest laps in two of three practice sessions leading up to the race. With those types of numbers, it was clear that the U.S. Army Chevrolet was going to be a factor come race time (i.e., whenever the Yankees and Red Sox were done with their game), giving the veteran a chance to snag his first victory since the Fall of 2005. While Martin typically downplays his chances, he stated that his car was capable of winning the race; but he cautioned, however, that the team needed to guard against complacency, preventing a repeat of what happened a couple of years earlier at this very event.

Apparently, no one else got the memo.

In the 2006 Spring race at the one-mile triangular oval (which would make it not an oval, but I digress…) Mark Martin dominated a good portion of the race in his familiar No. 6 Roush Racing Ford, only to be undone during a late race pit stop by none other than a loose lug nut. After restarting at the tail end of the lead lap, Martin raced his way back up to second place… when cars began to run out of fuel.

Unfortunately, his was one of them.

Martin ran so hard for so long, he did not have the opportunity to conserve the little bit of gas to make it to the end; but eventual winner Kevin Harvick did. So, instead of ending the night in Victory Lane … Martin wound up 11th in the final rundown.

Mark Martin was a lonely but compliant soul in his race car Saturday night when his crew informed him they needed to pit for fuel.

This time around, things were supposed to be different. Martin again had a fast car; a wickedly fast machine, in fact. How fast was it? While picking off competitors, including leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on lap 272, Martin was not even running the car at full throttle down the straightaways. One might ask, "Why was he running at only partial throttle while battling for the lead?"

The answer: to conserve fuel.

Following the night's final caution on lap 230, the plan was to stretch it to the end on gas, barring any additional yellow flags. A veteran of over 20 years at the Cup level, Martin has learned a thing or two about saving a couple of laps’ worth of gas. In fact, by Mark's estimation he had actually saved five by the time his car was halfway through the final fuel run. So, you can imagine his confusion, then, when the team relayed the bad news with less than 20 laps to go: they were probably going to have to stop. One calculation had them running short with one lap to go; another had them short with three remaining. So, with 10 laps left, the decision was made to stop and get gas — and, for some reason, right side tires. Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson was able to putt around the track at a Hideo Fukuyama-esque pace, notching the first victory of the season for Hendrick Motorsports.

Martin finished 5th.

Following the checkered flag, the veteran exited his race car, frustration clearly evident after his chance to win evaporated in the form of Sunoco gasoline. With his trademarked buzz cut and bulging temporal veins, it was more than a little ironic on this night that Martin bears more than a passing resemblance to Clint Eastwood in "Heartbreak Ridge"— for the 49-year-old suffered bitter disappointment yet again at the base of the Estrella Mountains. Tossing his neck restraint in the car, Martin looked for clarification as to why he had been limping around at three-quarter throttle for the last 40 minutes, as opposed to running wide open and building up a large enough advantage that he may have coaxed a different strategy out of the other teams. At the very least, the No. 8 could have been allowed to coast around the track safely for the final few circuits — as did eventual winner Johnson.

But circumstances forced DEI’s hand. Kevin Harvick, the driver who benefited from Martin's misfortune in 2006, uses a similarly prepared corporate RCR/DEI engine as Martin, and ran out of fuel with eight laps remaining. He had saved some gas — not as much as the No. 8 car, but enough to raise the specter of doubt. Thus was the rationale for pitting from Martin’s crew. After all, two of the last three races have gone into overtime, forcing the dreaded Green/White/Checkered fiasco that often sees cars running out of fuel on the apron of the track, sputtering upon a restart while causing a chain reaction pileup behind them.

Clint Bowyer, however — another RCR/DEI engine partner — did manage to go the distance, and wound up finishing in second place when all was said and done. So, fuel mileage under these engines proved to be all over the place; and in the right circumstances, it could be stretched to the end without a problem.

DEI has gotten off to a slow start this season, but has shown promise and, more importantly, real speed the last few weeks. With that in mind, perhaps it might have been better to take the safe way out, get a Top 5, and go into the off week on a high note, building momentum for the long stretch of racing that is to come. One could make that argument, for sure; but this is a team that is not running for a championship, and is splitting time between a promising rookie driver and a proven veteran. Why not roll the dice and go for a win? That would do much more to foster morale than barring your throat and accepting a fifth-place finish.

And in the case of the No. 8 team, a fifth might as well have been 15th for them. It isn't often you get a car that fast in the position to win, particularly for a team that has endured more than its share of drama during the last year or so. Never mind that winless streak that dates back to Richmond in June of 2006; think of Martin's itself, one that was just extended from Kansas in the Fall of 2005.

There is a saying that goes, "There's nothing more dangerous than a man with nothing left to lose." Apparently, there is also nothing more dangerous than a man with a solar powered calculator at a night race.

Following a moment of reflection and evaluation, Martin was his typical gracious self after the event. "I did my part to the best of my ability, they did their part to the best of their ability,” he said. “I back them up when they have a bad day, and they back me up when I drive it into the wall.” Veteran leadership and composure such as this may very well prove to strengthen the No. 8 team and DEI as a whole, more so than a victory in the desert ever could have.

And in the midst of another manic episode of defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory, the example set by the driver will hopefully do well to soothe the wounds of a victory squandered by being overly conservative. A team that is in the process of rebuilding and reorganization following the departure of its namesake and several key members desperately needs to have some good to balance out the bad it has suffered over the last 16 months.

And, at the very least, their marquis driver has attempted to do that. Mark Martin is well on his way to becoming a legend in the sport for not only what he has accomplished, but for what he has had to endure. The performance displayed by Martin and the No. 8 DEI team this past weekend should serve well to quiet critics who assert that the 49-year-old may be past his prime, and that Dale Earnhardt, Inc. has degenerated into little more than a museum to honor Dale Earnhardt, Sr. through the sales of diecast cars, hats, and Hershey bars. Aric Almirola will be in the No. 8 car in two weeks at Talladega, with Martin returning the following weekend at Richmond International Raceway, the site of the No. 8 team's last win nearly two years ago.

With any luck, the new No. 8 team can take a stroll down memory lane together in that one. But this time, in Victory Lane — where they should have been late Saturday night.

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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 Vito Pugliese and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

04/15/2008 07:21 AM

It’s all about the points! Not the win!

And who can blame a crew chief for being conservative as far as gas mileage goes?

POINTS matter! just like “size”!!

04/15/2008 10:47 AM

Points matter? Mark Martin isn’t running for points. He’s running to win. Which makes this all the more frustrating.

Margo L
04/15/2008 10:55 AM

I don’t share your lament over the lack of momentum the DEI folks have after Saturday nights race . The car was probably the class of the field from practice right through to the finish of the race . I suspect everyone at DEI now realizes that they have a car that not only is competitive , but can be a genuine threat to win . I would think that would give the team huge momentum .
I also have to say that the decision to stop for fuel was probably the only possible one . If the calculations said they couldn’t make it to the end , by as much as three laps , then there were not many options . Taking on two tires was a way to get back through trafic as quickly as possible . Johnson did not stop because their calculations told them they didn’t need to . Not some brilliant plan from an over rated crew chief , just plain old fuel mileage .

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
04/15/2008 01:07 PM

….and putting around the track at half throttle for the last 3 laps….which Martin could have done had they not stopped with 8 laps to go.

04/15/2008 01:10 PM

They should have gone for the win. Tires for 8 – 10 laps was really dumb.

04/15/2008 01:11 PM

If you are going to include Sunoco, you shouldn’t forget Goodyer either. How about this: “So, with 10 laps left, the decision was made to stop and get Sunoco — and, for some reason, right side Goodyears.”

04/15/2008 01:14 PM

Hey “tigeraid”!

It’s all about OWNERS POINTS! Not driver points! Owners points mean EVERYTHING!

Robert Eastman
04/15/2008 02:09 PM

Mark’s amazing attitude continues to build and strengthen his fan base. It would be nice if, like the OSCARS, NASCAR had a “lifetime achievement award.” Mark Martin would be its first and most deserving recipient! GO MARK!!! May you have many more wins to celebrate!!!

Margo L
04/15/2008 02:32 PM

Well Vito , unless you have some inside information that we don’t we’ll have to assume that the crew chief and gas man on the 8 car got together and figured out that they could not make it . And of course the only way anyone else could know is if we had proof of exactly how much Snoko was in the car when they made their final stop , which is pretty unlikely , and if we knew the exact fuel mileage that the 8 was getting that night , also very unlikely . I doubt that the 8 gets the very same mileage as the 48 . Mark and the team did a great job all night , if the crew says there was not enough fuel to go to the end , then i don’t see any way to prove them wrong . Unless you have some inside information .

Margo L
04/15/2008 02:40 PM

And of course there is the ever present question whenever a Hendrick car wins , did they do it within the rules , or did they maybe have some extra fuel hidden in the car .
“ Putting around “ for three laps even at partial throttle is not going th save a whole lot of Snoko . And almost every other car had to stop , so it is curious .

04/15/2008 04:10 PM

Martin might be having “fun” playing around on a retirement tour, but DEI is in it full time. They need as many owners points as possible. They had a chance for 2 top tens, went for it, and got it. It’s not all about Mark Martin. He is still as good as he always was at whining and blaming the team when he doesn’t win.

04/15/2008 04:30 PM

Mark should have said I’m not comming in. I’ve saved enough fuel to go the distance, count me down. Then went on to win the race.
That being said Chad Knaus is the best crew chief in the business. Possibly, one of the best of all time.

Lunar Tunes
04/15/2008 06:05 PM

Perhaps Mark should have over ruled the crew chief and stayed out. Maybe that type of non-assertiveness on his part is why he is the best racer never to win a Championship.

True Fan
04/15/2008 07:55 PM

Mark Martin is the Dan Marino of racin. All the skills but no cup titles!

04/15/2008 09:19 PM

Hey, Linda. Perhaps you should spend sometime reviewing the years of post race interviews where the first thing out of Mark’s mouth is THANKING his crew for a great race car and their hard work. Even in this fiasco, he’s standing behind his team. Perhaps you should “read” his response again or perhaps you have him confused with Denny Hamlin. As far as his retirement tour, he’s done more mentoring of drivers and teams than any other driver of recent times. Do you really think he’s had nothing to do with DEI’s ability to continue? God,new fans irritate me.

04/15/2008 09:50 PM

Hey, Linda Part Two.
“We had such an incredible car. I’m just really proud of the team, and I want them to keep their chin up because I want to win some of these races. And they can do it. They can do it on pit road. And they gave me a race car to win with tonight. I am just really, really proud to drive for the U.S. Army and give our soldiers something to cheer for.” Mark Martin, finished 5th

04/15/2008 10:12 PM

Linda wow you sure do not know very much about My one and only. get real]please]

Craig Rebeor
04/15/2008 10:13 PM

I will start by saying that I am a M. Martin fan, so anything I say will be bias, I am sure… As far as DEI being nothing more than a tribute/museum to Dale Sr., try standing in front of the Dale Sr. collectable hauler at the track and asking with the up most respect for Dale Sr., if “they realize that he is dead”. I’ve done it, they don’t like it. I think it’s redicioulous that they are still raking in huge amounts of cash every week on the coatails of a decesed man, he is gone, and not coming back, let him rest. As far as Johnson winning on fuel milage… good for them, I don’t know if Knaus is the best ever but he is up there, and his decision to keep his driver on the track was brilliant, they did calculate that he would be one lap short, if Johnson had to race Martin for the win the 48 would have run out I am sure, the 8 probably would not have run out but we will never know. And taking two tires, what the hell was that for? DEI and points… if Martin does run out of fuel, where does he finish? 20-25th? still plenty enough owner points there to keep them in the coveted top 35. Martin tries to finish and doesnt run out of fuel (much more probable) then there would have been a huge boost in owner points, sometimes you gotta gamble, and he isn’t a “yes man” with his crew chief, if you have ever listened to him on a scanner you would know that.

Craig Rebeor
04/15/2008 10:37 PM

Oh, and Linda (no last name apparently, strange…) may I ask whom your favorite driver is? I am sure it is always his fault when he doesn’t do as well as he would like and he never puts any blame on the car or crew.

04/18/2008 10:18 PM

I have always been a Mark Martin fan and I thought he had a chance to win at Phoenix and was bummed out that the 48 won AGAIN! That just makes the times he wins more special. Jimmie Johnson could win 150 races and 6 cup titles and he still would not stack up to my man Mark. It’s not all about winning, it’s about running hard and giving your fans something to cheer about. Mark is a part of when NASCAR was fun to watch, Harry Gant, Davey Allison, Big “E”, Rusty Wallace, Ernie Ervin, Ricky Rudd just to name a few. They drove their butts off on Sunday just for the sake of racing. These drivers today would have been run off the track 10-15 years ago-I miss the racing then and I think the sport barely clings to life because of guys like Mark and Jeff Burton.

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