Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Vito Pugliese · Monday June 15, 2009
Editor’s Note: Tom Bowles is off from his Monday commentary the next few weeks. Bowles-Eye will return in its regular slot Monday, July 6th.
Ste-Pha-Nie….Number Five…is ALIVE!
Remember that from the 1986 movie, Short Circuit? It was about a robot that, after being struck by lightning, has an awakening and decides that he is not a singularly programmed machine with a single purpose, but one who becomes conscious, aware, and celebrates all that is good around him.
Following his third win of 2009, Mark Martin is similarly alive and well once again on the NASCAR tour, rejuvenated both physically and mentally after a couple of part-time years taken to focus on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. After a couple of years to catch his breath, Martin’s currently on pace to equal his best season since some 11 years ago, when he collected seven wins and finished runner-up in the standings in 1998.
This weekend, however, at Michigan International Speedway, another “short circuit” nearly prevented that third win of the season for Mark Martin and the No. 5 Kellogg’s team. Although he was having to perpetually slap his own wrist (rather than slash them in frustration as in years past) to keep from running his Hendrick Chevrolet too hard in the closing laps to save fuel, another gremlin inside his car threatened to derail a third win in the last eight weeks long before Sunoco came into play.
“When our battery problems [cropped up,]” he said Sunday. “I started to …. I just got sick to my stomach. ‘Oh great, here we go…another day…’”
Oh, ye of little faith.
In years past, the predictable would have happened to Mark Martin. Jimmie Johnson would have won, while Greg Biffle coasted across the finish line in second and Martin’s car would have coughed coming out of Turn 4, running out of gas crossing the finish line – on the white flag lap.
Don’t think so? It happened to him here last June.
“My history is not good with these things,” he admitted in his post-race press conference, flashing back to a past filled with enough bad luck to last ten lifetimes.
Car owner Rick Hendrick, seated next to him, needled him by quietly chiding, “You gotta quit that…”
But despite the last lap’s worth of good fortune this time around, it should be noted that Martin did not “luck” into his third victory this year, which, if you are keeping score at home, has already equaled his entire win total from 2001-2008.
It just seemed that way.
Just a few laps into the Lifelock 400, Martin radioed his crew saying the steering shaft was shaking and making noise, adding, “It gets really hard to steer when I’m sawing on it. Something is wrong with this car…”
I would assume that sensation to be less than confidence-inspiring when entering a corner at 205 mph. However, even then Martin was calm and, when explaining the issue at hand, showed no desperation or exasperation. In previous years, the response might have been a bit more explosive… or squeaky sounding. Instead, this season’s concerns are quickly replaced by the confidence of a driver and crew knowing they’re capable of fixing each other’s problems.
Yet while he made due with his steering maladies that had to feel like trying to wrestle the reins on an Amish hay cart, the next domino of disaster was about to fall. There was an issue with the charging system in his No. 5 Impala that was draining the primary battery, one that would cause Martin to toggle back and forth several times between the A and B circuit throughout the race. He’d run one battery down to about 9 volts, then switch over to the next one while the previous battery recharged. The battery ballet meant that the fans to cool the rear end and tire beads had to be turned off — as did the majority of the driver cooling system.
As the batteries continued to lose voltage, Martin ran the majority of the second half of the race with just the helmet fan blowing hot air on him. Yet from the radio chatter, everything seemed at peace as he continued charging up from his 32nd starting spot to the cusp of the top 5.
Then, a late race caution at precisely the wrong time raised the specter of another gas mileage Gong Show at MIS for Martin. Following final pit stops, the call went out as soon as the cars returned to the track for the restart with 44 laps to go: start saving fuel.
Martin, up to second, had to act quickly to get himself in a position to win. Or, in this case, in a position to conserve fuel in the first place. “I started saving from the third lap, after I got my track position, and started trying to save,” he explained. “The car worked perfectly to save fuel today – I was in a position where I could; last week I couldn’t.”
“That caution was untimely again – second week in a row.” added crew chief Alan Gustafson. “We knew four laps before that window we couldn’t go. So, we saved as much gas as we could and backed up to the guys behind us.”
Using the newly instituted double-file restart to his advantage, Martin was able to get clear of traffic quick enough to put himself within striking distance of leader Greg Biffle. Just a few years ago, the same scene played itself out at MIS, with Martin and Biffle dueling back and forth in their Roush Fords throughout the 2004 race, combining to lead 119 of 200 laps. In that one, Martin surrendered his lead due to a penalty for an alleged loose lug nut. This forced him to take two tires, while Biffle had four, eventually passing Martin for the victory.
Once again, defeat snatched from the jaws of victory had befallen Mark Martin at Michigan International Speedway.
This time, a different scenario presented itself as the roles were reversed, so to speak. Biffle was the leader in sight while crew chief Alan Gustafson was coaching his driver to run hard for 10 laps — then run easy the rest of the way to save enough fuel for an all-out assault at the end. Buoyed by years of disappointment and heartbreak due to poor fuel economy — and luck you would not wish on your worst enemy — that forced Martin to be a bit more cautious, even as teammate Jimmie Johnson was inching up on him for second place. Always looking at the big picture, he was conscious of the points that had been squandered earlier in the year from good runs gone bad.
“I don’t know, Alan,” Martin said from the driver’s seat. “I want to keep myself in position, but I’m getting pressure from behind. I don’t want to run out.”
“We need points… bad.”
Let’s stop here for a moment, for this is where prudent drivers like Mark Martin are sometimes criticized. To me, there’s a big difference between “points racing” and “racing for points.” Some may dismiss the former as “laying over” or “stroking it,” citing some romanticized notion of constantly going all out for the win regardless of the consequences. But when you are faced with the prospect of finishing 25th rather than third after entering the day 13th in points (one behind the 12th place cutoff), it doesn’t take a mechanical engineer to deduce that firewalling it when you’re three laps short on gas would be ill-advised.
As Mark pointed out afterwards, that forced conservatism may have been for the best. “If I had been in the Top 5 in points, I would run out today,” he said. “Because I would have went after it.”
Meanwhile, just up pit road, teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus had a different plan. While they drove hard the first part of the run, Knaus gave Johnson a six-lap window in which to conserve fuel; then, he give the all clear to put the throttle to the stops and track down leader Biffle – who was told with about 20 laps to go, “We’re two laps short – there is no saving.”
While Johnson was trailing Biffle, Martin began to slip backwards – his lap times falling more than half-a-second a lap off of the leaders – and for good reason. “I’m running 2/3 throttle down the backstretch, and I’m not even touching it in the corners,” he radioed back to his crew.
That left his chances for victory on life support. Yet with less than two laps to go, Martin’s patience suddenly began to pay off. Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet slowed off of Turn 4, pulling down a lane, as Johnson violently wiggled it back and forth like Fernando Alonso doing his victory parade lap car-dance. There was no celebrating for the Lowe’s team, as Chad Knaus came on the radio, lamenting, “Damn it, this happens every single time…”
Back at the No. 5 camp, there appeared to be light at the end of the tunnel; and this time, to Martin’s surprise, it wasn’t an oncoming train. But while Gustafson was confident that his driver had saved enough gas, seeing the No. 48 go dry in front of them on the frontstretch was both disconcerting yet encouraging at the same time.
“Jimmie has about the exact same car we do,” he explained. “So we knew if Biffle was going that fast, he’d be in a similar position.”
Speaking of Biffle, there ahead was the No. 16 3M Ford about two seconds ahead of Martin. It was the proverbial carrot on a stick, placed in front of the burro who had be toiling steadily all day long in the Irish Hills of Brooklyn, Michigan. Coming to the white flag, Martin decided it was go time. Like a scene from Days of Thunder – minus the inexplicably dirty face or impromptu gear changes – he went throttle-up, rocketing through Turns 1 and 2 and gaining ground on Biffle at an astonishing rate.
“I was just lolligaging along…and I saw I had fuel pressure. I said, I’m gonna go for it.’ So I jumped in the gas, and ran hard, and I couldn’t believe how much I was gaining on him (Biffle) in the corner,” Martin said. “Then I got to the straightaway, and I was REALLY gaining on him. And then I was like, ‘WOAH! He’s out!’”
It happened in nearly the same exact place where Martin’s familiar No. 6 Valvoline Thunderbird gasped its last breath here way back in 1993, handing a win to Ricky Rudd. But there would be no empty fuel tank on this day; instead, it was Biffle’s Ford Fusion which fell silent as Martin’s No. 5 Chevrolet sailed past.
Seconds later, exiting Turn 4, Martin’s car gurgled, coughed, and sputtered, as that last charge on Greg Biffle, the opening of the secondaries, and activating the accelerator pumps to feed all of that Hendrick Horsepower sucked the fuel cell dry. Martin shut the car off, allowing it to coast around the 2-mile oval back to pit road. Even if the veteran was one to execute a tired and trite burnout, he wouldn’t have had the gas to do it anyway.
As Martin came down pit lane, he appeared to drive past Gatorade Victory Lane. That was understandable; he had not been here in a Cup car since 1998. However, the real reason was because his Chevy would not even crank over. The batteries which had been swapped back and forth all day finally would charge no more, and did not have the juice to spin the starter to turn the engine over.
For a driver who four years ago thought his best chances at winning were nearly behind him, the last four months have been sweet medicine for Mark Martin. Gone is the temporal vein poised to burst at any moment, the teeth grinding and jaw-clenching, fretting over every single point won or lost. Instead, the pressure has been relieved through simply not allowing himself to become obsessed with lusting after a championship. It’s a commitment this year to preparing himself mentally – in addition to his 20 years of physical conditioning – which is what Martin feels is the biggest contribution he can bring to his team. We spoke at length about this together on Friday (look for the upcoming story this week), and the plan was put into action shortly thereafter.
“It’s funny, Vito, the things we talked about on Friday really showed today,” he said in the media center. “The mental toughness is important. I have a lot more of that obviously, which I put to use today – and this weekend, with the disappointment on Friday – as well as the highs on Saturday. Those are the things I can really, really do. My dedication to fitness and nutrition – I don’t really have a lot of other interests – I’m able to give them about everything I’ve got.”
Instead of succumbing to the temptation of obsession over a title, he’s racing each race as its own, not being consumed by the fire that nearly burned him up – and out – just a few short years ago.
“This whole sport has forgot… that it’s about the race. I can do and go to every race, and not be concerned about things that are out of my control; a flat tire or any of that, and just race the race – it’s about the race,” he said. “And it’s a lot of fun. I’m using that mental toughness to forget about worrying about scoring points and taking away from the fun that I’m having.”
It seems to be a formula that has worked pretty well so far this year. Three poles, and three wins have come to Martin this year … all won in differing fashions. Phoenix was pure speed; the fastest car won. Darlington was a combination of a fast car driving a teammate into submission, pit strategy, and managing equipment; there wasn’t so much as a Darlington stone-chip on the No. 5 car, let alone a stripe.
And now, this latest win at Michigan International Speedway was a combination of a fast car, fuel conservation, physical conditioning, and self-discipline. When you have that combination on a weekly basis coupled with 35 years of racing experience, that makes for a pretty potent pairing, and one that is only going to get stronger as the relationship between Mark Martin and crew chief Alan Gustafson continues to mature.
Number Five, is alive.
©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Your “Then, a late race caution at precisely the wrong time raised the specter of another gas mileage Gong Show at MIS for Martin”, is just great!
“Mileage GONG SHOW” pretty much sums up racing at MIS!
Why pay the big buck to occupy a seat to watch the latest version of “The Mobil Oil Fuel Economy Run”? (err, sorry, SUNOCO!) Maybe, just MAYBE, SUNOCO GASOLINE is not all it’s cracked up to be.
With all the fuel economy runs these Sunday fiasco’s seem to be, maybe more fuel suppliers should be allowed and then we will see what gasoline company supplies the highest mileage fuel!
SUNOCO is not cutting it!
Wondering if their lobbying NA$CRAP to throw the infamous yellow flag (of course for more phantom debris), just so the teams can add some fuel to the tanks so no one runs out?
Two things you won’t find on/in my car!
The win at phoenix was huge because it was the first for mark in a while. the win at darlington was even better because… well because it’s darlington. and not only because it was darlington but because mark beat the best. the guy i have heard him refer to as superman, jimmie johnson. but the win yesterday was the most satisfying to me. there was nothing better than to see mark blow past that roush ford on the backstretch. that was so sweet! i just know somewhere last night jack roush had to be seriously regretting not doing something more back almost 3 years ago to keep mark martin and accomodate his wishes of a part time ride.
i know mark and jack remain close and will always be friends but i am still not over how mark was shown the door at roush so to watch him cruise past that roush ford at michigan for the win on fuel mileage was something special for me!
- AIR -….now where have I head that name before…
Theres no doubt that Snoko is crappy gas , certainly at the pump and apparently at the track .
hahaha! You have definitely come a long way from a wise-cracking 20 something race fan!
you have to do me a huge favor the next time you get to interview mark. i really want to know the truth of how things came to an end at roush from his perspective. when it all happened i remember geoff smith handling the whole thing badly. i remember geoff smith saying that AAA felt that if they split the seat in the 6 car they had no chance of making the chase thus leaving mark the odd man out. it just didn’t come across that jack roush was interested in going above and beyoond what it took to keep what he called “the cornerstone of roush racing”, mark martin.
You people are never happy. The perfect race would be run with no cautions period. Then the best of the best is the winner. Cautions are suppose to be for safety resons, not to close up the field so you crybaby fans can have side by side racing every week, through out the entire race. Fuel comes into play. Either you pit or you run out.
Why is it Sunoco’s fault the drivers and crew chiefs are trying to go 80+ miles on a tank of gas that normally lasts 75-80 miles? Please explain that one.
I get a real chuckle when I see some of you “so called” experts/pundits/editorialists who have lost sight of the fact that…..
If not for Jack Rousch taking a big chance on a driver widely considered to be damaged goods by many car owners, including Rick Hendrick, you would not even be having a discussion about Mark Martin winning at Michigan.
This is what happens when “come Lately” fans and journalist become self proclaimed experts.
Listening to some of the replays of Sundays fuel economy run, Mark ACTUALLY stated that he “was surprised to win”!
Now doesn’t that incriminate NA$CRAP when a winning driver says “HE WAS SURPRISED TO WIN”!
WOW! Speaks volumes for me anyway!
SURPRISE MARK, YOU WON!
I DID? I DID? WOW!
Come on Douglas, you’d be surprised too if you were in his position. He expected either Jimmie Johnson or Greg Biffle to win, and/or he expected to run out of gas himself. So when neither expectation happens, you’re surprised.
Hey, come on Doug, you’re just sore because the great Kyle Weiner Dog Busch didn’t win or come close, right?
if it weren’t for mark taking a chance with an upstart and an outsider like jack roush he wouldn’t be the mega 5 car juggernaut he is today.
jack roush has said no more than one occassion that if mark wouldn’t have been so loyal and went and drove elsewhere he would have had multiple championships. that came from jack roush himself. the other thing i will never forget was when jack sat the team down in 2002 before rockingham and explained how important thhat year’s title run was for him. i’ll never forget when they interviewed kurt busch on tv and asked what was said in the meeting. krt basically said jack told him that mark was the cornerstone of roush racing and without mark’s dedication loyality they wouldn’t have been where they were.
so it’s not like we’re dreaming this stuff up. these are things that came out jack’s mouth.
oh and btw… it’s roush. no c in there.