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
Monday March 3, 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.
The Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Wednesday June 17, 2009
If it isn’t rough, it isn’t right.
For well over 20 years, those words used to sum up a Mark Martin day perfectly. If there was a tire to be blown, an engine to burn a piston, a caution flag to fly while pitting, or a meteor to fall out of the sky, you could safely assume that it would land squarely on the hood of his car.
But 2009 has so far proven to be a completely different experience in more ways than one for the newest addition to Hendrick Motorsports. Sure, there were some rough spots earlier in the year; back-to-back engine failures at California and Las Vegas, followed shortly thereafter by a wreck caused by a blown tire at nearly 200 mph entering Turn 1 at Atlanta. They were scenes that looked eerily reminiscent of a time thought long since passed for Martin – episodes that not long ago would have haunted and tormented him, only until they were erased by the next unexplainable disaster.
But for every disaster, there’s a recovery that follows: and rest assured, at 50 Mark Martin is not only healed but whole in his quest to keep driving at racing’s top level of competition. How did it happen?
You’re about to find out.
Walking through the garage area Friday as the teams were unloading and preparing their cars for the first practice session of the weekend, I strode over to the No. 5 hauler, where Martin was finishing up a promotional shot with Sprint. He was as you would expect – sponsor’s shirt tucked in, hat in place, and nary a wrinkle in his jeans. He noticed me standing by a stack of tires, speaking with his PR Director, Kendra Jacobs, and motioned me over enthusiastically.
“Hey Vito, how’s it goin’ man?! Come on over here!”
I asked Martin how he had been. I had spoken with him on two prior occasions; once over the phone in 2007, and briefly last year at MIS. “Oh, great man,” he replied. Never better. This year has just been unbelievable.” The mood was jovial and relaxed, a smile so persistent it seemed a natural expression. Meanwhile, the Mark Martin many had grown to know and love was nowhere to be found in the lounge area of his transporter. You know, the one who looked like he was going to literally explode following a Twin 125 Mile qualifying wreck at Daytona in 2005, leading Jimmie Johnson to remark, “I have never seen a man that mad, and I don’t want to see Mark Martin that mad again.” It’s the same one giving a short and curt statement following the 2006 Daytona 500, where the TV reporter interviewing him said, “Was there anything else you wanted to add to that, Mark?” to which he offered only a slight head shake and replied, quite matter of factly, “Nope.”
“I’m finally able to enjoy it, and not get so wrapped up in everything surrounding it,” he admitted early on in our talk. “I’m loving life right now, man…..my Cup is running over. I can’t ever see doing something else, this is so great… I’m just… happy.”
The ups and downs, ebbs and flows of the seasons – and a career spanning three decades of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing can wear heavy on an individual, so much so that they nearly drove him away from it three years ago. To compare what he’s going through to where he’s been, Martin has three wins so far this season – a year that isn’t even half over yet. Prior to 2009, he posted three wins from 2001 to 2007; and realistically, none of those years matched the 1998 season that saw him have, statistically, his best year ever with seven wins and a third runner-up points finish at the time. A spinal fusion prior to the 2000 season followed a year of Martin being physically shoveled into the seat of his car before each race, coupled with a broken wrist and knee following a practice crash at Daytona that July.
For a man who has always said that he races to win and run up front, not just to go fast or drive around in a circle, languishing in the mid-teens or twenties had to be agonizing for him.
“Those years really weren’t that bad for me, actually,” Martin says of a decade-long duel with average cars that required a superstar’s patience. “The hardest time was probably in 2004 and 2005…2006. I was certain at that point, that my chances to win were going away, and I wouldn’t be able to do this anymore.”
To say that was puzzling is an understatement. During that time period, a number of memorable finishes came to mind for me. Atlanta and Darlington in 2004, when in both instances, late race pit stops meant he had to blast through the field in the closing laps, led him to nearly catch Jimmie Johnson for the wins on both occasions. His crew chief Pat Tryson at the time got so excited cheering him on at Darlington, he nearly lost it going into Turn One, which may be the first documented case of a driver having to calm down the crew chief on the radio.
“Well, you gotta remember,” Martin said. “Typically your skills and your career…take a path like this…(making a bell curve gesture with his finger). I was over here…(the downward slope of the curve) on this side of things. I thought that was going to be it.”
It nearly was … although that “ending” could have been so much better. Looking back, the 2005 season saw Martin with a Chase win at Kansas, along with Chase victories in hand at Dover, Texas, and Homestead – only to have them fall to the wayside by his stereotypical bad luck. The requisite “Big One” at Talladega that October left him with a 41st place finish, and that race would prove to cost him the title that year by 105 points.
“Oh I was so mad, I could’ve spit fire man,” said Martin of falling short during what was the first of several abandoned “final seasons.” “You have no idea. I thought those were my last chances at winning, and we weren’t winning; and that made it just that more frustrating.”
“But you know, after going through all of that…I am just damned grateful for what I have now.”
The next year, in 2006, Martin was coaxed into returning to a full-time Cup schedule to help out his car owner who gave him a career. At the time, Jack Roush was in the precarious position of finding somebody to take the place in the cornerstone car of Roush Racing. Kurt Busch had vacated the No. 97 to take over for Rusty Wallace, who retired in 2005, while Jamie McMurray was stuck in contract limbo at Ganassi Racing and could not leave – even after articles were published in noted racing publications by Mark Martin himself naming McMurray as the successor to the flagship No. 6. Whenever either one of us mentioned, “The 6 Car,” I could see a piece of him was still attached to that machine.
As part of a plan to scale back his schedule, Roush began busily preparing a Truck Series car with Martin’s name on it. But while running the Truck Series part-time through 2006 – and nearly winning every event he entered that season — Martin could tell that he would need something more in his semi-retirement – a balance.
“When I was doing the Truck Series, I could see it was not going to give me the fulfillment that running in the Cup Series would,” he said. “I needed to find something to supplement that, but still step away, reassess, and see things from a different perspective…you know?”
That would mean looking elsewhere than the organization he had been a part of and helped cultivate for 18 years.
“You remember how the announcement came about – my phone started ringing and I had no idea there were that many people interested – but they all were for full-time rides, and I had decided I did not want to do that,” he continued. “I needed to step away. I was burned up, man… burned out.”
Along from those ashes came Bobby Ginn – a real estate developer who, with a quick infusion of cash into the MB2 Racing organization headed by Jay Frye, had in a few short months elevated the No. 01 Army car to a weekly contender. After nearly winning the Daytona 500 – which, if you go by the NASCAR rule book (if you can find one) he did – Martin assumed the points lead in April, the earliest he had done so in his career.
Not bad for a part-time job.
Shortly thereafter, though, things started to go sideways. The Ginn team was on life-support early on in 2007, and even after nearly winning the biggest race on the planet and investing in some state-of-the-art equipment, the team was running out of money.
When word broke out that Ginn was going to be gone, many were shocked – but none more so than Martin.
“I had no idea that was going to happen,” he explained. “None. I really started squirming right about the end of April…early May (2007). I didn’t know what was going to happen. Then, the No. 8 deal came about (Dale Earnhardt, Jr. leaving to drive for Hendrick Motorsports). I didn’t know if I wanted to do 15 races or a full year, but I didn’t want to hold up Aric (Almirola) so I said, ‘Okay, get Aric in there first and get his stuff figured out.’”
“Then, I stepped in.”
Martin has had the luxury of working with some of the biggest names – and best people – in the business of auto racing. He built his career and legacy largely with Jack Roush – both were relative outsiders to NASCAR at the time, with Martin being a Midwestern ASA driver from Arkansas, and Roush whose engineering business and SCCA teams were situated in Michigan. Now aligned with Rick Hendrick, I wondered how it was driving for each of them, who seem like such divergent personalities.
For those who may think a bridge was burned between Martin and Roush following his departure in 2006, it isn’t so. He smiled, laughed, and spoke warmly of The Cat in The Hat, who publicly took the blame for Martin leaving the organization and Ford – a company that he had become identified with since his return to the ASA series in 1984.
“Jack Roush was responsible for and had so much to do with the infancy of my career, and he is a great friend and always will be a great friend,” he explained. “Rick Hendrick has come along at this time in my life and both – both are just great, great motivators. When you get to the bottom line – they’re the same. They’re competitive, they’re great motivators, and they want to win. Everything in between might be different, but when you get down here, to the bottom line, they’re really the same.”
The relationships and friendships built in racing clearly mean as much or more to Mark Martin than just the trophies. The foundation of Roush Fenway racing was built on the backs of Martin and then crew chief Steve Hmiel – a name that brought an assertive nod of approval when I mentioned him, along with Jimmy Fennig, who Martin won his fourth ASA championship with in 1986, as well as the seven-win 1998 season. Martin is also quite fond of Tony Gibson as well, his crew chief last year with DEI. Alan Gustafson is Martin’s crew chief this year – who grew up with Mark Martin as his childhood hero, and has said that if he could bring Martin the title he’s never won (yet), there would be nothing more he could do professionally that would equal it.
How does he rank Gustafson to those he has worked with in the past?
“Alan is a really, really, really ….bright guy. He’s very technical, and has a great understanding of these cars. I try not to get as involved with these cars as I have in the past. It’s a different time, you know? The cars are much different than they used to be. The group of people he has around him and the support is just incredible.”
That type of personnel has proved the difference from the up-and-down, roller-coaster existence of Martin and his cars in the post-Bobby Ginn era over at the former DEI. With as different as the new car is from the previous generation, where does Martin fit in with the Car of Tomorrow today?
“The biggest contribution I can make is to prepare myself physically and mentally. When we have a day where we finish 19th (at Pocono the week before), I can tell myself, ‘Okay…19th is going to be okay… today …’, where as in the past I would be like, ‘Oh, 19th, well, I’ll just go slash my wrists now,’ and get all bent and twisted over it. That is just part of me evolving, changing … growing.”
Having listened to the scanner chatter this season, it sounds remarkably different for Martin than in years past. There used to be negotiations or discussions about what to do with the car, that would sometimes result in sounds – squeaking sounds – of exasperation from the driver. Have Gustafson and company shouldered a burden that in the past the driver was being forced to carry?
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” he clarified. “It’s just more of me having been just so immersed in the technology of the old cars, versus today – I try not to get too involved in it. 75% of the time, I’ll make the wrong decision, you know? “I mean – statistically you would think I should have a 50/50 shot at getting it right, but me, for whatever reason, I’ll be wrong 75% of the time. I can only see what I’m seeing from where I’m sitting – driving the car. I can’t see – I don’t know all of the other factors that are going on around me.”
“When we go over adjustments and setups, it’s more conversational – I try not to put myself in the position to make a wrong call. Alan opened the door for it at Phoenix this year, and I was like – woah – no…you don’t want me to…don’t do it…don’t…(chuckling).”
“But that mental preparation…that is the key to it. Physically, you know, I’ve always done what I can there, but mentally…that has been the biggest change for me.”
The new Car of Tomorrow has brought change and new challenges for the teams. The declining trend in ratings as well as criticism of the product on the track as well as the sanctioning body itself moved NASCAR to hold a Town Hall-style meeting, taking input from drivers and teams. I asked him what he thought of the meeting and what impact it might have.
“It was good – they listened,” Martin said. “They didn’t say a lot, but they listened. I would be VERY cautious about making changes to this car. I don’t know that they will make major changes, but I believe there will be some small changes coming. The double-file restarts are some of that. I don’t know if I like everything about that, but I do understand how it would be better from the fans view – making the racing more exciting.”
I was always one who believed that this car was solely responsible for the decline in the side-by-side racing that NASCAR had become synonymous with. Not so says a guy who drives one every weekend.
“You can’t blame this car. Yeah, we can’t change as many things on this car as we could the old one, but what people don’t realize is, if we still had the old car, it would be aero-pushing worse than this one does by now, the way it was going.” I brought up the Nationwide Series, and the relative lack of passing in that series as well, which has been using the previous style car all along. He concurred adding, “…and they don’t have any horsepower (due to the tapered spacer) to help overcome it either.”
I recalled the days of the 80’s and mid-90’s – the time many including myself thought racing was at his best. What could be done to make it like it was back then?
“I don’t know that you can,” he said in a sobering admission. “In the 80’s or early 90’s, you might have a guy have a bad pit stop and come out 15th, and he’d drive up through the pack. That’s not going to happen now – the cars are too good and too close, and the drivers…these guys are all good.”
So, what gives? Is it the tires?
“No, it isn’t the tires either. We are….we are just going really, really fast, and the cars are so close and the drivers are so good – you have guys up here – like Jeff Gordon – then everyone else is just down here…there is not that much difference between them anymore. It used to be you’d have the haves and have-nots. It isn’t like that anymore.”
With as much as changed for Martin since he had been away from the series in a full time capacity, some things still remained the same – particularly trying times and how the “new” Mark Martin would deal with them.
“The problems we had early in the year were a good test. After California, I was devastated, and again at Las Vegas – more so Las Vegas because I felt we really had a chance to win that one.”
The last three weeks have been a struggle as well. Traditionally, even in years when the sky was falling, one could always count on Lowe’s, Dover, and Pocono to be tracks where Martin could rebound and contend for a win. Rain at Charlotte, a bad set of tires at Dover, and at Pocono a leaking right rear shock (“You’d want to say it was that, but I don’t know….I’m not a big excuses-guy.”), saw Top-5 cars relegated to also-ran status.
While he has resisted any talk about a possible Championship this year, the points that had been surrendered in recent weeks were beginning to weigh on him, as they had in years past. Not so much for himself – but because of how much he wanted to provide his team and car owner Rick Hendrick – the group that has allowed him to race, win, and be happy for the first time in years – the opportunity to compete for a title.
Sunday morning following the Driver’s Meeting, there was a Chapel Service held in the garage, as there is each weekend on the Sprint Cup tour. As most of the media and others were walking in lock step with Kid Rock, who was Grand Marshal of the event, I went to take my seat for the service. I saw Mark across the way, sitting and talking with Bill Elliott. Not wanting to interrupt, I quietly waited for them to finish, and went over to thank him for his time on Friday, and wish him good luck for the day – noting that he had a fast car after posting the second fastest and fastest times in the Saturday practice sessions.
Whatever blessing he may have received would be sorely needed, as the next three hours would be perhaps the most stressful of the 2009 season for Martin – who after qualifying 32nd on Friday suggested that he might just get fired if he kept qualifying as he did.
Only five laps into the LifeLock 400, the steering shaft on the Kellogg’s Chevrolet began to make noises and sounds that were less than confidence inspiring while entering turns at well over 200mph. If that wasn’t enough, an electrical problem meant having to run the race sans fans and driver cooling aids, perpetually toggling back and forth between batteries like Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 . This was all happening at about the same time Martin was faced with the prospect of chasing down the leader, while keeping teammate Jimmie Johnson behind him – and not running out of gas.
Everything Mark Martin had been working on for the last year was being put to the test: Psychological preparation, physical conditioning, and a positive mental attitude personified.
With two laps to go, the Lowe’s No. 48 went dry, shimming across the frontstretch trying to slosh whatever dwindling deciliters of fuel remained into the fuel pickup, while Greg Biffle’s 3M Ford drew its knees into its chest and gasped one last breath down the backstretch seconds later. As the No. 5 Chevrolet came off of Turn 4 with the lead towards the checkered flag for his series-tying third win of the year, the call came across the radio.
“It’s out… I’m empty.”
Martin shut off the ignition to coast back around the entire track and down pit road. Even if he were one to do a burnout, he’d have been unable to. The fuel cell held no gas and the batteries no juice – the No. 5 sat lifeless on pit road, parked at a 45-degree angle. It was as if the last 400 miles of tension, stress, and abuse had driven the car to the point of exhaustion and finally killed it. In years since passed, it may have ruined the driver as well.
I was standing by the gate to Victory Lane as Martin’s car was pushed in, his Goodyear Eagle nearly becoming one with my Adidas. I leaned over the hood to offer him congratulatory thumbs up through the windshield. I doubt he noticed, as his eyes were fixated wide open, steeled from doing battle for previous two and a half hours.
About this same time, a 6’6, 350lbs security guard pushed me back out of the way. Refusing to recognize my press pass and media credentials, I was ushered out of the proceedings, while my fellow media members snapped away photographs. I was able to bench press 280lbs for reps a few years ago before blowing up my shoulder – but I wasn’t going to budge that kind of weight. Eventually I did get to the photographers platform, exhibiting some resolve of my own.
Afterwards, I went to the pressroom for the post-race conference after all of the television obligations had been met. As I took my seat in the media center, Martin entered the room.
“Hey Vito, how’s it goin’ man?!”
Following 400 miles of fatigue, fighting a current teammate and a former one, at the same time battling a recalcitrant machine and his own worst fears, his first words were the same as they were following a routine one-liner for a television spot on a Friday morning. I reminded him how I told him a few hours earlier that he did indeed have a fast car today. As he plowed down a sandwich his public relations manager handed him, he chuckled saying, “Haha, and with no time sparring!”
During the press conference I asked him how nerve wracking it must have been the last 44 laps, trying to conserve fuel, keep the leader in striking distance, while wanting to go for the win yet not throw away another solid points effort – all the while in a machine that did not look like it might go the distance. He reminded me of what he told me just a couple of days earlier.
“It’s funny, Vito, the things we talked about on Friday really showed today. 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.”
With as much as has changed for Mark Martin his year, some things stay the same. Wins don’t come easy, and each victory is cherished more than the one before, because you never know when that one might be the last. Besides, anything worth having entails some sacrifice along the way, and if it always just fell into his lap, he wouldn’t be the driver – or the person – that he is today.
What did you expect? After all, it is Mark Martin. If it wasn’t rough, it wouldn’t have been right.
©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
wow! excellent, excellent piece bro. that was a great read.
it is so great to see mark winning again and fast every weekend. after the win at darlington i started to slip and started thinking to myself about a possible title run this year for mark. but just like mark i quickly had to erase those thoughts. i don’t know if i could endure another run at the championship with mark only to come up short because of a wreck at dega or a blown engine wherever. but after that win on sunday it is reallt hard not to think that maybe, just maybe, this could be mark’s year.
strong work Vito…nicely done!
Well done , very good interview .
That was a great article, I really enjoyed reading that.
vito this was a great article. it is so refreshing to see the old dog fast and running up front. how can somebody not pull for mark is beyond me.
Thanks Vito, finally someone wrote an article that chronicles all the heartache we, and yes I mean WE, have endured over the past 19 years that I have been watching Nascar with Mr. Martin as my favorite driver. He and I seem to have the same luck chance’s, when it should be 50/50, 75% of the time I’m wrong as well. If he never wins a championship, I really could care less at this point. Just seeing him happy and with good luck for a change is good enough for me. And a big YAY for Arlene AND Mr. Hendrick both being there in Victory Lane….wonder where Matt was
Yup, as a fan of Mark’s since I was 10, I don’t think I’ve seen an interview/article put the hardships we’ve gone through for almost two decades. I would like to say “I don’t care if he wins a championship or not”… But I can’t. I realy want him to win it this year or next.
Maybe when he finally DOES retire for good, and if he doesn’t get that championship, I will finally say “he’s still the man, whether he won it or not.”
Hi Aaron –
I asked Mark what Matt was up to since he has decided that he doesn’t want to make a career out of driving. He said he’s looking at colleges right now, and doing just fine.
Fantastic! well done keep up the good work.