Another one bit the dust in the sands out west at Phoenix Saturday night. But as the smoke cleared from the Cup Series’ eighth race of the season, we’re left with plenty of storylines from a weekend’s worth of action at PIR. Mark Martin became one of the oldest drivers ever to win a NASCAR race, scoring his first victory in nearly four years, while points leader Jeff Gordon surrendered nearly half his lead because of a late-race pit-road miscue – garnering him his first finish outside the top 15 all year. Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart’s solid finishes will keep Gordon honest atop the standings heading into this weekend’s restrictor-plate showdown at Talladega.
When I took a job at Nextel’s advertising agency back in September 2005, working on their NASCAR sponsorship team, the first advertising campaign I worked on was a series of tribute ads to the two retiring drivers – Rusty Wallace and the inimitable Mark Martin. That was four years ago, and while Rusty is happy to fulfill his broadcasting role and shepherd the progress of his son, it’s not been quite the same for the veteran driver from Batesville, Ark. Tempted out of retirement to wheel the No. 6 car for Jack Roush for one final year in 2006, Martin parlayed his delayed retirement into a partial schedule in 2007 (for Bobby Ginn) and then 2008 (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) in the No. 8 car vacated by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Then, midway through last season the announcement came that Martin was to replace Casey Mears and pilot the No. 5 of Hendrick Motorsports and take one last, glorious crack at the full schedule.
Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR and all of our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members and car owners themselves. This week, here’s a sneak peek at what a select few were thinking following the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
5 – number of times winner Mark Martin led the Subway Fresh Fit 500 Saturday.
Mark Martin was able to quickly dispatch Ryan Newman on the race’s final restart, and Tony Stewart never generated the steam to catch him. Martin’s victory is a feel good story, but it doesn’t hide the fact Phoenix wasn’t much of a race.
This is a story about two men’s historic rise and fall from grace. As Mark Martin took the checkered flag Saturday night, the desert night lit up with thousands of smiling faces. Sentimentality was in the air again at Phoenix International Raceway, a mere two minutes after a 50-year-old won his first race since ‘05 and two years after Jeff Gordon tied the late, great Earnhardt name with his 76th career win. History has been no stranger to the desert as of late; but this time around, the fans stood respectful of Martin’s seniority rather than rueful for Gordon’s claim to historic fame.
Starting on the front row this season had been a mixed bag for Mark Martin. At Bristol, he ran up front for most of the race and finished sixth. At Daytona, he got caught back in traffic and the rains prohibited him from moving up higher than 16th before the rains came and ended the festivities. And at Atlanta, Martin blew a tire and spun out, eventually finishing 31st. Saturday night was a different story all together.
It might have been the most unnoticed top-10 finish of the night, but Sam Hornish Jr. grabbed his career-best finish at Phoenix with his unheralded ninth-place result. It was Hornish’s first top-10 finish in Sprint Cup competition and the second top 10 in this race for owner Roger Penske, as teammate Kurt Busch finished third. Stock cars have proven to have a long, tough transition time for Hornish; is this the start of a new phase of his career?
Saturday’s Nationwide Series race saw Joey Logano grab just his second career victory in the series. Is this the confidence builder he needs to get his Cup career on track, or was it simply further proof this series is where he should have been all along?
After 17 starts at the 1.5-mile D-shaped tri-oval, Jeff Gordon won for the first time at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday, snapping a drought of 47 races since his last win at Lowe’s back in October, 2007. It was a welcome relief for both driver and crew chief Steve Letarte, who – after being credited with Gordon’s six wins and incredible 30 top 10s that year – was suddenly made out to be a pariah by the end of 2008. In just a 12-month span, Letarte became a source of anger, not elation, for many who pointed the finger at Gordon’s slump straight through to the guy on top of the war wagon.