Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Jimmie goes for No. 5, but 'mates Mark and Dale Jr. just want a win...or the season just to end

  Mark Martin (L) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern



   As the NASCAR season rolls toward an end, it may be time to ask what happened to Mark Martin and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. this season.
   Martin, the best driver never to have won the championship.
   Earnhardt, the sport's most popular driver, but winless since, well, hard to recall.

    Martin came soooo close to that elusive NASCAR title last year, one of his best season's ever on the stock car tour that he first ran in 1981.
   This year? "I don't think this season is what anyone expected," Martin concedes. "Not the media, the fans, anybody.
    "The way 2009 went I believe we all thought we'd be fighting for a championship this weekend.
    "But that's not the way it worked.
     "The summer months were brutal. There was a time we all got so frustrated and really didn't know what was going wrong...
     "Then after New Hampshire in September, we just seemed to really figure it out. We've gotten it back, and we're definitely on the right track. We've had good consistent finishes, and we're running up front and leading laps again. That's the way this team should be performing."
     But, as former boss Jack Roush himself rued just last weekend at Phoenix, "Too late smart?"

     Crew chief Alan Gustafson (R) and Martin, at Phoenix (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   This weekend? Well, if Martin runs like he's been running, he could help teammate Jimmie Johnson in the title chase. And teammates, in this finale, could play a big role. As crew chief Gil Martin says, the three title challengers shouldn't expect any favors at all from the teammates of their rivals.
    Martin could easily win here: "My only goal this weekend is to win the race.
     "It would make the off-season feel so much better."
    What happened to the Martin-Alan Gustafson team, after their five-win 2009?
    From the outside the big change was boss Rick Hendrick's orders to Gustafson to work more closely with teammate Earnhardt and his crew chief Lance McGrew. But whatever slight gains Earnhardt and McGrew might have made, seemed to be at the expense of Martin and Gustafson themselves.
    Here? Consider this curious note: No one in Hendrick's fleet of drivers has ever won at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
    Perhaps a plus for the Hendrick men here, particularly Earnhardt, is the Goodyear tire test Earnhardt ran here a few weeks back.
    Of course it might be a little curious that Goodyear asked Earnhardt to do that tire test....
   "Homestead has been one of my toughest tracks since they changed the configuration of it," Earnhardt says.
    "We've run good, but I just don't seem to really have a line.
    "There are a million ways you can go through the corner, but I haven't figured out which one suits me the best.
    "We seem to run good till it gets dark."
    The last few years this race has ended under the lights, in the cool of the night, with the track gaining grip.
   "But this race is going to be run in the afternoon -- starting early, so that should help us," Earnhardt says. "It (the afternoon heat) keeps the groove up off the bottom of the race track for a longer period of time."
    Beyond this race, however, Earnhardt, McGrew and Hendrick have bigger-picture plans. This season started with some promise, but that quickly vanished, and too many Sundays this team was simply out of the game.
    "My goals are to try to regroup, and try to go into next year a little more prepared," Earnhardt says.
    "We thought we had it all figured out going into this year...and we learned a little about how much more we had to improve."
    Actually there may be questions now about how effectively Earnhardt and McGrew are working together. Hendrick has so far declined to say if he's planning any changes.
    McGrew himself at times has seemed somewhat frustrated with the way things have been going. And this particular track, with its 'progressive banking,' is a different creature from most 1-1/2-mile tracks on the circuit.
    "It's a real challenging track....it's just very different," McGrew says. "It has multiple grooves, progressive banking -- you can run the bottom, you can run the top, you can run the middle.
    "It gives you a lot of options.
    "For this event we won't go from day to dark, so the track should be a little more consistent, and hopefully easier to get hold of, and to keep the car consistent."


     Crew chief Lance McGrew (L) and Earnhardt (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Dan Farkas in All Left Turns quotes Jr. saying, “I’ve got a lot of career left, and I’ll get back to where I want to be.”
“I didn’t know if I had what it took to go through the disappointment I had over the last several months, I was afraid I would crumble mentally with such high hopes and such marginal results. We’ve been able to stay positive. That’s a good feeling.”
This was easily the best article on Jr. in over a year.
I have said before & I say again, I do not believe that Jr. will be competitive as long as he is at HMS, no matter who the cc is. Have you ever heard of the 25/88 running competitively for a championship…?

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com