Brickyard 400 Pre-Race Notes

They’re both in their fifties, but Mark Martin and Bill Elliot followed golfer Tom Watson in this senior citizens week of AARP success, qualifying in the front two rows for Sunday’s 16th Allstate Brickyard 400.

Martin, 50, who became the oldest pole winner in the 100 year history of the Speedway, has gone to victory lane four times on the Sprint Cup circuit this year; more than any other driver. And in a time in NASCAR when teams are courting teen-aged “wonders” with little experience, you question why more teams aren’t putting at least one driver with the valuable commodity of experience on their driver roster.

Martin calls his rejuvenated career with Hendrick Motorsports an “adventure” that has brought him more success than he says he ever expected. He claims that his car was capable of more on his qualifying lap, but that he was “disappointed with the driver of the car” after he slid more than he expected, picturing himself coming into the pits on the end of a wrecker.

We remember him being air-lifted by helicopter from Capitol Speedway in Madison, WI after breaking his leg in a 1980 ARTGO feature on a hot Sunday afternoon.

He also made an short-lived stab at the Winston Cup circuit in the early 80’s, draining all of his funds before coming back to the midwest to regroup his struggling career, winning his fourth ASA crown in 1986, before returning to NASCAR.

As Martin knows, these lessons learned aren’t always easy. The death of his father Julian was hard on him, as he was responsible for his son running the ASA circuit when he was a teenager.

He was willing to compete on a part-time basis to mentor his son Matt’s budding racing career, only to have Matt decide that racing wasn’t for him. Thus, the door opened for Mark to take Rick Hendrick’s offer of a full-time ride into the sunset of his career.

So Sunday will see Martin and Ellliot use their experience to avoid the mine fields that lie ahead on this narrow, historic rectangle of a track. Qualifying success never guarantees race victory, but in these two veterans, you hope that one more win might be waiting around the corner. Ellliot upset the field here in 2002, but missed the race in 2008. Martin has never won here.

We’ll know more by Sunday night, but for now both of these veterans are enjoying themselves.

“It’s okay, it’s okay. At least we’re having fun and we’re having success. It’s always fun to beat the odds,” said the Arkansas veteran who now calls Florida home. “I believe that we ARE beating the odds I like making history.”

*Indiana Pacers 2009 first-round draft choice Tyler Hansbrough has been named the Grand Marshal for the 16th Allstate Brickyard 400. Hansbrough, the 13th overall pick in this year’s NBA draft, will wave the green flag to start the race.

* In a move designed to increase slumping TV ratings, ESPN will introduce a new concept in their coverage of the August 15th NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Michigan International Speedway. The network will debut their “Backseat Drivers” concept by which analysts Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree, Ray Evernham and Tim Brewer will handle the telecast without a traditional “play by play” announcing team. “Our goal is to give viewers a different presentation, one filled with discussion, observations, and stories from some of the most respected champions NASCAR has crowned,” said Rich Feinberg, ESPN vice president of motorsports. “This is an opportunity for our viewers to have the experience of sitting around watching a race with these champions from their couch at home, and without the traditional approach to sportscasting.” Feinberg said that they wouldn’t think to extend this type of coverage to their Sprint Cup programming until they digest the results of this Nationwide race experiment.

*The latest victim of the current economic downturn is the Roush Fenway #17 Sprint Cup Ford driven by Matt Kenseth. Sponsor DeWALT power tools announced that they will not renew for the 2010 season after a ten-year association with the team beginning when Kenseth was the 2000 NASCAR Rookie of the Year. “Despite this success- in the face of the current world wide economic decline in the construction industry- DeWALT’s decision to not return is not a great surprise to us,” said Geoff Smith, president of Roush Fenway Racing. “Fortunately we have several great companies interested in taking over and we expect to begin finalizing those sponsorships in the very near future.” Kenseth understands the economic problems, but wishes DEWALT could have stayed around. “I’ve got a lot of friends at the company but certainly it’s disappointing we couldn’t figure out how to make all of that work and keep it all together somehow. But I guess it’s a little bit a sign of the times. The tool business is obviously very weak.”

*Despite positive results from pre-race tire testing, there is still some concern in the garage area over tire life after last year’s Goodyear tire problems. Two-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson took time to discuss Goodyear’s efforts for the 2009 event with the media. “You know it’s really important (to have a good show.) I think with Goodyear and the effort they’ve put in to correct the tire and make a tire that works for this car because it’s not all Goodyear’s fault. Certainly the tire gave up (last year), but the car is different than what we have had in the past. They made a huge effort and spent a lot of time up here testing, a lot of money on research and development, all those different things and knew they didn’t have the right situation last year and wanted to prove to the fans that they could get it right. So I really commend them for their effort.”

*Three drivers-Max Papis, Joey Logano and Scott Speed- are attempting to qualify for their first Brickyard 400. Speed, a former F1 pilot, competed here in the U. S. Grand Prix in 2006 and 2007. Juan Pablo Montoya is the only driver to have competed in the 500, 400 and U. S. Grand Prix here at the Speedway. Montoya’s Target Chevrolet features a yellow lightning bolt on its familiar red/white color scheme. This design is similar to the one on the Target-sponsored car that he drove to victory in the 2000 Indianapolis 500.

*Richard Petty, who fields cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, also entered a car for John Andretti in this year’s Indianapolis 500. Petty has visited the Speedway “fifteen or twenty times” for qualifying but never was here on race day until this year. “I was very impressed with the whole deal. It was the first time I had been here and had involvement in the race,” said the 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion. “I’ve been talking with John, and maybe we can get together and do better next time.”

*Much was made a year ago here in Indianapolis when Tony Stewart unveiled his then-new Sprint Cup team that bore the #14 on his Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet. His choice of that number was meant to honor Tony’s driver hero A. J. Foyt. Two of Foyt’s four 500 wins were in a car numbered 14, while A. J.’s NASCAR #14 made 42 starts between 1983 and 1992 with no wins. The #14 has raced 860 times in NASCAR’s top series, with drivers like Fonty Flock, Hershel McGriff, Jim Paschal and now Stewart scoring a total of 28 series wins. Stewart currently leads the Sprint Cup standings. The 14 is a storied number with many more wins ahead of it.

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