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Martin Kicks Off Chase With A Victory In Loudon

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 21 2009
Mark Martin hits the pits en route to winning at New Hampshire on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Mark Martin hits the pits en route to winning at New Hampshire on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Nick Bromberg | Senior Correspondent

Mark Martin may want to give Denny Hamlin a big thank you.

Hamlin got alongside Juan Pablo Montoya for second on the next to last lap, allowing Martin to pull away and win the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire.

Martin took the outside lane on the final restart with three laps to go, and pinched Montoya—who started on the inside—down to the apron.

“Mark just screwed me there,” Montoya said.

“I respect him a lot but next time… I won’t wreck him but I’ll bump him.”

While it’s obvious that Martin and Montoya won’t be exchanging post race pleasantries, one person Martin was already thanking in Victory Lane was his crew chief Alan Gustafson.

“It’s pretty darn good. Alan won the race. Alan Gustafson is the man. This is a dream come true,” Martin said.

Martin stayed out with about 100 laps to go to take the lead, but the race went green for an extended period of time after that, forcing Martin to make a green flag pit stop.

When Martin headed to pit road, Gustafson was telling Martin to calm down and that everything would be OK.

“The race started, and we had a pretty good car, and it’s tough.  It’s tough back there in traffic, and Mark was doing a good job, and we could get to the 6th, to 8th, 9th place range and we could hang out around there,” Gustafson said.

“And then we got an opportunity to kind of flip the track position on them, and we did, and took advantage of that.”

As it turned out, everything was more than OK for Martin, as the race stayed green until there were 27 laps to go, meaning the whole field had to come to pit road, cycling Martin back to the lead.

“So we had a big enough lead on the 11 where we could pit, and we weren’t really too far down, a lap down to him.  We were only a little ways back, a car or two or half a straightaway.  Mark was able to get past (Hamlin) in pretty quick order, so I knew we were in good shape there once we got back on the lead lap,” Gustafson said.

And with the win, Martin extends his points lead to 35 points over second place Jimmie Johnson, who finished fourth.

For the early part of the race, Montoya had the car to beat, at least on the short runs. He could consistently drive away from the field for the first 40 laps of a run.

He got stuck in traffic on the caution that Martin stayed out on, but had a good enough car to work his way to the front for that final shootout.

“If you go back to like 30 laps ago and you look and see us running 12th and being able to pick up 11 places or 10 places in, I don’t know, 20 laps, I wouldn’t be pissed off.  I’m more than happy.  I thought, man, I’m running 12th and I see Kurt and Denny and the 48, the 5 ahead of me, the 24.  I’m like, this sucks,” Montoya said.
“And all of a sudden it’s like boom, boom, boom.  I had two good restarts.  That’s all it takes.  We were very good on the restarts.  We’re all out here.  There’s no prisoners.  We’re not taking any prisoners.”

Which is the approach that Martin took with Montoya in the final laps. And after he had a chance to cool off a bit, Montoya said that he would have done the same.

“He gives me a lot of space always.  With two laps to go, I would have done the same thing.  It’s frustrating when they do it to you, but when you do it to somebody else, it feels good.  So I got screwed this time,” Montoya said with a laugh.

Kasey Kahne was the only Chase driver to finish outside the top 16. Kahne blew an engine just 66 laps into the race, and is 12th in the Chase standings, already 161 points behind Martin.

However, Kahne wasn’t the only Chaser to have trouble. Tony Stewart, who was running in the top five for the first two thirds of the race, continued his run of misfortune after a loose left rear axle cap forced  a long pit stop under caution to fix the problem. Thanks to some two tire strategy, Stewart did rebound for a 14th place finish and is 6th in the points standings, 74 points behind Martin.

Race Notes

• Everyone remembers the pileup that took out eight cars immediately after a double file restart here in the summer, and it seemed that crash might have been in the back of the drivers’ minds as well. There was only one incident right after a restart, when Jeff Burton went spinning in turn two, which is impressive given the lack of grip on the inside with a car on the outside.

“Yeah, it’s really tough, because on restarts these things really slip around.  I will say, I really gotta brag on the drivers today.  They did an awesome job and did a better job than usual not running over each other because it’s very, very hard,” Martin said.

• After qualifying fifth, Carl Edwards looked like he might have been poised for a top five finish, or maybe his first win of the season. Crew chief Bob Osborne made some wholesale changes to the car before the race Sunday, but those didn’t have the desired effect, as he and Edwards were chasing the car all day.

“Our car just struggled all day and I couldn’t go fast.  Once I got strung out
I could hold my own and I could run well, but on those restarts I just got killed on the short run,” Edwards said.

He finished 16th.

• Ryan Newman overcame a mediocre qualifying effort thanks to a two tire pit stop late in the race, but lost positions when David Reutimann put Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the wall with just 17 laps to go.

“We made a two-tire call there instead of four tires like a lot of guys and I felt that we had a really good car at the end, but that one restart there where (Reutimann) got into (Earnhardt Jr.) cost me about four spots; finishing seventh means we should have maybe finished third. But congratulations to Mark. He did a great job. We just didn’t have the track position the entire day,” Newman said.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 21 2009
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