Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mark Martin is doing it his way

Atlanta boasts what is now the best track in non-restrictor plate racing on the Nextel Cup circuit. The track has wide turns and is multi grooved, meaning drivers can race anywhere on the track, and only need brakes when entering the pit lane. In fact, entering pit road is the only drawback of Atlanta Motor Speedway, because the commitment cone is so close to the racing area that the driver has to decelerate from racing speed to pit road speed in less than two seconds.
Mark Martin is having fun, and it was fun to listen to him for an entire hour on Speed TV's Trackside. Martin is only in it to race and win, this season--points don't matter to him, even though he is currently at the top of the drivers' points standings. In fact, when Darryl Waltrip asked him about leaving the car while on top of the points race, The Kid's response was, "Points?!?! Shut up!," much to the delight of DW's co-stars and the live audience.

Mark has earned the right to be able to choose which races he wants to enter and which he doesn't. That is part of his contract with Ginn Racing, options he wouldn't have if he had stayed with Roush-Fenway. Although he earned his wheels as a short track racer, racing with 42 other highly aggressive and competitive drivers on a short track is not Mark Martin's idea of racing. He hates cautions, and Bristol and Martinsville are both tracks at which the races are heavily laden with yellow flags. So, he'll sit out until the race at Texas, relaxing and coaching his son Matt, and his probable protoge, Ricky Carmichael.
During his interview on Trackside Martin gave away one of his secrets--he sees his area of expertise in "rolling the car through the center of the turns." This means that he likes to loose up his car and slide it around to give him an optimum exit out of the turn. AMS is a good venue for this type of driving, and no-one should be surprised if The Kid goes and wins Sunday's race. He is, obviously, my pick to win, Sunday.
There are, however, several other drivers who could incur the wrath of millions of fans by racing and beating Mark Martin for the win. The ones I see as most likely to do so are Tony "Smoke" Stewart, "Cuzzin'" Carl Edwards, Jeff "Good Hands" Burton, Kasey "The Kute Little Guy" Kahne, and Jimmie "Captain Incredible" Johnson.
Tony Stewart is a two time winner at Atlanta, is the most recent winner at that track, and is ready for a repeat at the home track of his sponsor, Home Depot. It is easy to see that if he pulled out a top ten finish at a track he didn't like, Las Vegas, he should do well at a track he loves. Wide open racing is Smoke's forte, among all his other strengths, and he may end up the recipient of much booing as he stands in Victory Lane. Personally speaking, I would be very happy to see Smoke climb the fence in celebration, even if it did mean beating Mark Martin.
It is almost a given that Captain Incredible would be among the top choices for a win. Jimmie Johnson is almost immune to adversity. Of all the drivers he has the best average finish at the 1.5 mile and 2 mile speedways. He is prone to mistakes, though, and his team, however invincible it seems to be, can't always get him back up and running, so he can take the lead at the last minute. Let the fans boo him if he wins. He doesn't mind.
Cuzzin' Carl won his first Cup Series Victory at Atlanta, in 2005, and after a dismal season for him last year, is on his way back up. Bob Osborne, with whom Edwards has been most successful is back at crew chief, and success this season for the #99 team is once again on the menu. He is probably the only driver who can beat Mark Martin and not be booed by the majority of the crowd. They will be too thrilled to see him once again perform a victory backflip.
Jeff Burton is probably the only other driver, besides Smoke, who has the skill to at least try to outdrive Mark Martin through Atlanta's wide turns. It would be very exciting to see a door to door race between Burton and Martin for the last lap or two. Anyone in front of them should be sure to get out of the way. I wouldn't boo Jeff Burton for beating Mark Martin. I would be way too happy and satisfied at the thrill of seeing those two guys race each other like that.
The Kute Little Guy not only had a break through season last year, but he proved himself to be very adept at the 1.5 mile ovals. He has been frustrated by bad luck so far this year, but he has the determination to overcome such luck. Must of the bad luck has been brought on himself, by his own admission. Since Kasey Kahne knows that he is making mistakes, it can be assumed that he knows how to fix them. It should be fun to watch him at Atlanta, and, if he can't win, he should be able to make it a great race.
These picks are probably obvious to most fans, and two other obvious picks to finish in the top ten are Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. These are two drivers who, so far this season, have made it seem unusual not to see them with a top ten finish. Both Hamlin and Kenseth are drivers who can avoid trouble during most of the race, and make it seem easy when they make their moves toward the closing laps, and Presto!, there they are, finishing second or third if not actually winning the race.
Elliott Sadler is as good a fit for Everham as Jeff Burton has been for Childress. This guy is an excellent driver, in case no-one has noticed, and is probably the best driver who has not won a Cup Series championship, besides Mark Martin. Atlanta is his kind of racing, and he rarely makes mistakes. His only problem so far this year is that he seems to be where others make their mistakes, which doesn't necessarily mean that he would be taken out of the race, but just set back some. Sadler is definately one to watch for a thrill, and will get another top ten finish at Atlanta.
There are several other drivers who could be picked to fill out the top ten, but gut feeling and performance tell me this will be a good race for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. His team has shown the potential to excel at the 1.5 mile ovals, they just haven't been consistent about it yet. But consistency is bound to happen for the #8 team this season, so why not let it be Atlanta where we begin to see it. It was only a small mistake that kept Junior from finishing in the top ten last week, and we would like to think they learned from that mistake.
There are about thirty other drivers I didn't pick for my top ten whom I would like to mention, among them Greg "Da Biff" Biffle. Da Biff can't seem to shake his bad luck, and most of it hasn't been of his own doing. I'm not a fan of his, but I do think he is a much better driver than his record shows. He deserves to see an end to his bad luck, and needs to begin his comeback soon.
I will also mention Jeff Gordon. I am notorious for underestimating The Gordon, but the reasoning is that, as good as he is, he seems to have problems when a car needs constant adjustment through a race. Still, he is one of the all-time best of the best, and we do like it that he is showing some of the old Devil-may-care aggressiveness that made him notable in the nineties.
So, with a cheerful "good luck" to all the drivers, let's all luck forward to a thrilling and satisfying race Sunday.

3 comments: said...

I'm with you on thinkin' Martin could win this one. He is good here, plus he's the hottest driver right now. I think that he has made up his mind about the season (partial schedule) and will be going all out for the win at Atlanta. His car looked awfully good in qualifying. I heard him say today that it stays good in the long run too. Go Mark!

racefan57 said...

Yeah I'm with you on Martin

Good Busch race

The Dixie Butcher said...

saaaaaaay... you didn't do *too* bad callin' that one! (Big Smile).

We also totally cracked up when Mr. Martin told DW to shut up! That was, as Elliot Sadler says, "Awesome!" Not only has Martin earned the right to drive whatever races he pleases, when he please, but he can also get away with mouthing off to D.W. - and who hasn't yelled "Shut Up!" at their t.v. when he was talking? At least once? ;)

I think you're right about Sadler's "good fit" at Evernham - we just hope it sticks. It seems like it will though - he was good right out of the chute when he took up with them last year - much to our surprise. We figured it would take him a while to settle in. But he's remained consistently great & only suffering from a few setbacks not of his own making - as you noted.

And at the same time, Gilliland seemed to be working magic with the #38 after all the bum finishes Sadler had had at RYR - so it's worked out great for everyone but poor old Jeremy Mayfield. Bless his heart.

Thanks for comin' by Willard's, Rev Jim! Sorry it's taken us so long to git up witcha. Have a good 'ern.