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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Old-timer Martin gives notice to Young Guns

For a while on Sunday, Mark Martin looked like a man possessed behind the wheel of his #8 car, as he was putting an old-school whooping on all these young kids who were still in diapers when he made his first Cup start.

Then, as has happened far too often through his career, Lady Luck came up and bit him you-know-where. The first setback was a couple of slow pit stops that put him back further in traffic. But he had clearly the best car at that point of the race, so all hope was not lost.

Unfortunately, around the time of the rain delay during the middle of the race, Martin made the wrong call on pit strategy (as did some other strong cars, including Denny Hamlin and June winner Kasey Kahne), and had to come in later in the race for a splash of gas. Carl Edwards played his pit strategy just right, and ended up taking the win.

Martin may not have won Sunday, but he’s on a tear lately. Look for him to continue to prove he can hang with the youngsters for the rest of the year. And next year at Hendrick, it’s a whole new ballgame. He may contend for several more wins, though I don’t see him battling for the title as the fourth-wheel to three superstars.

As for the race overall, it was better than I expected. The combination of different pit strategies and good side-by-side action (FOUR-wide at times) made it tolerable, as there was always some drama about who would take the checkered flag. It was by no means an instant classic, but there have been some stinkers this year that were a lot worse.

But there’s still no reason for the race to be so long. It seems everyone from fans to drivers share that opinion, but for some reason both Pocono races are still 500 miles. I guess the track wants to get more concession sales.

As a side note, I’ve noticed that almost every other week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is complaining all day about how his car is so terrible he can hardly keep it from wrecking, yet he usually ends up inside or near the top 10 in the finishing order. Take from that what you will -- either Jr. is overachieving as a driver, or it’s not really that bad despite all his complaints.

Chase update
The magical run of Brian Vickers appears to be over, after a poor finish at Pocono. He is now more than 200 points out of 12th and has little chance to make it. The same goes for Ryan Newman, who is more than 170 points out.

It appears the top 14 are battling for 12 spots. A great top 5 run by David Ragan has him hanging in there, just 46 points out and ready to jump in there any week. Next week will be an important race for him, as the road courses aren’t a strong point for him. Also back on the outside is Matt Kenseth, who had an 11th place finish Sunday, but finished behind all the other drivers who are borderline to make the Chase, and is now 11 points out. Kudos go to Kevin Harvick, who came back from an early spin to finish fourth and stay in the top 12.

Kyle Busch ran out of gas and had a second terrible Pocono finish, and lost a lot of points. Pre-Chase, his lead being cut to 176 points would have mattered. In the Chase era, it means nothing.


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