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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Is Hendrick providing Mark Martin the tools to succeed? Only time will tell

Coming into 2009, Mark Martin was on a mission and thought he had the tools to achieve it.

A many-time runner up in the points standings, the well-respected Martin signed up with Hendrick Motorsports for one final year of full-time competition. His goals were clear: Win races and contend for the championship.

So far, things haven’t gone exactly as planned. Engine problems gave him two 40th place finishes the past two weeks and he is 34th in points, just a handful of points from dropping out of the top 35 altogether.

It’s safe to say that right now is the time for Martin to turn things around. Not next week, not the week after. By then it may be too late if wants to have a realistic hope of creeping up the standings and making the Chase.

He’s off to a good start, nabbing the pole for the Atlanta race. It was his first pole earned since 2001, and a message to his competitors that the past few weeks were an aberration. Now he has to back it up on Sunday.

No one doubts that Mark Martin has the talent and desire to compete for race wins and make the Chase. The question is whether the bad luck that has bit him his whole career will continue with his latest, and supposedly final, attempt at the Holy Grail. I had raised concerns prior to the season starting about whether the fourth Hendrick car, which has traditionally been an R&D car, would be adequately equipped for Martin for truly make a run at anything great. With the early failures, I’m afraid I may have been right.

I'm not saying Hendrick is sabotaging his own team ... that would just be stupid. But with three other huge names on the team that will be around much longer than Martin, logic would dictate that sometimes he's going to get the short end of the stick when it comes to choosing who gets the best parts.

I’m hoping I am wrong. I hope the early struggles are behind Mark and he’s ready to put on a great performance this Sunday and on many more weekends to come. If anyone can come back and string together some good finishes that put him on a path to the Chase, it’s Martin.

The question remains, though: Will the equipment allow him to do so.

Truck race a blast
The Truck race at Atlanta was won by Kyle Busch, but it was far from a bore. Throughout the race, Busch battled with Kevin Harvick and Todd Bodine, for the lead. The biggest shocker of all … there were occasions when someone actually passed passed Busch under green for the lead.

In addition to the great battle up front, the action was exciting through the field and the Truck Series proved once again that it’s some of the best NASCAR entertainment you’ll find. Assuming he can find sponsorship for the full year, it looks like Bodine will be among those battling for the Truck Series crown. On the other side, Johnny Benson has struggled this year, and will have to step up his game if he wants to defend his series title.

Busch should sweep weekend
Look for Kyle Busch to keep up his torrid pace in the early season and sweep both races at Atlanta. The defending race winner has momentum and one of the best cars on the track: That's a dangerous combination and I don't see anyone beating him on Sunday.

New girl in town
Competing in the Atlanta truck race was NASCAR’s next applicant for the Great Female Hope. Gabi DiCarlo, who has raced in the Hooters Pro Cup and ARCA series, made her second Truck Series start, finishing 24th. That follows up a 19th place finish at Fontana. Recent attempts by females to get successful in NASCAR, from Shawna Robinson to Chrissy Wallace, have all failed to take off. But you can bet that if DiCarlo starts to get closer to the top-10 with her finishes, the media will flock to her and so will sponsors. She’s young, female and attractive. If she can prove she has racing talent, she’ll have the full support of the bosses in Daytona as they hope a Danica-like figure will bring even more fans and sponsors to NASCAR.


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