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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bad strategy call by Mark Martin’s team could cost him Chase berth

If Mark Martin misses the Chase, his team's unnecessary gambling on fuel at Michigan will be something he can look to as a major contributing factor.

It’s one thing for Jimmie Johnson, guaranteed a Chase spot, to attempt to run 51 laps on a single tank of gas at MIS. But for Martin to do it is just plain crazy. He was already on the edge of the Chase standings, and by running out of gas on the last lap and finishing 31st, he is only a dozen points ahead of a resurgent Brian Vickers. He didn't have the breathing room to gamble, but the team did it anyway. It defies logic.

Despite his four wins on the season, it’s quite possible Martin will not be around to compete for a title. That would be a shame, but bad decisions like the one his team made Sunday at MIS will have been a major factor in his failure to qualify for the Chase.

The most amazing part: If Martin can sneak into the Chase, he will be the points leader, as he leads the series in wins and will have more bonus points than any other driver (at this point, at least). But if he’s even one point out of 12th place, he doesn’t get a shot at the championship.

So either he’s the top dog after Richmond, or he’s out in the cold … amazing. If this happens, I bet NASCAR will consider tweaking the Chase rules to allow drivers who have won several races to automatically qualify for the Chase, even if it means expanding the field.

Jr. has best finish since May
Fresh off his comments criticizing the COT and the quality of racing in NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a great run Sunday, running up front late in the race and even leading at one point.

He finished third, earning his first top-10 finish since Talladega, all the way back in May – 14 races ago. If Vickers and Jeff Gordon hadn’t achieved their fuel mileage numbers, we may have even seen him in Victory Lane on Sunday.

As disastrous as this season has been, it’s important for the #88 team to take advantage of this momentum and put together a string of races with decent finishes. Though he can’t make the Chase, there’s no reason this season has to be a total waste. If he can put together a win or two before the season ends and build a good relationship with new crew chief Lance McGrew, he will have a good chance to start the 2010 season on a good note and put the train wreck of 2009 behind him.

House of Hendrick?
In recent years, Michigan International Speedway has become known to as the House of Roush, as he had one at least one race three for seven straight years prior to 2009. This year, that string was broken, and it may be time to call it the House of Hendrick. Jimmie Johnson has dominated the past two races. Dale Jr. has run well there the past two years, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin were very impressive in both races this year. Even Brad Keselowski seems to have a good grasp of the place.

Meanwhile, of the Roush camp, only Carl Edwards has won in the past four races, and he was the only Roush driver who really looked great on Sunday, and only three Roush drivers finished in the top-20.


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