Mark Martin had every right to vent. His crew chief had just made perhaps the worst decision of the Sprint Cup season, one that might be remembered as the key reason the veteran driver isn’t a part of the Chase field.
Alan Gustafson elected to keep Martin on the track last week at Michigan, choosing to try to stretch the team’s fuel mileage rather than pitting and taking the safe route. The gamble, of course, backfired and Martin ended up losing precious spots in the standings. Pitting would have resulted in a top-10 finish at least. Instead, Martin finished 31st and sits on the bubble as the series hits the always tricky half-mile at Bristol.
For Martin, though, a lifetime of ups and downs on the racetrack has taught him a thing or two about restraint. Although throwing Gustafson under the bus may have felt good, Martin knew it might also throw any chance of making the Chase out the window. So driver and crew chief sat down this week and made sure no lingering effects will be felt this weekend and down the road.
“It’s such a special opportunity in my lifetime to work with him,” Martin said of Gustafson, who took full responsibility for the mistake. “He was doing much better on Tuesday. Just to lay it out, I’ve accomplished everything I had hoped to accomplish this year already and much more. The least difficult of all the things I hope to accomplish, I thought, would be making the Chase.
“Alan and I are both confident in our performance from here forward. I can’t speak for him but I’m not so confident in our luck, but I’m certainly confident in our performance and that’s really all we can do. In some ways the tension had increased because we should be comfortably in instead of where we are.”
If the Chase were to start today, Martin would be top-seeded because of his series-best four wins. However, that doesn’t guarantee you a spot in the Chase, nor should it. There is still a place for consistency in NASCAR. Some will complain that Martin might be out while non-winner Carl Edwards is securely in. Being good week in and week out still should be a must for any champion.
Martin knows this, and that’s the cruel thing about this season for him since consistency always has been his specialty. Though he’s trying to avoid putting added pressure on the team, he knows that pressure is already there, and he also knows he’ll always look back if the team doesn’t make the Chase
“It just would be devastating for my team to not be included in that elite group,” he said. “They’ve won more races than anyone else, and they should be proud of that.”
That, however, won’t be enough.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...