Tag: Mark Martin

Who Will NOT Be Filling In For Tony Stewart

News came out earlier this week Tony Stewart was involved in a “non-racing” accident (because that makes it better for us to take? Weird emphasis on “non-racing” on nearly every press release) and will miss significant time after sustaining a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra. This will take a substantial amount of time to heal, thus opening the door for a replacement driver in the #14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).

And with any opening in NASCAR, fans go crazy with off the wall suggestions for who should take over. With those in mind, here is a list of drivers who will NOT be driving for Tony Stewart in 2016.

Jeff Gordon: Recently retired and signed up to call races on FOX, Gordon WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Not it’s not really the FOX deal, as they would love for someone to call a race in a race, it’s the fact Gordon owns half of the #48 and part of the #24 cars for Hendrick Motorsports. NASCAR rules prohibit someone from owning part of a team that has four cars to then drive for another organization, never mind the Hendrick to Stewart-Haas connection. This is the same reason why JR Motorsports will never go to Cup nor Kyle Busch Motorsports. That is unless Dale Earnhardt Jr or Kyle Busch drive for their own teams. That aside, there is no way Gordon is selling his stake in Hendrick Motorsports to drive half a year or even just the Daytona 500.

Mark Martin: Martin already has filled in for Stewart before, but he WILL NOT drive for Stewart in 2016. He has retired and has no desire to drive anymore, saying as much on Twitter earlier this week. Poor Martin, he has bombarded with so many fan inquiries I would blame him from never logging on Twitter ever again.

Jeff Burton: Burton, like Martin has filled in for Stewart before. And like Gordon, has a TV deal that he’s currently working on. Like Martin again, he took to Twitter to tell fans he WILL NOT drive for Stewart.

John Hunter Nemechek: Not sure where this originated from, but John Hunter Nemechek WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Nemechek just turned 18 last season, which means he can finally run on large tracks, and I’m pretty sure there’s a large one to start the season. I can’t imagine SHR would want to rotate through a handful of drivers while Stewart recovers. And given Nemechek’s lack of experience, even in the Truck Series, and that is not a winning recipe.

Jeremy Mayfield: Even weirder than the Nemechek push has been the one for Jeremy Mayfield. Sorry folks, but Mayfield WILL NOT drive for Stewart. The driver who is better known for meth and burglary has been a heartwarming story of redemption trying to fight his way back into racing. That said, never mind “meth” and “burglary” being synonymous with his name (right or wrong), he hasn’t driven in the Cup Series since they had the Car of Tomorrow. Too much of a learning curve for him to try and make up for, plus that and still being suspended by NASCAR will hold him back.

Brian Vickers: Vickers is an interesting case because he when given good equipment, he can excel. That being said, Vickers WILL NOT drive for Stewart. One year removed having to stop racing while on blood thinners, not much has been heard from Vickers outside some studio time at NBC. Given his name came up exactly zero times this offseason as a driver who could go into an empty ride, I believe his racing career has come and gone. Add to that the unknown of if he has to step away again due to the blood clots and we’re back to SHR not wanting to flip-flop drivers every week.

Alex Bowman: Alex Bowman finds himself in an odd place in NASCAR, Cup Series owner Tommy Baldwin showed now faith in him and dumped him a week ago for Regan Smith. On the other side, Dale Earnhardt Jr sees potential with Bowman and inked him to five Xfinity Series races this upcoming season. One could argue that Stewart could see something in Bowman that Junior sees, but reality says Bowman WILL NOT drive for Stewart.

Clint Bowyer: While Bowyer will drive for Stewart, as his successor, in 2017, this year he WILL NOT drive for Stewart. Too much was done to get him over to HScott Motorsports for one year to then nix that deal to run him half of this year. If they knew Stewart was out for the full year, maybe, but with sponsors involved this one is a no go.

David Ragan: Ragan WILL NOT drive for Stewart. This isn’t so much because Ragan signed with BK Racing, it’s more because no one seems to want Ragan. He was spurned by Team Penske, Richard Petty Motorsports (twice!), Front Row Motorsports didn’t want him back after he left last year, and no other team had a fleeting interest in Ragan. That said, he does have one big fan who assumes every open seat is Ragan’s…good thing this guy isn’t in the media.

Parker Kligerman: Kligerman WILL NOT drive for Stewart. No talk of him doing it, just trying to justify using his image for the article. While he did work as a backup plan if Kurt Busch was late coming back to the Daytona 500, Kligerman has hitched his wagon on the NBC train while dabbling in the Truck Series. With no Cup experience, he would be very far down the list. He ran for Swan Racing, which everyone has since forgot about.

Ryan Ellis: Bwahahahaha.

Ty Dillon: Dillon’s name has gotten a lot of steam as a replacement, but he WILL NOT drive for Stewart…in the Daytona 500. He already has a deal with Leavine Circle Family Sport Racing (whoops, Leavine Family Circle Sport Racing…or is it Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing?) to run the 500 with Cheerios as a sponsor. You could argue they could move primary driver Michael McDowell to that ride and let Dillon go, but I don’t see that happening. After Daytona, however, I could see him being a good substitute for Stewart. And it’ll be fun to see him paired with Kevin Harvick as a teammate.

Elliott’s Win Is Good And Bad For Hendrick Motorsports

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Chase Elliott captured his first career Nationwide Series win Friday night in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. The win came in only Elliott’s sixth career start and gives him two NASCAR wins in 15 starts (Nationwide and Trucks).

Rick Hendrick has been working with various teams, including JR Motorsports whom Elliott races this year in the Nationwide Series, to develop Elliott. The goal will be one day fielding him in the Sprint Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports.

The problem with this plan is with NASCAR’s restrictions on how many teams one owner can have, maximum is four, which leaves Hendrick Motorsports without an open team. With talk of Jeff Gordon retiring intensifying this past year, all signs point to Elliott being the heir apparent to the #24 team. But how long can Elliott wait before moving up?

Gordon has been mum on his exact plans, hinting that if he won a fifth championship he would walk away that day, but that is no concrete end. Could Elliott continue in the Nationwide Series for the next few years or five years? Would Hendrick have him drive for another team that has an alliance with Hendrick for a few years and then move him over?

If Elliott continues his progression through NASCAR this is one bridge Hendrick and he will have to cross before both are ready. A similar situation happened with Brad Keselowski and Hendrick a few years back. The plan was for Keselowski to share the #5 Chevrolet with Mark Martin for a few years then take it over fulltime. A wrench was thrown into the situation as Martin had a career year in 2009, and at that point Keselowski was let go.

I’m sure there’s a master plan in the works and Gordon won’t be hanging on forever. It’s just a matter of everyone sticking to the plan and other teams or Elliott getting impatient. For now they can soak up the idea that this 18-year old kid has his first Nationwide Series win and justifies the hype about him.

The Paradigm Shift In NASCAR

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Much was made last November about a changing of the guard in NASCAR when we ran the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark Martin and Ken Schrader made it be known it would be their final Sprint Cup Series race. For Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte it represented their final full-time race in the series, although Labonte did not make the trip south as his finale was a week prior at Phoenix.

Beyond those four drivers there are a few more veterans who might be shut out of the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, making a landscape of drivers whom diehard fans know, but the casual fan might not. David Reutimann, an eight year veteran has been let go from BK Racing and it’s not looking good for him securing a new ride. Dave Blaney, with 16 years, has said he will focus more on sprint cars than the Sprint Cup Series in 2014. And signs are not good that Travis Kvapil, a nine year veteran, will have a ride in 2014 either.

There always comes a time in NASCAR when it seems the whole landscape shifts to a new crop of stars. In the late-80s drivers like Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Richard Petty, and Cale Yarborough got out of the way for the new crop. That crop included Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, and Mark Martin among others.

Those drivers have slowly retired along the way, handing off the baton to the likes of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and others. With rides being at a premium in the Sprint Cup Series, this will be the first time in a very long time we will have a deep rookie class coming into the season. That comes at the cost of veterans who have been hanging on, for good or bad.

This rookie class has, officially, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, and Michael Annett. Unofficially Justin Allgaier should be joining them in the Phoenix Racing entry and most recently it looks like Alex Bowman should as well with BK Racing.

While it is unfamiliar times for some NASCAR fans, this time should be embraced with excitement. While we wish all the veterans can hang on, I for one believe it’s time for change and to get new faces into the sport.

Second Place Hangover

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If it wasn’t bad enough to be second (aka the first loser) in the final Sprint Cup Series championship rundown, here’s another reason to hate it. Since 2007, the driver finishing second has not finished better than seventh the next season. That was done by Jeff Gordon (second in 2007) and Clint Bowyer (second in 2012).

The lucky runner up this season was Matt Kenseth, who in 2006 finished second as well. His follow up season in 2007, he was able to place fourth, which is why we start with Gordon as the first to be cursed.

In 2008 Carl Edwards was runner-up and in 2009 he plummeted to 11th place. Mark Martin took second that season and followed it up by missing the Chase and finishing 13th. In 2010, Denny Hamlin lost the lead and title on the last race. The next season he could only manage a ninth place finish.

Carl Edwards was up again after going blow for blow with Tony Stewart in 2011 and coming up short. The next season he not only missed the Chase, but was 15th with no wins when it was all said and done. Clint Bowyer, as mentioned before, has tied the best finish mark by finishing in the seventh position in this year’s standings.

Not only does Kenseth have the past to show he might buck this trend, but his team was strong all season long, and can’t possible fall off that much in 2014. Or can he? Maybe we should ask Carl Edwards how 2012 went for him. Kenseth fans, you might want to worry about next season.

More Than A Season Finale

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When the checkered flag flies in Sunday’s Ford 400 from the Homestead-Miami Speedway, more than just the 2013 season will come to a close. For some drivers it will be the end of tenures with their current teams and for others the end of their careers.

The most prominent driver to be hanging it up at the close of the season is Mark Martin. While the retirement word hasn’t been used, his talk with reporters is one that indicates the driving aspect of his career is over. “It is hard to believe that I’ve lived this dream. I’m so fortunate. I got two chances at it. I got a chance at it and had success and failed, and had to go and start my career all over again and spend several years getting back up on my feet and getting a second opportunity in NASCAR. It is really hard to believe. I am still – deep down inside, I’m still the kid from Arkansas that got the huge thrill the first time I went to Daytona as a spectator to watch the Daytona 500. I wasn’t even a teenager yet. I never dreamed I would be able to do the things that I’ve done and to have the success that I’ve had. It’s been a dream. Living a dream.”

Coming into the race under the radar of his final Sprint Cup Series start is Ken Schrader. The 29 year veteran has been running off and on the past few years, but has said that this will be it. Odds are he still might make a random Camping World Truck Series or appearance in another series, it won’t be the Sprint Cup Series. While not one of the more successful drivers on the track, off the track he’s earned the respect of fans and competitors alike.

Another driver stepping away from the Sprint Cup Series, but could possibly be back in a one off race scenario is Juan Pablo Montoya. After seven years in the Sprint Cup Series, which saw two career wins, Montoya is going back to his roots in the IndyCar Series. He will be driving there for Roger Penske, so coming back for a road course race will always be a rumor. “It’s hard to believe that seven years ago I raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first time. This race is special to me in a lot of ways; its home, my family and friends will all be there and it’s the last time I will race with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Target. To be honest with you, it’s bittersweet and I’d like to have a good weekend for Target and the team. Nothing would mean more than a win this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”

While not retiring, just yet anyways, Jeff Burton will be stepping away from the full-time side of things in the Sprint Cup Series for a yet to be determined part-time ride in 2014. He will leave the Richard Childress Racing team after just over 9 years with them. During that time he was able to re-ignite his career with four wins from 2006 to 2008. He has struggled as of late, but that should not be a true reflection of his career. “I’ve been really blessed to do it for as long as I’ve done it to do something that you love and to be able to do it as long as I’ve done it really is a blessing.  When I was seven years old I wanted to be a race car driver.  I’m 46 and I’m a race car driver.  I’ve just been really blessed.  The cool thing is I’ve met so many people and experienced so many things that I never would have been able to do.  To have a chance to compete for a living is really is a cool thing.  You know what your job is and go out and try to do it.  Competing to me means something.  To be able to do it this long has been really cool.”

After helping Furniture Row Racing become the first single car team to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kurt Busch will be leaving at year’s end to join the Stewart-Haas Racing stable. Busch helped set marks for the teams with top-5s and top-10s, but was never able to get a victory. “This is our last chance to take the Furniture Row Chevrolet to Victory Lane. There’s nothing I want more for these Furniture Row guys who have worked so hard all year to give me a fast race car. Though we have a bunch of top-fives (11) and top-10’s (16) we don’t have that W.  A victory would cap off an already successful season for our single-car team. It’s been a great ride with a great bunch of guys and with an outstanding organization led by team owner Barney Visser. Each year when we close out the season at Homestead there is that nostalgic feeling of what happened in 2004 — winning the championship in the first year of the Chase. It was a magical time for me and I am looking from some more magic this weekend in my final ride with the No. 78 flat-black Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet.”

The man he’s replacing at Stewart-Haas Racing will be Ryan Newman. Newman is moving on to the Richard Childress Racing team after five years with SHR. In that time he’s won four races and qualified for the Chase three times. “I really look forward to Homestead. It’s a really fun racetrack for all of us. For us to go down there and end the season on a racetrack that is very raceable is something I’m happy about. They really did a great job the third time around on redesigning that racetrack. It’s a great place to have a championship weekend for all three series. I’ve not had the best record there, but we did finish third in this race last year. I’d like nothing more than to end the season on a high note and end the season on a good note for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

Also joining Stewart-Haas Racing is Kevin Harvick, who leaves the Richard Childress Racing team after 13 interesting years. It started off as Harvick being pushed into replacing the late Dale Earnhardt. Through squabbles and tribulations along the way, Harvick and his team were able to win 23 times. They finished in the top-5 in the driver standings five times and find themselves as one of the final three for this year’s title. “Homestead (Miami Speedway) has been a great race track for us, whether it was flat or banked. It’s been a race track where we’ve run well. It would be nice to close out my career at Richard Childress Racing with a win there and go out on the right note. RCR is where I got my start and it’s been a great career so far.”

Unplanned at the start of the year, Martin Truex, Jr. will be moving on from Michael Waltrip Racing after this race. He will go to the Furniture Row Racing team after four years with MWR. “I believe this NAPA team has nothing to prove. All we want to do is end on a high note and this track can certainly be the place that we can win. My guys have worked so hard for me over the last four years and I know they really want to close out our time together with a victory. To be honest, it’s been sad to see it end this way. We had such high expectations for all of us. If you really think about it, this year is only our second full season as a team for this group of guys and that’s impressive. We are really just getting started and moving in the direction that we always wanted to go. This NAPA team is such a great group of guys. It’s just unfortunate that we are not going to realize the full potential of this amazing team. All we want to do is go down swinging at Homestead. We want to use this race as a way to show everyone just how good we are and to thank NAPA Auto Parts for supporting and believing in this team. They deserve another visit to victory lane and it’s our plan to get them there on Sunday.”

While it is the end there is excitement for what the future might hold for all of these drivers. They’ll reflect on the season or career that was, but then get focused for what lies ahead.

Opinion: NASCAR Needs Rules For Truck/Nationwide Series

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After Kyle Busch took home his 12th Nationwide Series win Saturday the desire for fans to have NASCAR step up and do something has never been greater. Now, by doing something, I don’t mean baring Kyle Busch from running anything but Sprint Cup Series races. I believe new rules need to be in place to, at least, even the playing field.

Having Sprint Cup Series drivers drop down into the lower series is nothing new. The very first Nationwide Series race run in 1982 was won by Dale Earnhardt. The problem we are seeing now versus in the past is the number of races being run by Sprint Cup drivers in the lower series.

During his days of running, Earnhardt ran a max of 14 races in a single Nationwide Series season. Mark Martin, who was the all-time leader in wins for the series before Busch came along, never ran more than 15 races in a season after 1989.

There’s a few factors to why some drivers run more than others. For a while it was because they would run for both titles, in Nationwide and Sprint Cup. NASCAR squashed that with their ‘pick only one series for points’ rule, which has been in place the last three years. That has at least deterred some drivers from running the full-season, but they still run a high number of races.

Another reason is the power of sponsorship. Some sponsors only want Cup level drivers for their potential to win. They also have the ability to resonate with the fans; but they don’t want to pay the higher costs of sponsoring them in the Cup Series. Therefore, they choose to sponsor in the Nationwide Series. I can understand them wanting to get the most bang for their buck, but there needs to be a better way.

Third is the high number of companion races seen between the series. Traveling across the country used to be a discouragement for most drivers, so they would only run in the races that synced up with the Sprint Cup Series schedule. Now with air travel how it is and most Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series races being paired with a Cup race, it is even easier for drivers to justify running them.

There are two adjustments I would like to see NASCAR change in the current climate. One that will never change because it is too radical; and another which could come eventually down the road. The radical idea is to put a ban on Sprint Cup Series teams from operating Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series teams. The gap between the haves and have-nots of those series is staggering, which comes from the Sprint Cup owned organizations have full access to everything they have. That might not be an option for smaller budgeted teams who might only have a few cars in inventory.

The more realistic idea is simply put a limit on the number of races a Sprint Cup Series driver can run in a lower tiered series. I’ve struggled with the exact amount, but it should be a sliding scale. If you finished in the top-25 in Cup points the previous year, you can only run a max of 10 Nationwide Series races. If you finished below 25th you can run up to 20 races. Anything below that and there’s no cap. The idea of the sliding scale is if a driver isn’t that good (thus needs practice) or is in a situation where they might get released, they still can go to the Nationwide Series without penalty. Respectfully, I would adjust the Camping World Truck Series to 5 and 10.

Taking away the potential to earn points was supposed to help drivers monitor themselves. Unfortunately, this is another case where NASCAR will have to step in and police the situation due to fans getting upset over the domination of these races by Sprint Cup Series drivers.

A Look Back: Mark Martin

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With it most likely being Mark Martin’s final drive this weekend when the green flag comes out for the Ford EcoBoost 400 this Sunday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, Start ‘N’ Park Blog takes a look back through the years. Below you’ll find photographs from Martin’s career as well as his Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series career stats.

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