“I’m sure this makes (MWR partner) Rob Kauffman and Michael Waltrip, who stuck their necks out to hire an old guy, feel a little bit better about it,” said Martin, “Makes me feel better about it, too.”
Martin, who has driven for Hendrick, Roush and now MWR, credits the equipment he has had the opportunity to drive over the years, for his success with winning races and poles.
“I’ve driven really good stuff, ever since 1988,” Martin said. “I did drive a couple of slugs back in the early ‘80s, but since then … you can’t do that without superior effort and equipment—but effort on top of that. It’s more than equipment that does that.
“I think all of you know that I do work real hard at it, and I know that I have to work harder at it than the guys that are 20 years younger than me. I’m willing to do that to be able to continue to compete. But make no mistake—MWR and [crew chief] Rodney Childers have good stuff.”
Martin will be followed on the grid by Tony Stewart, Regan Smith, Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya rounding out the top 5.
I am willing to bet right now that Mark Martin is also glad that he was not a part of the Hendrick carnage last weekend. During Speed weeks Hendrick lost 8 cars amongst all of their drivers. Dale Earnhart Jr. was the only one who managed to keep his cars intact through both the Shootout and the Daytona 500, resulting in a second place finish in each race. The trouble started for the Hendrick’s teams with Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 was collected in an accident in practice for the Bud Shootout. One day later, Gordon’s car ended up getting flipped in a horrific accident in the Shootout itself.
The Hendrick troubles only got worse from there. Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy also suffered damage during the Shootout and Kasey Kahne finished three laps down in that race because of damage to his No. 5 Chevy. Then Kahne wrecked during a Daytona 500 practice session, killing another car.
Then during the 500 Johnson wrecked out on lap one, and Jeff Gordon blew his engine on lap 81. Kahne got caught up in an accident on Lap 189 that completed the carnage and brought the final total of damaged or totally ruined Hendrick race cars to eight for all of Speedweeks, Leaving the #88 of Dale Jr to represent the organization, a feat he accomplished well by fighting hard for a win, and finishing second place.
Amidst all of this carnage was the specter of punishment yet to be handed out for the C-Posts in the #48 car before inspection. Chad Knaus was issued a $100 000 fine and the 48 team was handed a 25 point penalty. Couple that with the early finish for the 48 car in the Daytona 500 and we see Jimmie Johnson heading into today’s race at Phoenix with a -23 point deficit.
“I’ve never seen so much equipment torn up as what we saw this last week at Daytona. It was incredible,” Gordon said. “That’s just the tight racing, competitiveness, how easy it is to make a little mistake and cause a lot of carnage and take you out of a race.”
“You always know that Junior is going to be strong at Daytona, so it was great to see him finish [second],” Gordon said. “It was unfortunate that it was him up against the two Roush [Fenway Racing] Fords there because he didn’t have a lot of support there to have a chance at beating those guys at the end.
“I think really even as strong as [those Fords] were, I think that our cars were strong enough to battle with those guys. It would have been nice to be up there to give him some more support and be able to work together to try to win that race. It was still a great effort by him.”
“I think that obviously being as popular as he is and the attention being on him win or lose, when he wins it’s a positive for the sport,” Gordon said. “But I don’t see his attitude being any different than any other year. He comes into every season pumped up and excited and optimistic just like everyone else.
“I think that their finish at Daytona definitely adds a little to that, so his confidence I think is good and strong right now — especially after coming off of a decent year last year. I think right now if you look at what happened last year with the Chase and the championship and all the excitement that happened in Daytona — Junior finishing second and the great battle, Danica [Patrick], the great ball of flames, it all got a lot of attention. There’s a lot of momentum with the sport right now. Whatever is going to keep that momentum going, I’m all for it. I hope it’s a win from the 24 car that can keep it going, but if it’s the 88 and 24 then OK, I’ll take that, too.”
Earnhardt himself felt that the Hendrick’s team was shorted on showing just how strong they are by the results of Speedweeks.
“Yeah, Daytona really doesn’t show what we’re capable of,” said Earnhardt, whose seventh-place finish in the final point standings last year was his highest since 2006. “We ran good and that’s good for our confidence. But we’ll see how we can make that work for us the next couple of weeks. I’d like to win here. I’ve won some races here at Phoenix.”
Chad Knaus met with the media before practice sessions at Phoenix for the first time since his suspension was announced, and addressed his feelings on the situation.
“Obviously I’m deeply saddened, of course,” Knaus said. “We didn’t expect this.”
Knaus will remain on the pit box due to the appeal launched by the Hendrick’s organization. If they should lose the appeal then Johnson will be without his crew chief for 6 weeks. No announcements have been made as to whom might fill the seat if that happens.
“We’re very fortunate to have the ability to go through this appeals process that NASCAR put in place a long time ago. I’m glad they did,” Knaus said. “It’s unfortunate that I have to keep taking advantage of the process from time to time, but it’s good that it’s there. We’ve seen some things changed or reversed or even maximized through that process.”
“When we know more details, we’ll maybe talk about it more at that point,” Knaus said. “NASCAR does a good job. They have a good set of structure, a good set of standards, that provide for a wide set of scenarios.
“I really didn’t expect any of this, to be quite honest with you. We do everything we can to build the best possible race cars we can to bring to the race track. That’s what we do, and unfortunately they didn’t like something and they addressed that. But it definitely was unfortunate and not something we expected at all.”