Jane Miller: Martin approaches Brickyard with uncharacteristic optimism
Mark Martin has never been a glass half full type of guy.
It’s not that he’s all doom and gloom, but he usually keeps his expectations conservative and his predictions at the low end of the scale.
That’s why it has been such a surprise, in the weeks leading up to today’s Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, that Martin has been predicting rather confidently that he has a good chance to win.
“I feel very confident that we’ll have a car here that will be a strong contender to win this race,” Martin said. “I might say that every week – maybe. But, you know, believing that deep down inside, I usually know that’s a bigger challenge than it might be here this week.”
Martin backed up those comments Saturday morning during qualifying. He will start on the front row, second only to polesitter Jimmie Johnson.
“You know, I predicted we would be strong here this weekend, so at least we’ve been strong in qualifying,” he said. “Hopefully, we can go out and back that up with a tremendous run and contend for this thing (today).”
Though conventional wisdom says Indianapolis races more like Pocono than any other track, Martin likens it to Phoenix.
“I believe you can run the same stuff here that you can run at Phoenix,” he said. “And I believe that we had the fastest car on the racetrack at Phoenix. It’s that simple.”
Winning big races hasn’t been that simple for Martin over the years. But the components for success today are the same basics at every race.
“I need to make absolutely no mistakes,” said Martin. “I have to be on my game and … my team just needs to do their routine work on pit road.
“We need gas not to get in the way because I won’t have the longest gas mileage of people out there. So I don’t think I’ll win it on gas mileage so we need to not lose it on gas mileage. We need all the other scenarios to line up perfectly so that somebody doesn’t do something that positions themselves ahead of us at the end and me not having enough race car to get by them.
“So you’re asking an awful lot, and I realize that.”
After Saturday’s first practice session, a number of drivers visited the NASCAR hauler to discuss their concerns over tire wear.
Martin said his car used four sets of tires in that hour and ran all four of them down to the cords in runs of only about five laps apiece.
Chris Carrier, crew chief for Sam Hornish Jr., expressed major concerns after the first practice session.
“The problem is that you have a 3,500-pound race car with a lot of horsepower that doesn’t handle real well going around a 2.5-mile track that has flat corners with an abrasive surface,” he said. “Everybody is concerned about it.”
The right front tire is the area of the biggest concern. Carrier said his car’s right front was cording after eight or nine laps.
“I can promise you, no matter what they do, the first time we try to make a gas run tomorrow, there are going to be some nervous people on pit road.”
It isn’t just that the tires are wearing, it’s how they are wearing. The surface of the track is rough and always has been hard on tires. But this compound – the same one Goodyear had here last year – seems to be turning to dust and that’s causing an additional problem.
Greg Stucker of Goodyear said he thought part of the problem was the aerodynamics of the current car’s design, which is causing the dust to stick to the body, but thought that around the time of the second pit stop of today’s race, the track would be rubbered in and this would not be an issue.
Still, Stucker said it was likely the tire company would recommend NASCAR mandate a competition caution early in the race in order to check tire wear.
Goodyear is allowing teams one extra set of tires for the race, bringing the total to nine, the most of any race track. At other races, teams are allowed six sets for the race.
Jane Miller is the Journal Star motorsports columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3207.