Race Weekend Central

2007 NASCAR Driver Review: Mark Martin

Mark Martin

2007 Ride: No. 01 Ginn Racing/Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet
2007 Primary Sponsor: U.S. Army
2007 Owners: Bobby Ginn, Teresa Earnhardt (added in July)
2007 Crew Chief: Ryan Pemberton
2007 Stats: 24 starts, 0 wins, 5 top fives, 11 top 10s, 27th in points (Martin’s No. 01 car was 17th in owner points)

High Point: The 2007 Daytona 500. “They waited! I can’t believe they waited! I had him!” Even after coming within a few inches of winning what has become the most prestigious event in big-time auto racing, Martin was thankful for the opportunity just to have a shot at it. Just six months earlier, the organization he spent almost 20 years helping to build into the dynasty it has become today – Roush Racing – decided they had no room for him in a part-time capacity as a driver.

Choosing family and fatherhood over ingratitude, deafening racecars and a gaudy-looking trophy, Martin still managed to get off to the best start of his storied career after signing with Ginn Racing, leading the points after the first four races of the season with an average finish of 5.5.

What made all of this more impressive is that he accomplished it with what had been a second-tier team, using Hendrick hand-me-downs and outdated technology to score all of two wins in 10 years. Ironically, this team’s first win came in 2002 with driver Johnny Benson – narrowly holding off Martin for their first win at Rockingham. And their last? At Kansas in 2004 – the site of Martin’s last triumph just one year later.

After returning to the fold following his two-week hiatus from his least favorite places on the planet (Martinsville and Talladega), Martin was contending for the win during the closing laps at Texas, placing third. He was mobbed with noogies and bear hugs by the U.S. Army crew after exiting the No. 01 car on pit lane.

Things went so well that even after taking nearly a month of racing off by midseason, Martin was still in contention to make the Chase – a nightmare scenario for him if there ever was one. All season long, Martin was content sharing his ride with heir-apparent Regan Smith; after the Ginn Racing-DEI merger in July, his “young gun” sub became Dale Earnhardt Incorporated’s newest hire, Aric Almirola.

Low Point: Also the 2007 Daytona 500. Martin had the race won; but while the field waited under a red flag to finish the Daytona 505 under a green-white-checkered finish, the veteran was not convinced it was his just yet. Sadly, he was right. While Kevin Harvick got a monster last-lap push up the backstretch by, of all people, former teammate and protege Matt Kenseth, chaos erupted behind Martin and Harvick, as virtually the entire field was caught up in a violent crash that saw cars upside down, on fire and in junkyard condition once the carnage subsided.

Martin smartly steered his U.S. Army Monte Carlo away from Harvick down to the yellow line, trying to keep away from him as Kyle Busch was backing up the track and taking out the majority of the field. Martin’s maneuver would have worked to perfection; however, NASCAR did not freeze the field as they have done in every other instance since September 2003, and Harvick was in position on the outside to side-draft off Martin, just beating him back to the stripe – much like Jamie McMurray would do five months later at the same track.

When questioned afterward about NASCAR not throwing the yellow flag, Martin was as stoic as ever, stating flatly, “Nobody wants to hear a grown man cry. This is the end. They made the decision and that’s what we’re going to live with.” Eric Byrnes, Al Gore and Bill Belichick – take note.

Things also went a little sideways for the team during the summer, following the collapse of Ginn Racing. After unsuccessful attempts to secure adequate sponsorship for its other two teams, the organization folded, leaving Martin’s teammates Joe Nemechek and Sterling Marlin out of a seat – and many crewmen out of a job. The No. 01 team was absorbed by DEI and forced to finish out the season with one new downforce car, a mish-mash of Hendrick technology and new DEI powerplants.

Mix in the Car of Tomorrow and a couple of crashes not of his doing, and Martin’s results were less-than-ideal; several finishes in the teens, a 42nd at Michigan and a 43rd at Atlanta. At least Martin valiantly outperformed his mentees; with rookie co-drivers Smith and Aric at the controls of the No. 01 for a combined total of 12 races, the best finishes they could muster were a 24th and 26th, respectively.

2008 Outlook: The answer to everyone’s question of “Who Will Drive the 8 in ’08?” was answered in October, when DEI unveiled the No. 8 US Army Chevrolet Impala to be driven by Martin and rookie Almirola. Martin will run an identical schedule to the one he ran in 2007, which will preclude him from contending in the Chase for the Championship – but allow him to maintain the sanity and sense of normalcy that had eluded him for the previous three decades.

Martin and Almirola will be teamed with Tony Eury Jr.’s replacement, Tony Gibson, as crew chief. In the meantime, Martin’s former head wrench Ryan Pemberton moves to Michael Waltrip Racing and driver David Reutimann.

With the drama of 2007 behind them, Martin should shine at DEI. During the Chase and CoT races in 2007, the No. 1 DEI entry driven by Martin Truex Jr. was one of the fastest cars on the track before it was involved in an accident or suffered some mechanical ills. While former DEI Technical Director/longtime crew chief and friend Steve Hmiel has departed, Martin will still be teamed with Truex, Paul Menard, and last year’s co-driver Smith to form a formidable driver lineup. Driving again for one of the top teams on the circuit, Martin should find himself in contention for wins more often in 2008 than even 2007.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: B+
2007 Grade: B+

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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