Mark Martin survived one of the strangest races in the NASCAR annals to earn his first win of the season at Dover International Speedway. The win broke a 73-race winless streak for the No. 6 Roush Racing Ford team. Mark Martin. Photo by...
Mark Martin survived one of the strangest races in the NASCAR annals to earn his first win of the season at Dover International Speedway. The win broke a 73-race winless streak for the No. 6 Roush Racing Ford team.
"It was meant to be today for us."
The win, which indeed seemed as if was prearranged by the racing gods, was the 34th of Martin's career.
Tony Stewart, who appeared poised for the victory through most of the first 300 laps, wound up second after a bizarre chain of events that muddled the top ten competitors.
"Our car liked to be up front, but Mark (Martin) was unstoppable," said Stewart. "He wasn't going to let that one get away. He's racing for his first championship. We just couldn't catch him."
"I wasn't going to put the bumper to him, he was loose and I was loose. I could get under him, but I just couldn't get the car to pass him. Good day for us. A lot of guys had a lot of trouble and we capitalized it. We got trapped a lap down early, and just couldn't make it up. We just waited it out and it paid off."
Jeff Burton and Scott Riggs complete the top five.
"We worked awfully hard, and got in the right place at the right time. We got through all those wrecks, and just really showed what we are capable of. It's a real shot in the arm for this team."
The day started out under the same dark skies that red-flagged the Busch event Saturday, but Mother Nature was kind and the NEXTEL Cup date went off without wet weather peppering the track. But the ominous skies overhead seemed to paint the drama that was to enfold for NASCAR's premium league of racers.
The event was marred by several early caution flags, but it was the chain of events that started just past lap 300 that made it seem as if someone was up above pulling evil puppet strings on the MBNA 400.
Tony Stewart and the No. 20 Chevy team were the class of the field all afternoon, at times pulling out to an eight second lead over the field. However, at lap 313, Stewart missed the entrance to pit road during a series of green flag pit stops. The costly miscalculation sent Stewart from 1st to 8th.
Considering the speed of the No. 20 it seemed that he would easily be able to find the front again, but Ryan Newman spun coming into the pits -- on that same round of pit stops -- bringing out the caution flag.
The yellow put Stewart a lap down, but somehow kept Newman on the lead lap as the race leader. There was no debris on the race track, yet NASCAR ran 26 laps of caution while they tried to sort out the running order.
Newman then ran out of gas as NASCAR paced the field under yellow, and had to be pushed to pit road by the No. 21 Ford of Ricky Rudd. Rudd got Newman to the entrance, and Newman's teammate Brendan Gaughan picked up the slack, pushing Newman into his pit stall.
The entire time NASCAR continued to score Newman as the race leader.
Ultimately, NASCAR penalized Newman one lap for running the stop sign on pit lane, which sent him from first to 14th. When the field was finally restarted some 15 minutes later, the drivers, naturally annoyed, went three wide on the first turn of the restart.
And that was a colossally bad idea.
Dave Blaney got hooked up with Michael Waltrip, spinning in front of most of the lead lap cars. All-in-all, the melee collected 19 cars, including Jimmie Johnson, Jeremy Mayfield, Jeff Green, Greg Biffle, Sterling Marlin, Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch, Robby Gordon, Ricky Rudd, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Dave Blaney, Ryan Newman, Michael Waltrip, Ward Burton, Kevin Harvick, Scott Wimmer, Jeff Burton, and Scott Riggs.
"Somebody turned somebody and everybody got to hitting everybody," commented an angered Marlin. "I don't know how many it took out. Something was wrong with the way we lined up and it wrecked everybody.
"All hell broke loose."
Marlin's teammate, Jamie McMurray, ditto-ed the sentiment, "That was the biggest joke of a race I've ever been involved in. I couldn't believe that. It was kind of ridiculous."
The two biggest losers of the 19-car smash-up were Johnson and Mayfield, who were running second and third at the time of the skirmish.
"I have no clue (what happened)," Johnson barked. "We're supposed to be racing with trained professionals, but they're a bunch of idiots. They can't even use their heads and race smart. They're three, four, five laps down and racing like they're racing for the win. It's ridiculous."
Due to the large pile of wounded, smoking sheet metal sitting in the middle of the race track, and the No. 19 Dodge of Mayfield stuck in the mud right off the straightaway, NASCAR was forced to red-flag the event at lap 345.
After a 19 minute time-out, the cars were re-fired with 46 laps left to be completed, and Kasey Kahne as the race leader.
Kahne was leading, when on lap 373, Rusty Wallace smacked the wall and once again brought out the yellow, bunching the field. Kahne continued to hold the lead at the restart on lap 378, but Mark Martin was tight on Kahne's bumper when Casey Mears ruptured an oil line laying fluid on the track causing Kahne to loose control at lap 383, sparking another multi-car crash.
The red-flag once again waved, as the demolished cars of Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brian Vickers and Robby Gordon littered the race track. NASCAR took an excruciatingly long time cleaning the race track, as fifteen minutes marched by before the cars were re-started.
With Kahne's car hooked to the wrecker that placed Mark Martin and the No. 6 Roush Ford team into the top spot, with only four cars on the lead lap (Martin, Stewart, Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.). NASCAR began to run the cars under yellow around the 1-mile oval, as the blowers persisted in cleaning the concrete.
With ten laps to go, the field once again got the green flag, Martin jumped out to a quick two car length lead, but he was being hungrily pursued by the second and third place cars of Stewart and Earnhardt, Jr.
The No. 20 and the No. 8 roared through turns three and four, door-to-door, battling each other for second place. The duel allowed Martin to check out and earn his fourth win at the "Monster Mile".
Earnhardt's solid top-three finish helped him maintain the top spot in series rankings. He leads second-placed Jimmie Johnson by 98 points. Matt Kenseth (-179), Tony Stewart (-196) and Jeff Gordon (-254) complete the top five.