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Mark Martin finds himself back with hot team

Alternating driver formula adds to success Waltrip organization is piling up

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, Jul. 26, 2013

There’s nothing better for a team than to be fresh off a victory rolling into the Brickyard 400, one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ biggest events of the season.

It certainly is true for Rodney Childers, crew chief for Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota team, which won the series’ most recent race.

For driver Brian Vickers, he’ll have to be satisfied with running Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Vickers is running a partial schedule in the No. 55 and this weekend, veteran Mark Martin will take back the wheel.

Martin watched Vickers’ victory July 14 at New Hampshire – his first since 2009 – on television, but he was among the first to arrive July 15 at MWR’s headquarters in Cornelius to celebrate with employees.

“That was unbelievable. I was watching on television, but I felt like I was driving along with Brian in the closing laps. It was nerve-racking,” Martin said.

“Throw in that green-white-checkered finish and I don’t know if I could have taken much more. It was just an awesome moment for everyone.”

It is very unusual for a winner not to be around for the following race, but it is not unprecedented.

Brad Keselowski, who won at Talladega, Ala., on April 26, 2009, running the No. 09 Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing and did not run the following race at Richmond, Va.

Before that you would have go to back to 2002 to see a similar incident, when Jamie McMurray, who won at Charlotte on Oct. 13, 2002, as a fill-in for Sterling Marlin, didn’t race the following week at Martinsville, Va.

Martin will drive the No. 55 in all but five of the final 17 races. The Brickyard 400 will be his first race since June 16.

“I’ve enjoyed my time off, but I’m ready to go again. No doubt about it, an Indianapolis win would be special,” said Martin.

“We can do it. These guys give all of us drivers good cars and Toyota gives us the horsepower no matter where we go. Martin (Truex Jr.) won at Sonoma, Michael (Waltrip) finished fifth at Daytona and Brian won at New Hampshire in the last three races.

“Everyone is optimistic about Indy.”

Martin was 16th-fastest during Friday’s lone practice. Qualifying will be at 2:10 p.m. Saturday.

“Mark’s had some time off and when Mark gets some time off, he comes back like a ball of fire and everybody knows how much Mark Martin loves Indy,” Childers said.

“Hopefully we can keep this ball rolling.”

A strong run by Martin this weekend will help keep the No. 55 team in contention to participate in the Chase through car owner points.

The owner’s Chase is the same as the driver’s Chase. The top 10 in owner’s points qualify along with two wild-card spots based on wins.

With seven races left before the Chase field is set, the No. 55 would be one of 12 teams to qualify – which would mark the first time since the format’s inception for 2004 the drivers didn’t match the teams in the Chase.



Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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