PR - TJ & Diamond Gusset Pair Up Again by Thomas Martins

Tommy Joe Martins & longtime partner Diamond Gusset Jeans are pairing back up for the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Rinnai 250. It will be the first sponsorship for Diamond Gusset Jeans in NASCAR since Martins began driving for his current team, BJ McLeod Motorsports.

Diamond Gusset has sponsored Martins since 2014, during his family team’s first run in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. They more famously came aboard during Martins Motorsports tumultuous 2016 campaign in the NASCAR Truck Series.

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Since that season, the 32-year-old Como, MS native has garnered a reputation for being a vocal underdog at the highest levels of the sport, but as 2018 proved, NASCAR sponsorship is a tough thing to come by.

“I ran 19 races last year, man, and only 3 of them had a sponsor on the side of the car,” Martins said. “That’s tough. I mean, I’m blessed I have owners like BJ & Jessica who trusted me to drive even when I couldn’t bring a lot financially to the table – but to have a sponsor, especially a long time supporter like David Hall & Diamond Gusset – it just means so much.”

BJ McLeod Motorsports announced last week that Vinnie Miller & Matt Mills will be full time drivers for the team, while Martins will retain a partial season ride in the new, full time, 99 car. When asked about the plans for the year, Martins couldn’t help but reminisce.

“This is going to be the biggest year ever for BJ McLeod Motorsports,” Martins continued. “Seeing where we’ve come from at this team, knowing how long Diamond Gusset has supported me…there have just been so many more downs than ups.” Martins paused & smiled. “It feels like this is all coming full circle, you know? Just really excited to see it all come together.”

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Diamond Gusset Jean, Co. is an American made clothing company based in Bon Aqua, Tennessee. Diamond Gusset was founded in 1987 to develop an entirely new jean concept utilizing a gusset for extra durability and enhanced comfort. All Diamond Gusset products are truly American made on the foundations of comfort, craftsmanship, & continual improvement. More information about Diamond Gusset products, as well as sales & pricing can be found at gusset.com.

The Hidden Battle - jeffgluck.com by Thomas Martins

In each NASCAR Xfinity Series event, you get two races in one: a race for the win and a season-long race for the top 30 in the owners point standings.

Both races matter.

On any given weekend, there are roughly 20 Cup-affiliated teams in an Xfinity Series event. Over the course of a 33-race season, those teams are basically guaranteed a top 30 position in the points. The other teams are left scrapping over the remaining 10 spots.

The importance of those spots lies in a $6,000 bonus guaranteed to any team in the top 30 that attempts every race, runs half the race and doesn’t put a Cup driver in its car.

Now, $6,000 on a single weekend doesn’t change much for a race team — but $6,000 for 33 races is close to $200,000. That’s 25 percent of a projected prize money budget for an Xfinity team.

Despite the general perception that you want to run as well as possible in any given race, the truth is where you finish in one race doesn’t matter that much from a money standpoint. The difference between 35th-place purse money and 10th-place money is usually around $2,000.

So is it really worth it to try to chase after 10th place? Think of the money it takes to run 10th against Cup teams! A full allotment of tires at Auto Club Speedway this season would have cost more than $18,000 — and the race paid an average of $23,000 through the field.

The main gain from a good finish is points. They are the most valuable currency in NASCAR.

What makes this tough to follow is points are relative to who you’re racing. It’s why my team can be excited about a 22nd-place finish while JR Motorsports can be mad at finishing 10th.

For example: I could finish 22nd and beat everyone that WE race against. A small team could be 26th in the owner’s standings — like my team, BJ McLeod Motorsports — and basically guarantee itself into every race because it’s ahead of the majority of the other smaller teams. Teams at the back of the standings find themselves in danger of missing races when the field is over 40 cars.

Owning a race team with limited funds is a balancing act. It’s a season-long grinder made up of short and long-term choices. One race weekend won’t ruin your season, but each weekend shapes course of the year.

Take MBM Motorsports, for example. They’ve had a ton of bad luck to begin this 2018 season. They’re near the bottom of the standings of the full-time teams. They’re missing the bonus each race. They just crashed a car last weekend at Texas (it wasn’t Chad Finchum’s fault, it was just a bad deal). And they’re not guaranteed into any race, so they have to qualify into each event on time (top-33) or they might go home.

That’s incredibly difficult to recover from. How do you get any extra funds needed to gain positions in the standings? You never get the bonus. Drivers who bring money want to take their funds to teams with guaranteed spots. Sponsors want teams with guaranteed spots. It’s an uphill slope.

Plus, it’s incredibly difficult to gain points on your direct competition. At Texas, the No. 8 car finished 22nd, four laps down. The No. 45 car finished seven laps down — in 24th! Three extra laps on the racetrack only gained you two extra
points.

So the only chance you really have to gain points is when your competitors run into bad luck. A finish of 36th or worse only gets 1 point.

That said, there are two primary options when it comes to setting out the strategy for your season:

— Outspend the prize money and guarantee yourself a higher position in the points while relying on sponsorship to balance the budget.

— Budget-race as cheaply as possible while putting yourself at risk to miss races.

But at each race, that strategy can come into question.

Do you spend more money on tires to try for a better points day? No guarantees there.

Do you take money from a lesser-skilled, paying driver? It’ll help balance the budget, but could hurt your points position in the long term.

If you struggle in practice, do you start-and-park to preserve the car for another day?

If it’s a high tire wear track and there aren’t any scuff tires available, do you start-and-park to save money?

Do you risk gaining spots on a restart, or drop your driver back to preserve the car for the next race?

Upgrading your motor costs money. Upgrading your car costs money. Upgrading your personnel costs money.

And every choice is about survival.

That’s why I find the race in the midfield so compelling. Each team is doing what it has to do on any given weekend while balancing how each choice affects its position in the bigger picture of the season.

I think my team owner, BJ McLeod, has found a terrific balance between being as competitive as possible without breaking the budget. It’s the only thing that’s allowed me to have the opportunity I have to drive his race cars.

When Bayley Currey stepped into the No. 8 car at Texas and finished 22nd, that was huge a huge boost to our team. With a rookie driver in the seat, that could have been a very rough weekend. Instead, he did a fantastic job surviving a difficult race.

My role at BJMM is to win our race. So far, I feel like I’ve done my job. There are a few racetracks each season that can provide a major shakeup in the standings for small teams — superspeedways, road courses and short tracks. And the next three races on our schedule are Bristol, Richmond and Talladega.

I just received the news I’ll be in the No. 8 car for all three of them. I couldn’t be more excited to get back in the seat and keep building on what’s already been a terrific start to our season.

Chances by Thomas Martins

Until last year, I had only driven for one person – my father.

I’ve been a professional racecar driver since 2009, but when your dad owns the team, it’s easy to sense the skepticism from the other folks in the garage. That changed for me at Daytona in 2017, when Shane Huffman gave me a chance to take our speedway truck over to MDM Motorsports. It was exciting. I knew for the first time in my NASCAR career I was going to the track with an opportunity to win.

But on the second lap of the race, I was involved in a crash. For the second year in a row, I finished dead last at Daytona. It was the only last place finish MDM had during the entire 2017 season.

I finally got my big break, and it was over in less than two minutes.

It’s amazing I got any break at all. In 2016, I had the most DNF’s in the NCTWS. I blogged repetitively about our team’s struggles, my family’s finances, & my desire for recognition in our sport (if you want to get the full effect, you can read all the posts here). I felt like we had a tremendous amount of bad luck, but there’s no denying the reputation I had in the garage was a 30 year old, back of the pack guy with a knack for tearing up equipment – I was better known for writing than driving.

I drove the second race of the year for Martins Motorsports – we finished 20 something at Atlanta. Brandon Brown, who DNQ’d at Daytona for us, qualified well but struggled through a spin in the third race at Martinsville. My dad and I weren’t sure how the team was going to make it through the year.

Instead of shutting down, we decided to sell our trucks & take a chance on a partial schedule in the Xfinity Series, our first attempt in the series since a horribly failed season in 2014. With the higher payout, we figured we could make the same amount of money with a lesser schedule. Of course, we didn’t qualify in our first attempt at Richmond - a $20,000 whiff. Leaving the track that day, my father and I didn’t speak. It was yet another disappointment in a career filled with them. I broke down crying when I finally got back to my apartment.

I was ready to walk away from the sport.

I was off a few days that week. I slept late. I didn’t eat much. I don’t think I was watching anything on tv. I might’ve been scrolling through twitter on my phone when it rang. It was my dad. He asked me if I wanted to drive the Pocono Xfinity Series race for BJ McLeod.

I knew BJ from early 2016. We purchased a couple SB2 engines from him when we started our truck team. We raced against each other a couple times. He was a nice guy that looked like a walking affliction ad. I knew he bought cars & points from Roush at the end of 2015, and tried to run 2 teams in 2016. I didn’t remember them having a ton of success. Then again, neither did we.

 “What’s the catch,” I asked him. There’s always a catch – usually cash. I’ve been offered cup rides, truck rides, late model rides, and every offer ends with how much money it’s going to cost for me to hop in the seat. I’m always flattered, but I can’t ever afford it. We ran our own team because when things went well (which was rare, admittedly) we came closer to breaking even than we ever could throwing money to another team. At that point, you’re just a revenue stream, not a driver.

There was no catch with BJ – he was just nervous.

His #78 car had underperformed over the course of the year, and now had slipped so far down the owner point standings that it was in danger of missing races to provisional-backed teams. It had already missed a couple of events.

BJ needed a driver. He had been behind the wheel of the #8 car, and his regular teammate, Jeff Green, was now running with Ryan Sieg. When my name was suggested as a replacement, he hesitated. He called around to a few other owners & managers. They immediately brought up my history for crashes. They thought he was crazy. Wrecked equipment on a small team like BJ’s is a death-blow. There are no backup cars. No shop crew. There was a huge risk.

Luckily for me, BJ McLeod is a guy that likes to take chances. I think he liked the idea of picking a guy that no one else wanted. He was convinced some of my struggles were tied to my father – not because of parental pressure, but because of our management of the team. I knew how much things cost when we had a bad break. I put that pressure on myself.

How good could I be if all I had to worry about was driving the racecar?

I found out later that BJ looked up my results from 2016. Not just the finishes - nothing spectacular there. Two top-15’s in 20 races didn’t jump off the stat sheet. He looked up practice times from every race. He told me I consistently outperformed my equipment on the time sheets. For him, that was key. He needed someone that could outperform a few of the cars that could knock him out of the race, and someone that was willing to stick their neck out for a team that could get sent home at anytime.

Most drivers won’t.

Guaranteed starting spots are golden tickets. They allow teams to sell rides & sponsorship with promises – not hopes. No matter how fast a team is, anything can happen in qualifying. Parker Kligerman – who won the race at Talladega this past year – didn’t qualify for the race the year earlier. Our truck team shut down in part because I couldn’t guarantee a starting spot at Daytona to potential drivers. No one was willing to sign a deal with us on the hope we’d bring a truck fast enough to qualify on speed alone.

For me though, the decision was easy – BJ McLeod believed in me. If he was willing to take a chance on me, I was willing to take a chance on him.

BJ made it clear who our competition was: Johnny Davis, SS Greenlight, Jimmy Means, Carl Long, & Mario Gosselin. In the nine races I drove for BJMM, I scored the second most points of anyone from those teams – tied with BJ himself. I only had 1 DNF, when a left front lower control arm broke at Bristol.I also finished 11th at Iowa, which is my highest career NASCAR finish.

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Hopefully I helped BJ McLeod Motorsports out of a rut. BJ finished 11th at Daytona. Josh Bilicki finished 11th at Road America. I know BJ McLeod Motorsports helped me. I had owners & drivers in the garage congratulating me on a weekly basis. I had a reporters speaking to me that had never known my name.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I truly belong in a NASCAR garage. I have three people to thank for that: my parents and BJ McLeod.

He’s going to let me drive for him again in 2018. I’ll be a spectator at Daytona, but I’m sure I’ll be in the seat plenty this season. I’m not sure what my schedule will be this year, or what number I’m going to run, but BJ & his team have given me something I’ve always longed for in our sport: respect. And for that, I’ll never be able to thank him enough.

 

Then & Now by Thomas Martins

Homestead broke my heart.

It was our first DNQ of the season. Unfortunately, DNQs are a part of my NASCAR career. I’ve had several. When we went through our struggles in the Xfinity Series in 2014, it was commonplace. I’d dealt with the disappointment of it several times before. But, when we stood in the garage alongside the other two trucks that missed the race at Homestead, the #10 of Jennifer Jo Cobb & the #63 of Norm Benning, all I could think was, “my guys don’t deserve this.” 

I deserved it. I wrecked our Homestead truck at Texas a couple weeks prior. Then, I scraped the wall with it in practice during our mock run. Then, I overdrove it in qualifying and nearly wrecked. I’m not sure if we would’ve made the race even if I ran a clean lap, we had struggled with the truck all day, but I robbed us of any chance we might’ve had. I was embarrassed. I should’ve been.

Kevin, Steven, Danny, & David had nothing to be embarrassed about. They thrashed their asses off all year long. They rode in a pickup truck to every single race on our schedule – over 50,000 miles total. Then, to top it off, they worked for a team and a driver that had the most DNFs in the entire series. They had to scramble nearly every single week to not only repair a truck, but also to prepare it to qualify into the event on speed. They were worn down. They needed a break.

They never complained.

They were underpaid, overworked, understaffed, overstressed, and had no job security at all for the better part of a year and not one single time did they ever tell my dad or me it was too much. In fact, most of the time, they were the ones trying to cheer us up! They believed in the team they were a part of – a team with my name on it. It was humbling. They had a crappy job, a job that most people would’ve quit, but yet they treated it like it was the best opportunity they’d ever had. To an entire garage full of people, they transformed Martins Motorsports into the friendliest, most dedicated, most honest, most loyal, & hardest working team in all of NASCAR. They’re the finest group of men I’ve ever had the privilege of working with or driving for, and we were so blessed to have them.

My dad didn’t deserve the disappointment, either. He dealt with the emotional & financial weight of every single problem that popped up during our roller coaster season. It hurt him. He spent twice as much money as he’d planned on spending this year just because he loved me & believed in our team. He knew this was going to be our final foray into NASCAR, and he wanted to do everything he could possibly do to give us all the best chance to succeed. He honored every agreement he made, no matter the circumstances that were facing us. He’s the best man I’ve ever known, and I’m blessed to be able to call him my father.

Yet, we all stood there, leaned against our truck after we had pushed it back to the garage. We hugged. We shook hands. There weren’t many words spoken. I cried. We all did. People came by to ask what had happened, and we repeated to every one of them that we had missed the race. It was like we had to talk ourselves into the reality of it. Our pit crew manager came by to give his sympathies, and also collect their pay that we didn’t have. Team owners and representatives came by and lowballed us on offers for our qualifying tires. My dad got in an argument with Norm Benning over his use of our motor – a motor he agreed to start and park at Phoenix, but yet ran the entire length of the race, and now had tried to qualify for another.

It was our lowest point. The whole thing was a public slap in the face to all of us.

Kevin even had to explain to a few NASCAR officials that we had missed the race. They didn’t understand how. Neither do I.

Oh, I get the rules. That’s not the issue. I know that the top-27 fastest trucks in qualifying are locked into the race on speed, no matter their points position. I know that the next four spots are provisionals, given to teams with the most Owner’s Points that haven’t already qualified in the top-27. And I also know that the last position is reserved for a past champion, if there’s one in the field that hasn’t already qualified. So, I understand the rules. But, I don’t understand the rules.

You shouldn’t get rewarded for bringing a slow truck to the racetrack. So, I’m not that torn up about us missing the race. We qualified 31st in a 35 truck field. That’s not something I’m proud of. But I’m still trying to figure out how the trucks that qualified 33rd & 34th, both over three full seconds off the pace, got in when we didn’t. To me, that’s embarrassing. I don’t care what points position you’re in, if you bring a truck to the track that’s nearly four seconds off the pace, you shouldn’t be allowed to race. And that’s no disrespect to either Spencer or Travis. They’re both talented drivers. They weren’t the problem. I’m sure they hated every minute of it.

It’s called qualifying for a reason. Everyone should have to qualify for the event. That shouldn’t be a given. It’s not fair for 1/3 of the field to have to have the pressure to make it in on speed. We all should feel it! I want all those drivers on big teams to feel the same pressure that I feel week in and week out - if you make a mistake, you go home. That’s how it works at literally every level of stock car racing except for NASCAR. It doesn’t make any sense for the Truck Series (or Xfinity Series for that matter) to have provisional starting spots. We should take the fastest 32 trucks every time. I don’t care what your points are coming into the race. I don’t care if you’re a past champion. If you’re not one of the fastest 32 trucks, then you should go home.

If nothing else, we should reduce the amount of provisionals in the field, or place a limit to the number times you can use a provisional over the course of a year. The same teams shouldn’t be able to use one every single week to get bad trucks into races ahead of more competitive teams. There’s no way that the #63 of Mittler Bros should’ve missed the race at Bristol. There’s no reason the #45 of Casey Smith should’ve missed the race at Martinsville. Jordan Anderson should’ve been able to race at Atlanta this year. It’s a disgrace.

I didn’t write anything after our race at Homestead. I was too disappointed. Which, coincidentally, is a good way to describe our entire year. Disappointing. At times, we were a very competitive race team. Other times, we weren’t even close. We were inconsistent. We had a lot of really bad luck. Some of that we created, a lot of it we didn’t. But our guys never gave up. They worked so hard week in and week out. I hate they never got rewarded for it. We never got that one finish we were working towards…just a lot of maybes and almosts.

Admittedly, I live in the moment a little too much. I live and die with every weekend it seems. Martins Motorsports was a first year full time NASCAR truck series team. On top of that, we were a very small, underfunded team. There were going to be struggles. We had them. We learned from them. I think we’ve got a chance to make major improvements to our program next year, but right now I’m not completely sure we’re going to get the opportunity to do so.

We had some amazing partners this year; Diamond Gusset Jeans (special thanks to David Hall and everything you do for us) gave us way more than they should have. They overextended themselves for us, and I hope that we gave their awesome company & products some solid exposure this past season. BootDaddy took a chance on our team at Talladega, and we hope to have them back with us next year. RPM Trailer Sales helped us out with a great trailer that got us through an entire Camping World Truck Series season. Rodney & Lynn Riessen did more for our team than any other people besides my own mom and dad. They’re basically family at this point. 

The NASCAR offseason is an uncertain time for a lot of people. Martins Motorsports and our crew are in that same position. We’re not certain of our plans for next year. We know we can’t do it on our own. We’re going to have to get a major sponsor to help us run a full schedule again. We’ve got a few great prospects, but we’re not going to know anything for sure until later in January – not exactly an ideal position to be able to get your equipment, personnel, & gameplan in place for 2017.

I wish I had better news to share, but we’re in limbo. I’m pretty sure Tommy Joe Martins is going to race at least a few events next season, but I don’t know who it’s going to be with. I want it to be Martins Motorsports. I love our team. I know that’s the best situation for me. I want to keep us all together and keep this thing growing. I want to be involved with this sport for a very long time, but that starts with a few phone calls in January.

I can’t thank all of you enough for all your support. I know I’ve been a tough guy to root for. I don't want to be controversial; I want to be respected. Each one of your messages makes me feel like there are better times ahead for both me and our team. I look forward to sharing it all with you all again next year.

- Tommy Joe