Bad Breaks / by Thomas Martins

It seems like we’ve had a couple weeks worth of bad luck to start out the 2016 season. Before I get into the weekend in Atlanta I want to be sure to thank our wonderful sponsors - Diamond Gusset Jeans, our NEW sponsor, RPM Trailer Sales, & Riessen Construction.

I think the Diamond Gusset Chevy might’ve been the best LOOKING car in the entire field. This was the first race we ran our silver paint scheme, and I think it really popped. Big thanks to Brett Frankovich from Diamond Gusset & Rick Gaskins from Frontline Designs for their work on the scheme.

Also, it was a dream come true for me to be able to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. I saw my first NASCAR race ever at AMS in the early 90’s. My dad took me up to the turn four wall just as Darrell Waltrip was making a qualifying run in his Western Auto Chevy. He ran high off the corner, shooting tire rubber & dust up through the fence and all over my face. At that point, I was hooked. I wanted to be a NASCAR driver.

My dad and I attended more than a dozen races at Atlanta over the years. My grandmother lived in Atlanta, so we made a family trip out of the spring and fall races there. Through all my racing career, I’d never had the opportunity to race at Atlanta until this past weekend. My grandmother passed away this last year, and my mother and father were both sick with the flu, and were unable to attend the race. I hate that none of them were able to see it in person. But, this past weekend allowed me to check one of the final boxes off my racing bucket list.

It’s been rare in my NASCAR career that I’ve been able to hop in a really nice piece of equipment, but I can certainly say our Silverado was as nice of a race car as I’ve ever had the privilege to sit in. Kevin Eagle & Adam Deem did an awesome job prepping our truck for Atlanta, and it showed in how we unloaded.

We missed first practice because of a tech issue as well as a fifteen-minute time penalty we had to serve from Daytona. Being my first time at Atlanta, I was conservative the first few laps we ran in practice, which really hurt our chances of posting a GREAT lap time. With the tire fall off at Atlanta, your first two laps of a run are the best you’re going to get. We didn’t have another set of tires to make a mock qualifying run, so we just worked on race runs throughout the second and third practices. We wound up 23rd & 28th in practice times, which I didn't think was that bad given the fact that we never changed tires. I was expecting us to make a big pickup in qualifying.

We did…it just wasn't quite enough. We ran a 31.71 – only 8 tenths of a second off the pole speed – with our SB2 motor. I never lifted off the throttle the entire lap. Unfortunately, that was only good enough for us to finish 28th in qualifying. The reason that’s important is the top 27 trucks get locked into the race based on qualifying times. So, just like at Daytona, we “officially” made the race because of our position in the owner’s points standings. We need to somehow find a little more speed in qualifying, and that’s something Eagle and I talked about after the session ended. We’re really close! With our motor situation, it just becomes so important to maximize every other thing you can out of your setup & line in qualifying.

Disappointing. That’s the best way I know how to describe the race. I felt really good about our setup heading into the race, it was so consistent during practice, but as soon as the green dropped, we started getting really tight. It was also really tough for us to pass people. Every time I would pull up behind another truck, we would get even tighter because of the aero push.

To make things even worse, we had ANOTHER tire issue. About 25 laps into the race, we had just gone a lap down. As our spotter, Toby, called out 5 minutes left on the clock, I started feeling a vibration. This is where I made a terrible mistake as a driver. Instead of bringing it up, and letting the crew chief make a call, I kept my mouth shut thinking we’d be able to fix it at the caution.

Only a few laps later, the tire gave way in turn 4. I managed to keep the truck off the wall, but couldn’t get down to the inside quick enough to make it into pit lane. Instead, I had to get going back up to semi-speed and make an ENTIRE lap back around. It wound up costing us two laps. So, 35 laps into the race we were already 3 laps down.

From that point on, we made some pretty conservative calls and just focused on bringing the truck home in one piece. I felt another vibration around lap 70 or 80, and we decided to change tires under green just in case. That cost us another two laps.

Realistically, we should’ve finished one or two laps down. We didn’t have the speed to stay with the lead lap trucks. But, we were definitely faster than some of the trucks that finished in front of us, which is really frustrating. One of our biggest goals as a small team is to beat some of the other small budget teams. Two races into the year, we haven’t achieved that goal yet.

I’m encouraged by the communication Eagle and I are developing. He’s sharp. We’ll get better each race. I’ve been encouraged by all of our friends and supporters telling me to keep my head up through our struggles. We’ll bounce back. It’s a long season. And I’m looking forward to having a solid run at Martinsville.

Tommy Joe