Race Recap

Zeros by Thomas Martins

There are seven columns next to driver names on the NASCAR point standings page. 

The first is points. I have 171, only good enough for 22nd position. The next is starts. I have 18, with my only two skips being at Martinsville (crashed in qualifying) and Eldora (JR Heffner ran with us). The next four are poles, wins, top-5’s, & top-10’s. For me, those columns are zeroed out. The last column is DNF’s (Did Not Finish). I have six, more than any other driver.

Racing is a selfish sport. Even though preparing and racing a truck every week takes a team effort, there's only one name listed on that results page. The responsibility for success and failure in stock car racing ultimately falls on the driver. So far this year, I haven't had much.

I’ve tried to have a different outlook on things during the final stretch of our season. I know how lucky I am to get to live my dream to be a NASCAR driver. It’s been a tumultuous season to say the least, but it’ll be something I look back on with pride and fond memories.

At the same time, when I look at those empty columns I’m frustrated by missed opportunities. I see a cut tire at Daytona. I see a brake failure at Martinsville. I see a bad restart at Michigan. I see a motor issue at Kansas. I see a wreck at Chicagoland. After these last two races at Talladega and Martinsville, it’s hard not to be disappointed again. I knew they would be my best remaining chances at getting something I’ve been chasing for a very long time now – a NASCAR top-10 finish.

Our Talladega truck had a brand new body, brakes, and a brand new RO7 motor. We had a new sponsor, Bootdaddy.com, on the hood and quarter panels. Our truck looked great. I was excited. 

Then we got to the track.

We had trouble getting through templates. We missed the first practice. When we got out on track in second practice, we didn’t have the single car speed that we wanted. We knew that with the field size we’d probably need to qualify in the top-27 on speed to make it into the race, and at the end of second practice it was too close for comfort.

Kevin tried to max out everything he could on the truck to find some more straight-line speed – so much so we got a 15-minute practice penalty at Martinsville for failing qualifying tech three times. Because of our struggles in practice, we were the second truck to qualify.

As soon as I took the green flag, I knew we would be in trouble. We were only pulling 7400 RPM at the start/finish line – 400 RPM less than we had in our practice runs. And sure enough, our time slowed down by half a second. It wouldn’t be good enough for the top-27. We had to make the race on points.

We stood on pit road with Randy Little, the owner of Bootdaddy.com, & David Hall, the owner of Diamond Gusset Jeans, and tried to explain to them exactly how we needed the cards to fall for us to make the race. Believe me, that’s a really crappy feeling. Randy had paid for commercials to pair with his advertising on our truck, and we were breaking the news that he might not even make the race.

Only a few trucks really mattered to the outcome: the go-or-go-home trucks lower in the owner’s point standings. The two main concerns were Parker Kligerman in the #75 and the #10 of Clay Greenfield. We beat Clay by six thousandths of a second. Parker had a brake issue that slowed down his run. That was the difference. If either of them had qualified in the top-27, we would’ve gone home.

Of course, once the race started, qualifying speed got thrown out the window. Talladega was my first real restrictor plate race in a truck (Daytona got cut short because of a blown right front tire). I was really surprised at just how much you had to be out of the throttle. In the bottom lane, I was basically 75% throttle down the backstretch in order to stay off the truck in front of me. 

We moved up quickly from our starting position into the top-20, and for the most part, we stayed around the top-15 all day. There were a couple of bad wrecks right on front of us that we had to weave through. I got into Rico Abreu a couple times while trying to weave through them. In one incident through the tri-oval, I was certain I wrecked him. After watching the replay of the angle he was aimed towards the wall, I still have no idea how he saved it. The second time, we went door to door as I sliced my way through the big one in turn 1. That was a bad wreck that took out a lot of trucks. It’s the most safety vehicles I have ever seen on a track in my life. Just glad everyone was okay. 

The race played out in our favor. We made it through the wrecks. We got ourselves in a good position for a top-10 finish. We were 12th & 10th during the final few restarts. 

Down the backstretch on the white flag lap, Matt Tift gave a bump to William Byron right in front of me in the top lane. I don’t think he centered him up because William got a little crossed up and got into Rico in the bottom lane. I had to make a really quick decision to either check-up and stay behind William as he gathered it up, or go behind Matt as he made it three wide on the high side. 

I went with Matt. 

It wasn’t the right call. But on the last lap down the backstretch at Talladega, I was NOT going to lift. As we got into turn 3, I couldn’t clear William and get back down to the second lane. It was so close. I’ve watched the replay several times. If I was clear, it was by an eyelash. When I hesitated, he got a good pull and we got hung up on the outside three-wide. When I came off turn four, I was in 10th. By the time I got to the line, I got shuffled back to 16th.

It was really, really disheartening. That one decision defined our whole day. But, our sponsors had a great time & we made it through Talladega with minimal damage to our race truck. Those are very positive things. We also got some solid television coverage for the right reasons. I have to give a big thanks to Michael Waltrip & Phil Parsons for their encouragement throughout our season.

Our hopes were high heading into Martinsville. In the spring race, we were 8th fastest in the first round of qualifying before our brakes failed. Now, we didn’t get to bring the same truck (it was still at the body shop because of our crash at Chicagoland) but Kevin put the exact same setup on it that we had in the spring.

Unfortunately, it didn’t have the same speed.

Martinsville was a good example of just how important tires are. Goodyear allows you to bring a practice set of tires to the racetrack. So, we brought a set of warehouse tires for practice. They’re available for most races, and cost around $600 - $1,600 less than a new set. The problem is that they aren’t EXACTLY the same tire you’re running on that weekend (they were manufactured at a different time, and have been sitting in a warehouse aging for a lot longer than a new tire), and they can give you bad feedback on how your truck is handling. 

That happened to us this past weekend.

Our truck was extremely tight in first practice, so we loosened it up quite a bit. Then it was far too loose. Our tires weren’t wearing consistently during practice. I hated how the truck was handling, but we couldn’t be sure if it was setup or just a tire issue. When we left the track, we weren’t totally sure of exactly what we had. And, just like at Dega, we knew qualifying would mean everything when it came to getting into the race.

It’s hard to describe the mindset of a driver going into a qualifying session when you know that it’s a go or go home situation. You’re the guy an entire team is relying on to provide their paycheck for the week. No matter how bad the truck is driving, and regardless what anyone says before or afterwards, all the pressure/blame is squarely on your shoulders.

I’ve missed races in my career. I should’ve missed a few more this year. At Bristol I totally overdrove the truck in qualifying and we only got in because the #63 truck got bumped by less than one hundredth of a second. I was determined not to make the same mistake at Martinsville.

My dad told me afterwards that he nearly gave up after our first lap. It was only a 21.20 – more than a second off the pace we needed to make the race. Our second lap was a 20.40. And as I came across the line for our third lap, we hit the rev limiter – a sign that we were really getting a good run off the corner. We lit up a 20.11 on the stopwatch, good enough for 13th at the time, and our spotter Toby Whealdon called me off down the backstretch. I felt like our best lap was going to be the fourth lap, but at the time, it was 100% the correct call. All we had to do to make the second round of qualifying was be 24th.

Of course, we dropped to 25th. 

I went back out right before the end of the first round to see if we could bump our way into the second round, but we just missed. When I pulled out for my second run, I accidentally got out in front of the #62 truck, who was still trying hard to make the race. It was my fault. They were mad afterwards, and had good reason to be. Now, they were still over a second off the time they needed to make the show, but it still wasn’t a courteous thing to do to another small team.

When the race started, our truck felt okay. We picked up a few spots and fell in line on the bottom with a big pack of trucks. But about 15 laps into the run, our truck got very loose. There was no rear grip in the center of the corner, and no forward bite off the corner at all. We fell a lap down, and made a big track bar change on the first pit stop.

It didn’t help. By the end of the day, we had dropped the bar 12 rounds, and our left rear tire pressure was down to seven pounds. We were still loose. To make things worse, I had no brakes. Tire rubber blocked off our brake ducts, and our brakes had no way of cooling down. By lap 75, the pedal was basically to the floorboard.

I spun out by myself one time trying simply because I couldn’t get the thing to slow down. It was a frustrating race. I played defense all day. Matt Crafton knocked me out of the way one time because I got hung up passing a lapped truck. Much like Talladega, the best thing that happened at Martinsville was leaving with a truck in one piece.

Even through all our struggles the last few weeks, there have been positives. Bootdaddy got a great response from their sponsorship at Talladega, and decided to come on board with us again as a hood sponsor at Texas this weekend. Diamond Gusset extended their sponsorship with me into the 2017 season. I can’t say enough about David Hall, his company, and their belief in me as a driver and an ambassador for their brand. While their sponsorship isn’t a big money deal in the NASCAR world, it’s a big deal to us, and we’re extremely thankful.

The last time we ran our Texas truck with an R07 motor in it, we ran in the top-15 before a crash at Chicagoland. I’m hoping we can have the same type of speed this weekend, and gain some positive momentum heading into the last few weeks of the year. Our guys & our sponsors deserve a great finish.

Oh, and I’d like one, too.

Close by Thomas Martins

We’re in a tough business.

I spoke with Buddy Sisco, the Crew Chief of the #2 truck for Brad Keselowski Racing this past weekend. I offered my sympathies for his team’s bad luck. It was the second week in a row they had been sent home with a DNQ [Did Not Qualify] because of a rainout - had qualifying taken place, they would’ve absolutely been fast enough to make the field in both races. He didn’t seem that upset. As the team loaded up the hauler behind him, he told my father and I, “We knew there was a chance. That’s the business we’re in. That’s big league stock car racing.”

The reality is the rainout helped our team tremendously. Because of our bad luck at Daytona & Kentucky, we were sitting in a very dangerous position in the point standings. With the 38-truck field at Charlotte, the best shot we had at making the race this weekend was to qualify in a guaranteed top-27 position. If we had to rely on points, it was gonna be iffy at best.

It rained off and on all day Thursday, but we managed to squeeze in one practice. We didn’t unload well. We dug the splitter into the track for the first 30 minutes of the session – the only session. We got to make a few runs at the end of the practice but we really didn’t get much time to IMPROVE the truck. The Diamond Gusset Chevy wasn’t fast, but our best lap came on 21 lap tires; we had no idea how good, or how far off, we actually were.

Then, it rained. We got to avoid the stress of qualifying & the potential disaster of missing a race. It saved a few others behind us in points, too. As my father and I breathed a sigh of relief, I realized just how close we were to not making a race. When we set our goals at the beginning of the year, the first one on the list was to qualify for all 23 races on the schedule because of the impact it would have on our team financially. As a small, independent team, we rely primarily on the prize money to fund our efforts each and every week. A missed race is a missed check. It’s a story we know all too well due to our lack of success in the Xfinity Series in 2014.

It kept raining all day Friday, and all Friday night. We wound up running our scheduled Friday night race in the middle of the day Saturday afternoon.

I thought we had a solid race. I’ve been very disappointed with myself at times this year. I think I did a crappy job at Atlanta. I think I sucked last week at Dover. This weekend I thought I did a pretty good job of running consistently throughout the course of the race. I felt as comfortable as I’ve ever felt in a NASCAR stock car, but we just weren’t fast enough to stay with some of the other lead lap cars.

Unlike at Dover where we were all over the place and I spent the majority of my time trying to keep the truck out of the wall and off everyone else, we got to race in Charlotte. Sure, we battled some handling problems, but we stayed on the lead lap for the majority of the race, and I loved being able to run side by side with some competitive teams and make some passes. We struggled the first few laps of a run to get going, but our truck would really come to us over the course of a long run. We were just giving up way too much track position fighting the truck the first twenty laps of a run.

It’s a great feeling to be deep in a race and running on the lead lap. Even when we did get lapped again late in the race I could see that we weren’t WAY off the pace of some of the top five cars on long runs- less than half a second for sure – which is encouraging. Besides obviously being down on horsepower, I think we’re also getting hurt on the aero side of things. Guys could drive into the corner so much more aggressively than I could & still hold their trucks on the bottom of the racetrack. I think that’s downforce related, but there could be several factors.

There were only three cautions during the race, which was surprisingly low. They helped us and hurt us. We pitted late during the first competition caution and got the chance to lead a lap and pick up an extra point, so that was pretty cool to be able to look up at the scoreboard and see a #44 on top of it. The one quickie caution that happened right in front of me (I’m glad I could get around the spinning Christopher Bell by diving down pit road) got us back on the lead lap as the lucky dog, which was also nice.

We needed another caution late in the race, but we made it to 20-to-go one minute before the caution clock was set to run out, so NASCAR turned it off. That cost us a chance at the wave around & to get back on the lead lap. Also, we thought about gambling on fuel strategy, but after Kevin ran the calculations it looked like we were gonna be about six laps short. The pit stop we made wound up costing us another lap, but lots of trucks were in and out of pit road the last ten laps. Team strategies were all over the place.

As we came to the checkered flag, I was in the middle of about a six truck group. I wasn’t racing any of them for position, so I sorta backed out and let them go at it. I figured it had to be for a top ten spot or something because they were really racing hard, bouncing off each other down the back stretch and through turns 3 & 4. A few of them wound up in the wall at the start finish line right in front of us and I had to dive low to get around it. Obviously I was surprised when I got out of the truck and looked up at the scoreboard to find out they were tearing each other up for 18th place.

Fans have got to love how intense the racing in this series is, but damn is it wild when you’re sitting in the driver’s seat! As crazy as things got around us, I’m glad we were able to bring the truck home in one piece and beat some of our direct competitors in the point standings. Overall, 25th place wasn’t a BAD finish for us.

I posted on instagram about how torn I was over our weekend. I don’t see it as a negative weekend at all! I can see how close our team is to being a competitive, top-20 NASCAR team, even in our infancy in the Camping World Truck Series. We’ve got great chemistry, solid trucks, tremendously loyal supporters like Rodney Riessen and wonderful marketing partners like Diamond Gusset Jeans - but, it’s not enough. As close as we are to success at this level, Charlotte also proved we’re equally as close to failure. CLOSE just doesn’t cut it at this level of motorsports.

I’ve got to be better. The team has to get better. Whatever it takes - financial support, a better engine program, aero & setup tweaks – we’ve gotta find a way to make it happen or we could be sitting on the other side of the fence when we get to Texas Motor Speedway.

That’s big league stock car racing.

I’m blessed to be a part of it, and I don't want to give it up any time soon. I’m looking forward to a few weeks off, and I know the guys are already hard at work on the prep for our next 3 week stretch of Texas, Iowa, & Gateway. We’ll be ready.

(0-4) by Thomas Martins

We went to Dover with some high hopes. After our small success at Martinsville, we thought the Monster Mile would be a good track for us. As it turns out, it wasn’t. There’s no one to blame as to why – it was a conglomeration of problems that spoiled our weekend, and I certainly had a part in that.

I was reminded during my flight home of something Russell Wilson spoke about during the Seahawks Super Bowl winning season a few years ago. They didn’t win every game that year. In fact, a couple times, despite the successes of their defense, their offense struggled. They went on to win 13 games that year, and in reflection Russell stated, “sometimes, just like in baseball, you have days where you go 0-4.”

Martins Motorsports went 0-4 this past weekend in Dover.

I had been to Dover before, which allowed us to mock up pretty quickly for a qualifying run early in the first practice session. That’s where our problems started. We bottomed the truck out HARD and it took us a little while to figure out what the problem was. Eventually after clearing it up, first practice was over. We were slow, the truck was a handful, and we only had one more practice to try to fix it. We didn’t. The truck never felt like it was IN the racetrack. It was tight in the middle of the corner, sliding the front end, but completely loose as I tried to apply the throttle.

As Kevin Eagle and I discussed it that night, we settled on the idea that it could be a shock problem, and we crossed our fingers that we could get a qualifying session in so we could just use it like an extra practice. Mother Nature didn’t grant us that opportunity. Qualifying was rained out and we wound up starting at the back of the grid due to our practice time.

The race didn’t get much better. It was one of the longest, toughest races I’ve ever run. We nearly wrecked the truck 5 or 6 separate times. Kevin tried every adjustment he could make, but nothing helped. We finished the race in 24th place, which felt like a small victory given how bad we had struggled all weekend. It certainly was a better finish than we deserved.

I’m disappointed in myself. I felt like I never got in a good rhythm all weekend. Sure, the handling of the truck affected that, but it’s my job as a driver to help to pinpoint the issues. We never were able to do that.

Midway through the race, I was getting extremely tired. At one point, I tried to move my hand off the wheel and I physically couldn’t get my hand to open; it had been clinched so tightly that it had cramped up, and it took me driving the truck with my knee and pulling my hand off of it to get some relief. The position of the steering wheel in the truck was off, but in our rush to work on the truck during practice, I had forgotten to mention it. By having the wheel too high, my arms got pretty tired during the middle part of the race. All of these things are physical issues that have made me realize I need to make conditioning & the details of my cockpit much bigger priorities.

We learned a lot as a team this weekend, and I learned a lot as a driver. Dover is a tough racetrack, and it kicked my ass. I’m looking forward to redeeming myself at another track I’ve raced at, Charlotte Motor Speedway, this Friday night.

A Lesson by Thomas Martins

Have you ever been so mad, so frustrated that you aren’t even angry? You’re just calm. That was my mindset after we retired from Friday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

I felt exhausted. My father felt the same way. I’ll give our Crew Chief Kevin Eagle credit, he just went right back to work. Even though a motor issue ended our day, he and our crew kept working tirelessly to find the issues with our Diamond Gusset Chevrolet. Their effort is especially commendable given the damage we sustained in practice had them busting their tails all day Thursday to prepare the truck for race day.

I guess that’s my takeaway from Kansas. Our team doesn't quit. They never get their heads down. Even in the face of tremendous, unwarranted adversity, they just keep digging. They've taught me something about my approach to not just racing, but my outlook on any struggle life presents. I’ve been so blessed to have the opportunity to work with them this year, and I know that success HAS to be on the horizon for our team.

The weekend started out okay. It was my first time ever at Kansas Speedway, and my takeaway is it’s FAST. Per usual, Kevin and our team unloaded a solid truck for us to work on during practice. We skipped first practice because the conditions were going to be so different than qualifying or race time. When we went out for second practice, we did a shakedown run & two mock qualifying runs, which went fine. We wound up 23rd in P2, which we felt solid about going into final practice.

That’s where things went bad. When we first started out with our race runs, we actually picked up two tenths! Our truck was flying, and handling great. When I went into turn 3 on about our 4th lap of practice, the right front tire went down, sending us into the wall. I tried to pedal it as best as I could, eventually surrendering to the fact we were going to make contact. Luckily I was able to square the wall up, resulting in SOME damage to our Diamond Gusset Chevy, but Kevin and the guys stayed upbeat and were able to get the truck mostly repaired before the garage closed.

I can’t say enough about their effort on that fact. We don't have a backup truck. For us, if we didn’t get the truck fixed enough to make it through tech inspection, we would’ve been forced to retire from the event. Not only did they get it fixed enough to make it through tech, we had our second best qualifying effort of the year, 19th! I actually think I gave up a little during our qualifying run, but the guys told me to take it easy and feel it out after the damage in practice. Needless to say, we were excited for the race.

When the green flag dropped, it was obvious it was going to be an exciting race. Guys were all over the place. We got put 4 wide twice. We got put 3 wide 2 or 3 separate times. The aggression level in our series is at an all time high. If someone has a problem in front of you and you cut them a break, immediately the guys behind you are making it 3 wide. It’s crazy. That’s why you’re seeing so many accidents this year. Smart racing has gone completely out the window.

I got a bad initial start of the race, but was able to get back up around the top 20 before I felt us having another tire issue. I brought the truck down pit lane, and sure enough, it was another flat right front tire. The stop ended up costing us 3 laps, but we got back out on track right behind the leaders. Toby, our spotter, was encouraging me to stay focused and try to get one of our laps back; we were actually 2 tenths of a second faster than the leader when we got back out on track.

Unfortunately, 4 laps into that run, our motor started to sputter. Immediately I shut the motor down, hoping to keep from damaging it any further. When I brought the truck to pit lane, eventually we rolled it behind the wall and retired from the race.

The initial impressions are that we didn’t blow it up; it’s just a small leak we’ll be able to fix. It was and still is a very scary time for our small team since we only own two motors. Damaging one this early in the season could basically cost us the opportunity to race the rest of the year. We’re still waiting to hear from Mark Smith at Pro Motors to give us the final verdict.

As frustrated as I was when I left the race track, I’m more encouraged this Monday than I have been all year. We have speed. We are good. That’s more than a lot of the teams we’ve been racing against can say. Yeah, they might be finishing races ahead of us, and yeah we’ve had some awful luck this year, but it’s more and more obvious that this team and I can compete at this level, and our expectations are continuing to rise as the season goes along.

I’m ready to get to Dover.