In what may be his last ride in the No. 55, Martin's much-needed caution never came
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Mark Martin had plenty of speed in his No. 55 Toyota. What he didn't have was plenty of fuel.
And in what might have been his final start of the season with the No. 55 Toyota of Michael Waltrip Racing, he saw a potential win sputter out in Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
The 54-year-old Martin, expected to be named interim driver for the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 car of Stewart-Haas Racing this week, was leading when his car ran out of gas with four laps remaining in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.
"We needed one more yellow and we could have done it," Martin said afterward. "I saved a lot of gas out there; just stayed ahead of Joey (Logano) there. If he would have slowed down I could have maybe saved enough. But I had to go that fast. I had more speed in the car."
Career win No. 41 didn’t materialize, and Martin finished 27th. Logano, with plenty of fuel to spare, collected the win instead.
Martin, running a limited schedule this season for MWR, isn't slated to drive for the team this weekend when the series returns to Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Brian Vickers, recently tabbed to take over the ride full time beginning in 2014, was already scheduled to be in the car at Bristol, as well as Martinsville later this fall.
But with Stewart out indefinitely -- the result of a broken right leg suffered in a sprint car crash Aug. 5 in Iowa -- Martin's name has surfaced as a replacement for the three-time champion. The move would allow Vickers more time with the MWR team to prepare for next season, and sponsorship hurdles have apparently been addressed, opening the door for the move.
Asked if Sunday's race was his final start with MWR, Martin was non-committal. "I was driving the 55 today. … That's all I've got for you," he said.
"We're going for W’s. These guys really wanted to get a win with me. They've gotten one with Brian already. They've been close with me and with Michael (Waltrip) as well. They were going for it."
Martin, fourth fastest in qualifying, inherited the lead from Brad Keselowski (Penske Racing) on Lap 174 when he stayed out rather than pit under the day's ninth caution. In clean air, his car was a rocket. But fuel concerns were lingering, and the hoped-for 10th caution -- which would have allowed Martin to slow and burn less fuel -- failed to occur.
Instead, he had to run fast enough to remain ahead of Logano. And that little bit of speed proved costly.
"There was no way to save fuel and lead," he said. "I was saving a lot … but in order to stay leading I couldn't save any more."
Crew chief Rodney Childers wasn’t second-guessing the decision later, watching as the crew loaded the car for the trip back to the team's shop in Cornelius, N.C.
"You never know when the caution is going to come out," said Childers, who said a late caution shortly after Martin had pitted put the team in a fuel-saving mode. "At that point, we were probably about seven laps short. I told Mark our only hope was to stay out and hope for some cautions."
It was, he said, "a pure gamble."
"And the situation we’re in with three drivers … in trying to make the Chase on owner points, (our best bet) is to win another race.
"So we went for it, and it won't be the last time before Richmond either."
See what Martin had to say about the race below.