News & Media

Pit-wall hit ends strong run for pole-winner Martin

August 19, 2012, David Caraviello,

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- A strong run for Mark Martin came to an abrupt end Sunday when his pole-winning car slammed into the end of the pit wall at Michigan International Speedway.

Martin, a five-time winner at the track, had led 54 of the 65 laps contested before his No. 55 spun in the wake of a larger accident and slid toward pit road. The blue-and-white Toyota hit the pit wall where it opens to allow access to and from the Sprint Cup garage area, at a sharp angle that generated a large impact and left a crater in the sheet metal right behind the driver's seat.

Video: Scary crash for Martin

"I really feel that was a freak accident," Martin said after exiting the track's infield care center. "I'm not sure you can ever completely fix something like that. That was a pretty freak angle that I got at that. I'm not sure what you could do. It could have been really bad if I'd have gotten in that hole a little deeper, where it caught me in the door instead of the crush area back there."

It was scary enough as it was, with the spinning car hurtling toward the pit wall opening. Martin hit at the gap separating the pit stalls of Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson, and even No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus shouted over the radio for his crewmen to grab fire extinguishers and help the Michael Waltrip Racing driver exit the vehicle.

Thankfully, Martin climbed out and walked away. "It was not as bad as it looked," Martin said of the impact. "I was concerned right before I hit it. I thought, 'This could be one of those sudden stops.'"

The incident started when Bobby Labonte spun in front of Juan Montoya, and Kahne and Martin went sideways trying to slow down in the accident's wake. Once his car started spinning, Martin said he was hoping to miss the pit wall completely, but he soon realized that wouldn't be possible.

"It's unfortunate," he said. "I fought it with everything I had. With where I came from and the speed I came from and the confines of pit road, I couldn't miss it."

It's customary for NASCAR to review areas of the race track after odd-angle hits like the one Martin endured. An inside wall opening on the backstretch at Las Vegas, for instance, was redesigned and had the SAFER barrier added to it after Jeff Gordon walked away from a thunderous impact there in 2008. Another Gordon crash, this one at Richmond in 2011, prompted the track to add the SAFER barrier to a previously uncovered area of the inside backstretch wall.

"Could have been a lot worse than it was," Brad Keselowski, Sunday's second-place finisher, said of Martin's accident. "Over the course of time, we always get complacent and think that we've hit all the buttons on the safety side. Then you see something like that. It shows you why you have to never quit working at making these cars and tracks safer, because that could have been a lot worse, whether it was for Mark or for the crew members or anybody. So it's just one of those moments where you realize you might think that you have safety covered in this sport, but you never do."

The accident ended one of the best runs of the season for Martin, who is running a partial schedule for MWR. Afterward, though, he was all smiles, thanking his team, manufacturer and sponsor for the opportunity.

"I'm so grateful," he said. "I'm not even supposed to be able to get a ride anymore."