MARTINSVILLE, Va.—As NASCAR Sprint Cup practice progressed on Saturday, Mark Martin was working hard to find a happy medium for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota he’ll drive in Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500 as a substitute for injured Denny Hamlin.
Martin started out Friday with Hamlin’s baseline setup, and it wasn’t to his liking. Unable to overcome a tendency for the car to drag the race track, Martin qualified 35th Friday afternoon.
“So far, I haven’t really gotten comfortable yet,” Martin said on Friday. “It’s pretty different, and the way Denny runs here is quite different than my style. We’ll have a lot more time [Saturday]. We’re working on getting it to feel like I need it to feel…
“We just drug the race track so bad. At the start of practice, the front drug the race track so bad it was unbelievable. We’ve got to get that better.”
Toward that end, Martin and crew chief Darian Grubb made progress on Saturday. In the final session, the dragging problem ameliorated, and Martin liked the way the car was turning through the corners.
Regardless, winning the race in Hamlin’s stead will be a tall order. In 128 Cup races at Martinsville, only one driver has won from a starting position outside the top 24. Kurt Busch accomplished the feat in 2002 from the 36th spot.