CONCORD,N.C. – For Mark Martin, election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame was an unexpected honor, and it’s just coincidence that the 40-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race-winner has such strong simpatico with his fellow 2017 class members.
“There are so many people in the NASCAR Hall of Fame that are my heroes, that it’s pretty incredible to think that I’m going to join them in that Hall,” Martin said on Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he’ll drive the pace car before Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET on FOX).
“It’s something that I didn’t expect to happen in my lifetime, so it’s happened sooner than I would have ever dreamed, if it would happen at all.”
Martin is part of a Hall of Fame class that includes Benny Parsons, against whom Martin raced, and Rick Hendrick, who hired Martin to drive his No. 5 Chevrolet. In fact, Martin finished second in the standings – for the fifth time in his career – driving for Hendrick in 2009.
With newly elected Hall of Fame member Richard Childress, Martin has considerable empathy, because Childress, like Martin, had a rough time when trying to break into the sport as a driver. Where Martin ultimately fashioned a Hall of Fame career behind the wheel, Childress made his mark as a car owner.
“This is a real special class,” Martin said. “Benny Parsons had a hand in my career, as a person, as a competitor, as a friend – and as a friend to the sport – as well as Mr. Hendrick, the incredible person that he is, the character that he has, the integrity. He had a hand in my getting into the Hall of Fame.
“And, of course, Richard Childress was a driver that was struggling and started out with a $20 car. When I first came to NASCAR, he was driving what I would consider not a really nice car, to put it lightly. And then to see him achieve what he’s achieved and be in there as well… it’s a real special class.
“Every class is really special but this one has quite a bit of personal connection to it.”
Martin Truex Jr. looks like a good bet to win Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, if he can overcome the rotten luck that has plagued him recently. Truex had the fastest lap in Saturday’s final practice (186.387 mph) and also posted the best consecutive 10-lap average speed (182.923 mph)…
Dale Earnhardt Jr., suffered a leak in the power steering box of his No. 88 Chevrolet in Saturday’s first practice session, the result of a bad seal. The car’s handling was an issue, too, but the balance improved during Happy Hour, with Earnhardt 21st fastest (single lap) but sixth best in 10-lap average…
Lest fans forget about Tony Stewart’s farewell tour in his final year as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, there’s a banner on the backstretch at Charlotte Motor Speedway that’s roughly twice as long as the 200-foot big screen that overlooks the infield. The banner reads “Thank You Tony — Smoke 14” in gigantic lettering.