Unheralded rookie Tommy Joe Martins fastest in second Nationwide practice at ‘Dega; Jeffrey Earnhardt second-fast

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Nationwide Series rookie Tommy Joe Martins will have one heck of a story to tell his children and grandchildren one day.

The Como, Miss., native, who drives for his family’s Martins Motorsports, will be able to regale his heirs with the tale of how for at least one practice session, he was the fastest NNS driver at one of the most challenging tracks there is, Talladega SuperSpeedway.

Martins covered the 2.66-mile track, NASCAR’s largest oval, at a field-best 185.891 mph, the fastest speed in the second of Thursday’s two Nationwide Series practice sessions for Saturday’s Aaron’s 312.

Another surprise at second-fastest was Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt, who was just .014 behind Martins at 185.877 mph.

Third-fastest was Kyle Larson (185.823 mph), followed by Trevor Bayne (185.226), who was fastest in Thursday’s first practice session (and at more than 5 mph faster at 190.378 mph).

Fifth-fastest was Brendan Gaughan (185.136), while sixth- through 10th-fastest were Ryan Sieg (185.122), Brian Scott (185.097), John Wes Townley (184.455), Dakoda Armstrong (184.242) and Josh Wise (183.561).

One of the other big surprises – actually, more of a shock, given he’s already won two NNS races this season – was series points leader Chase Elliott, who was just 26th-fastest at just 175.748 mph. In the earlier afternoon practice session, Elliott was 19th-fastest at 184.573 mph.

Only 29 drivers took to the track for the latter afternoon practice (compared to 36 drivers who practiced in the earlier afternoon session).

Thus far this season, Martins has qualified and raced in five of the first eight NNS races, with his best finish being 30th three weeks ago at Darlington. It was also the only race he’s finished this season, albeit six laps behind the leaders.

Martins, who is ranked 30th in the NNS standings coming into Saturday’s race, has recorded DNFs in the four other races he’s competed in this season.

He did not enter the season-opening event at Daytona and withdrew from both Phoenix and Bristol.

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INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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