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

Leave a comment

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.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

View from the pits: Reporters’ picks for the 103rd Indianapolis 500

INDYCAR / Jason Porter
Leave a comment

It’s Race Day in Indianapolis, and for the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Time will tell what impact Mother Nature has on today’s 103rd Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. But no matter what, prerace coverage begins today on NBCSN at 9 a.m. ET, then transitions over to NBC at 11 a.m. ET.

All month long, the INDYCAR on NBC pit reporters have been bringing you the latest breaking news and stories for the Brickyard. Now, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider share their insights from pit road. Read on …

KEVIN LEE

Throughout the last two weeks, one common theme has been, “Don’t crash.” There were five crashes, and four of those teams/drivers ended up in the Last Row Shootout. Two of the three bumped (Patricio O’Ward and Fernando Alonso) were in backup cars following heavy impacts.

Several drivers have consistently been among the strongest. Simon Pagenaud (pictured, left) not only starts on pole but has been strong in race trim as well. All three Ed Carpenter Racing cars are fast and appear good in traffic. Alexander Rossi looks like he can put his car wherever he wants, and Scott Dixon has five championships and 44 IndyCar wins, so he must be watched.

In order, my picks for most likely to drink the milk are Pagenaud, Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Dixon.

KELLI STAVAST

A week ago, no one could have predicted that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing would be bumped from the Indy 500 by a single-car, part-time effort of Juncos Racing and its driver, Kyle Kaiser (pictured, right).  But it happened, and Kaiser now occupies the 33rd and final spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

So what next?  I spoke with Kyle five days after the dramatic qualifying effort, and he told me he has never been happier to finish last and that he is still “buzzing” from that experience—an energy he hopes to carry straight through to the race.  He also told me that the response from fans has been positive with people stopping him in public (including at Chipotle) to hug him and congratulate him on making the Big Show.

But reality might have set in for the Californian who now lives in Indy.  During Carb Day’s final practice, the team struggled to get a good handling car for Kyle, who described the day as “challenging.”  But Kaiser also acknowledged that the team made some progress throughout the practice and at the very least collected some data that might help for the 500-miler on Sunday.

Whether he finishes 1st or 31st on Sunday, Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing will have plenty of fond memories to carry with them from the 103rd Indy 500.

MARTY SNIDER

First, we cannot wait to bring you guys the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor for our entire group to broadcast such an amazing event.

So what do we expect? I have no idea, to be honest. The weather will be a huge factor today. It might be a race to halfway if rain is forecast.  If it’s cooler (mid 70’s ambient, which it looks like it’s going to be), Alexander Rossi (pictured, left) was unstoppable in those conditions last Monday.

But Rossi was very unhappy with his car on Carb Day. For that matter, most teams were. But Rob Edwards of Andretti Autosport explained a few things to Rossi about all of the experimenting they were doing in final practice, and I think that team is in a much better frame of mind heading into the race.

I find it interesting that Simon Pagenaud’s team scuffed in literally every set of tires they will use for today’s race. The No. 22 camp is convinced (and they’re not wrong) that one of the keys to Will Power’s 2018 win was his ability to gain time on out laps after pit stops. Scuffing in tires helps that out lap time. It also allows teams to do a balance check on tires. Good thing they did: Kyle Moyer of Team Penske found two sets that had vibrations, which would have been bad in the race.

Bottom line, I haven’t seen anyone really stand out and show me they can beat Alexander Rossi yet. So I’m going with Rossi to win his second Indy 500.

Enjoy the show friends. It’s going to be a fantastic race!