The Callahan Report: Martin fights off restarts to win at Rockingham
21 February 1999
By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
"There's all kinds of things that can go wrong on restarts," said Martin. "Believe me, I've lost a lot more races than I've won, and there's all kind of ways to lose them. To me, every restart was just another opportunity to have something go wrong, but we had the car to pull it off there at the end."
The first half of the race looked like a repeat of the 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. Jeff Gordon was easily leading while Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and others chased the young star around the track. It was not to be Gordons day. For the first time in nearly a year, Gordon had an engine failure which sent him to the garage area. The other teams pounced on the opportunity to gain precious Winston Cup points. Gordon finished 39th in the 43 car field.
"The thing just let go," said Gordon, who was the defending race winner and the champion at Daytona last weekend. "Today pretty much shows it doesn't matter what you do in Daytona. You've got to do it every weekend."
Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett were the big winners. They both were caught in the mid race crash in Daytona last week. By finishing first and second, they were able to get themselves back into the race for the 1999 Winston Cup title.
"We adjusted on the car all day, and got better and better and better," Martin said. "They (the crew) put me in the lead with four new tires, with a fast setup and, heck, that was what we needed."
Jarrett continued a string of strong Rockingham finishes. He has finished second in six of the last seven races at "The Rock". He was nearly pushed back to a third place finish at the end of the race. Jarrett had to hold off a hard-charging Bobby Labonte to retain his second place spot. Labonte was able to run with Jarrett during the final nine laps. The green flag waved with nine laps remaining after a crash involving Ernie Irvan.
"That was going to be my one shot if I could do something on the restart," said Jarrett. "I tried to get a really good run on him, but Mark got to the corner before I did, so that was kind of it after that. It seems like we have second place down pat. We just can't get to victory lane here."
Jeff Burton, Mark Martins teammate, finished fourth. He looked to be the stronger of the two Roush-Racing owned cars. Burton led the most laps in the race before being pushed back to fourth place after a poor pit stop.
"We lost our track position, and that hurt us some,'' said Burton. "We've got to get a little better on me making the calls on what to do with the chassis. We were tighter at the end than we had been all day."
Martin acknowledged his teammates efforts. "I kind of hate it for Jeff Burton," he said. "He was strong all day; stronger than we were. This crew won the race for me. It was right on the money at the end." Martin continued, "I just let it rip at the end, and the rest of the day I just tried to be conservative, to make sure we didn't fool around and stop short for tires or something like that."
Mike Skinner moved into the Winston Cup points lead. Gordon fell from first to eleventh while Martin jumped into the eighth spot.