It's the weekend again, time to take the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage and dust it off for a spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...
THIS WON'T BE a popular entry among the NASCAR sect – particularly among the card-carrying, "racing was a lot better when Ned Jarrett won races by seven laps" fans in the group – but the news that Mark Martin was moving to Michael Waltrip Racing next seasons sparked plenty of social media debate.
Well, by "debate" I mean national media types fawning all over Martin.
I, on the other hand, sparked a lot of, ummm, "debate" over on a colleague's Facebook page when I openly criticized Martin, Waltrip and some of the decision-makers on NASCAR's well-established teams.
At the crux of my argument is the fact that Martin's time really has come and gone. Like, gone a while ago. Martin has just nine Top-5 finishes in his last 69 races heading into Texas this weekend – two fewer than the much-maligned Joey Logano over the same stretch. While Martin is replacing a driver in David Reutimann that hasn't exactly set the world on fire (just one Top-5 and two Top-10 finishes this season), Reutimann is often lauded by his competitors as one of the most underrated drivers in the NASCAR garage.
But now Reutimann is out in favor of a 50-something driver who will run just 24 races next season. Fellow "retiree" Michael Waltrip, the team's owner, will also drive a few races in the seat occupied by Martin.
It's a sad, sad statement of the state of NASCAR's development chain. In fact, the regurgitation of drivers like Martin suggests that no chain even really exists.
There are several drivers, including some in the MWR/Toyota camp, that are the talented future of the sport. Yet, even NASCAR's power players in the ownership group can't muster the energy to find a sponsor willing to put them in a seat.
Ryan Truex is just one name that leaps to mind. He's a two-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series champion for MWR and was recently named one of the Top-10 drivers in series' history, yet he's stuck because he can't get a full-time seat in a car at the Nationwide or Cup level.
Meanwhile, we get more Martin-Go Daddy marriages, because apparently having Martin is a better marketing tool for an edgy, hip company like the dot-com magnate than a young, hip driver who actually knows how to operate the apps on his smart phone.
It's perplexing and, frankly, discouraging.
Make no mistake – this isn't the myth of a driver having to have the proverbial suitcase full of money to land a Cup ride. That's a myth that has taken on a very large life of its own, despite the fact that it's often inaccurate. Teams in the Top-25 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series world aren't looking for drivers to pay for seats. Certainly, if you're trying to get a full-time K&N Series or Nationwide ride these days, a big checkbook is a prerequisite.
But the same doesn't apply to the Cup Series food chain. At that level, companies spending tens of millions of dollars each year in sponsorship aren't asking a driver to offset that cost on their own. (Exception: Paul Menard).
So, the only reason a guy like Mark Martin keeps getting the retread vote from owners is because he's something of a certainty: You know he won't compete for a championship, or even for more than a win or maybe two in a really good year, but you also know that he won't ride the roller coaster of good finishes followed by bad finishes followed by good ones followed by bad ones...
Martin's role in the sport is similar now to Bobby Labonte's or even Waltrip's. It's not about him bringing money to the table or having an insatiable desire to compete. It's about cashing a big paycheck for millions of dollars each year.
If you don't believe me, I've got a box of "Mark Martin: Salute To You Tour" T-shirts from 2005 I'd like to sell you...
RACERS IN VERMONT are likely paying close attention to what's going on at Devil's Bowl Speedway.
New owner Mike Bruno, a longtime fixture on the dirt and asphalt ranks in western New England and parts of New York, has held "town meetings" with drivers and car owners, hired a new marketing guy (good friend Justin St. Louis, the former ACT Late Model Tour media director) and pledged to move from Sunday afternoon programs to Friday night ones.
All of it suggests that Devil's Bowl is doing what a lot of struggling short tracks have a hard time doing – making changes that inject life back into the program.
Kudos to the folks at Devil's Bowl.
WANTED TO POINT out a great opportunity for racers coming to New England this winter.
The first GRIP Seminar will be held in Portland, Maine, from January 19-22 – and it's promising to be a great, great tool for regional short-track racers. It's four days of information on setups, shocks, body and chassis styles, brakes, marketing and even wind tunnel insight. The goal of the seminar is not to sell short track racers a whole bunch of things they don't need, but instead bring together some of the industry's leading personalities and help them get the most out of what they do already have.
As costs continue to grow for short-track teams trying to find success, it's being billed as a one-stop shop for fleshing out ideas and taking pertinent information back to your own shop. It's worth a look at www.GRIPSeminars.com.
IF I'M CARL Edwards, I'm loving the position I'm in with three races left in the Chase.
YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the honey mustard chicken, and don't forget to tip your waitress. Three Doors Down is here, so stick around.