DEAD END AHEAD?
Mark Martin cuts Jeff Gordon's point lead, but the superspeedways
With two victories in the last three races, including Sunday's
crash-filled UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway,
Mark Martin has seized momentum from points leader Jeff Gordon
in their duel for the Winston Cup championship. But Martin fears
his late surge will come to a screeching halt in the next two
races, the Winston 500 at Talladega this Sunday and the Pepsi
400 at Daytona on Oct. 17. Talladega and Daytona are the two
longest tracks on the circuit and the only ones at which NASCAR
requires carburetor restrictor plates to hold speeds below 200
Martin and his team owner, Jack Roush, know that their Taurus
will be at a disadvantage against Gordon's Monte Carlo on the
two superspeedways because Roush's restrictor-plate engine
development isn't as advanced as that of Gordon's Hendrick
Motorsports team. "We don't have much of a chance at Talladega
and Daytona," Roush said Sunday, after Martin had cut Gordon's
points lead by 25, down to 174, with six races remaining. "I'm
afraid this is going to throw ice water on our championship
But the Roush-Martin team shouldn't give up yet. The
engine-stifling restrictor plates often force drivers to run in
huge packs because they have difficulty accelerating away from
one another. That causes crapshoots that can leave the hares
wrecked and the tortoises with the spoils.
Martin finished 38th in the Daytona 500 last February and 23rd in
the DieHard 500 at Talladega last April. Though Gordon finished
16th and fifth, respectively, in those races, he dominated at
Daytona before hitting some debris and damaging his front air dam
just past the halfway point.
Says Martin, "We did test at Daytona before the July race [the
Pepsi 400, which was postponed until October because of raging
summer wildfires in Florida], and we made significant progress
with our car. But since then we're not sure we've made any
progress. We should be in better shape than we were, but we're
certainly not where we want to be."
IRL Odd Couple
BRACK, FOYT ON VERGE OF TITLE
Swedish driver Kenny Brack and Texan-to-a-T car owner A.J. Foyt
are one of the oddest winning combinations in auto racing. The
IRL began in 1996, with Foyt as a founding member, partly to
give American dirt-track drivers opportunities on big-league
ovals. Foyt was the leading proponent of that notion. Brack, who
need only finish seventh or better in Saturday's Las Vegas 500K
to win this year's IRL championship, has a road-racing
background, in the European Formula 3000 series, and thus is an
example of the imported drivers who, the IRL charged, had become
too dominant on its rival circuit, CART.
Furthermore, to make room for Brack, Foyt last year fired just
the sort of driver the IRL supposedly wanted to help: Idaho
native Davey Hamilton, a short-track, supermodified veteran,
who's now second to Brack in IRL points, 312-281, as the driver
for Nienhouse Motorsports. But in the World According to A.J.,
there was no contradiction in his hiring of Brack. "The first
thing Kenny had to do before we signed a contract was move to
Texas," Foyt says. "He lives in Houston [Foyt's hometown] now.
After he got settled, he was a transplant."
Foyt still won't hesitate to blast CART for the U.N. look of its
driver standings. Other than Americans such as Michael Andretti,
Bryan Herta, Al Unser Jr. and Jimmy Vasser, "the other guys in
CART, hell, I can't even pronounce their names, much less spell
them," Foyt says. As for Brack, after he took the checkered flag
for an IRL-record third straight win, in Atlanta on Aug. 29,
Foyt summed up the league's attitude adjustment by bellowing
into Brack's helmet radio, "We love you, you foreigner!"
ADAM PETTY, KING FOR A DAY
Lee Petty begat Richard, who begat Kyle, who begat Adam, who's
on track to become the first fourth-generation NASCAR driver. In
the wake of 18-year-old Adam's first superspeedway win, a
100-mile Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) event at
Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sept. 30, Kyle opined that the
Pettys' championship bloodline may have skipped a generation.
"My son," says Kyle, who hasn't matched Richard's and Lee's
success, "can be what my father was."
Lee, one of NASCAR's pioneer drivers, won 54 races and three
championships. Richard was dubbed King for winning 200 races and
seven championships, both records, before retiring in 1992. But
the free-spirited Kyle has won only eight races in a 19-year
NASCAR career that began when he was 18. "Adam has more desire
than Kyle ever had," says Richard. "When Kyle came along, he
wanted to drive a race car, but he also wanted to ride his
motorcycles, play his guitars, get married the first thing--all
sorts of stuff. Adam is really, really focused."
Adam also is dealing with a racing tragedy similar to one that
haunts his grandfather. His crew chief, Chris Bradley, was
crushed underneath Adam's car during a pit stop in an American
Speed Association (ASA) race last month outside St. Paul. Bradley
died of internal injuries while undergoing surgery.
"Chris didn't tell Adam or anyone else in the crew that he was
going under the car to make an adjustment," says Richard. "The
routine is, when the new tires are on, the jackman lets the car
down. It's Adam's job to take off when the car comes off the
jack. That's what he did. He didn't have any idea anybody was
under the car. He thought he'd run over a tire or an air wrench,
until they stopped the race."
"I've been torn up for the past several weeks," Adam said after
his victory in Charlotte. "When I got home [to the Petty compound
near Randleman, N.C.] from Minnesota, I was devastated. The first
person to meet me was my grandfather, telling me he'd gone
through the same thing many years before."
In 1965, when Richard was participating in a Chrysler boycott of
NASCAR in a dispute over engine specifications, he competed
briefly in drag racing. At a strip in Dallas, Ga., his dragster
went out of control and into the crowd, killing an
"Just before Chris died," says Adam, "an ASA chaplain told me,
'This will either make you or break you.' I think it has made me.
When I went to Minnesota, I was still halfway a boy, but I had to
grow up that day."
Adam, who began racing in go-karts at six and had one stock car
victory before the win at Charlotte, plans to drive in this
Saturday's ARCA race at Talladega and in three Busch Grand
National races later this season. Next year he'll move toward
full-time Busch-series racing to prepare for the elite Winston
Cup series that made his family famous.
Recently at Richard's house, says Kyle, "Daddy and Adam were
walking together in the backyard, talking. As I looked out the
window at them, I told my mother, 'Richard Petty's finally got
the son he never had.'"
For the latest news from all the motor sports circuits, plus
more from Ed Hinton, go to www.cnnsi.com.
COLOR PHOTO: NELSON KEPLEY/AP Gordon (24) finished fifth at Charlotte on Sunday after escaping a multicar crash with little damage. [Jeff Gordon in race car in front of two cars colliding in race]
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK BURTON/AP In triumph and tragedy, Richard Petty can identify with young Adam's recent racing experiences. [Richard Petty and Adam Petty]
Number of CART races, of 17 run this season, that Team Kool
Green driver Paul Tracy has not finished because of crashes.
Tracy, known as Captain Crunch, was fired from Team Penske last
year after wrecking five cars. On Sunday he was running second
at Houston when he crashed trying to pass teammate and eventual
winner Dario Franchitti. Tracy and team owner Barry Green got
into a shoving match over the incident.