Staff picks for Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Jimmie Johnson : "The focus is rightly on Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart this weekend. Away from the spotlight, though, Johnson and his No. 48 team finally get back on track with a dominant showing -- and "Six-Time" ties Gordon with his fifth career win at the Brickyard ." -- Brad Norman Tony Stewart : 'Smoke' has been on a roll and no place means as much to him as the Brickyard . -- Kenny Bruce Kyle Larson : " Fueled by a landmark victory at Eldora Speedway and increased team performance, expect Kyle Larson to ride a wave of momentum into the Brickyard , backing up his two Indy top-10s by landing in Victory Lane for the first time in his Sprint Cup Series career." -- Pat DeCola Martin Truex Jr. : Furniture Row Racing puts all the pieces together, shedding any bad luck for another crown jewel win to pair with its Coca-Cola 600 triumph. -- Zack Albert Jimmie Johnson : " He's won here four times before and it's time for his frustrating summer to end." -- Holly Cain Tony Stewart : "Equipped with a third-place starting position for his final Brickyard 400 run, look for Indiana native Tony Stewart to continue his hot streak up front -- and eventually in Victory Lane." -- Jessica Ruffin Ryan Newman : "The Rocket Man has been close the past two weeks (seventh at Loudon, third at Kentucky) and qualified sixth at the Brickyard , so let's go with Indiana's forgotten son to pull off the upset on Sunday. After all, his last Sprint Cup Series win came at Indy (2013)." -- George Winkler Kyle Busch: " The Sprint Cup Series champ is starting on the pole and I think he's going to stay there to bring home his second consecutive Brickyard win. Also, with Saturday's XFINITY Series win under his belt, Busch is eyeing a sweep again, a feat that's only been done by him." -- Taylor Nunnally Carl Edwards : " The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has the speed this weekend and his quiet summer is about to come to an end with his first Brickyard win." -- RJ Kraft Jimmie Johnson : Four-time Indy winner is due for a Brickyard win and this weekend could be the year "Six-Time" ties Jeff Gordon for the most wins at the 2.5-mile track. -- Maggie MacKenzie Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
NASCAR Inside Track: Sponsor search and hero honored by the Brickyard
Rick Horrow talks about Kentucky Speedway's tribute to Sprint as the series searches for a new entitlement sponsor and talks how Indianapolis Motor Speedway's honors a hero as the namesake for the Brickyard 400 .
Auto-Owners Insurance expands sponsorship pact with Furniture Row Racing
RELATED: New looks for 2017 DENVER, Colo. (Jan. 16, 2017) -- Furniture Row Racing announced that Auto-Owners Insurance has agreed to a multiyear primary sponsorship for Martin Truex Jr .'s No. 78 Toyota Camry in the NASCAR Cup Series. The Fortune 500 company, which joined Furniture Row Racing in 2016 as a primary sponsor for three races, will double that amount in both 2017 and 2018. The six races the Auto-Owners Insurance paint scheme will adorn Truex's No. 78 Camry in 2017 will be at Kansas Speedway (May 13), Michigan International Speedway (June 18), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 23), Richmond International Raceway (Sept. 9), Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 7) and Phoenix International Raceway (Nov. 12). Auto-Owners Insurance, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016, provides auto, home, life and business coverage for NASCAR fans and customers through local, independent agents in 26 states. The company is based in Lansing, Michigan. "Teaming up with Furniture Row Racing has been an outstanding fit for Auto-Owners, and we are excited to continue our partnership for the 2017 and 2018 seasons," said Mary Pierce, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Auto-Owners. "Martin and the No. 78 team have pioneered their way to excellence at the highest level of NASCAR. We truly admire their hard work and consistency, and look forward to being a part of their continued success." The Auto-Owners Insurance blue hue shared a competitive experience with Furniture Row Racing in 2016. In the three races that Auto-Owners Insurance was the primary sponsor, Truex won the prestigious Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina, finished seventh at the fall race in Martinsville, Virginia, and was eighth at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis. "There was indeed something special about the success of the blue Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Camry last year and we are more than thrilled that the company is expanding its partnership with Furniture Row Racing for the next two seasons," said Furniture Row Racing team president Joe Garone. "Auto-Owners Insurance has been a winning company for a century and we are humbled that they have placed their confidence in our race team." Truex was equally excited to hear about the new sponsorship agreement. "Winning the Southern 500 -- a triple crown race -- with the blue Auto-Owners Insurance paint scheme was without a doubt one of the main highlights of my racing career," said Truex. "We want to give Auto-Owners Insurance more success as we look forward to the 2017 season. I was able to visit the Auto-Owners Insurance headquarters in Lansing and came away feeling proud to be associated with a company that has had 100 years of success."
Johnson looks to cure cold spell at the Brickyard
RELATED: Johnson through the years " See all the winners at the Brickyard SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Jimmie Johnson looked comfortable and calm taking questions from the media Friday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion's No. 48 Lowe’s Red Vest Chevrolet was fastest in the day's opening practice here and seventh quickest in final practice. The historically tough 2.5-mile track has been a positive outlet for Johnson. His success at Indianapolis – four wins – is undeniable, but it is also sporadic. And overdue. Johnson won three times at Indy in four years between 2006-2009 – a mark both unmatched and highly impressive. He added a fourth victory in 2012 and then nearly a fifth in 2013 when he finished runner-up. Only Jeff Gordon (five wins) has won more here. The flip side of the success is that three times Johnson has finished 36th or worse. He was 14th and 15th in his last two races at Indy. And his need to add another win here in Sunday's Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is as much about turning his season around in pursuit of a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title as it is attaining Indianapolis-specific glory. "We love big events, that's one thing about Hendrick Motorsports,’" Johnson allowed, smiling. "We look at the 500 and the 400 and all big races as an opportunity; and are excited for it." Johnson was the first driver in 2016 to collect multiple trophies winning the second week of the season at Atlanta and then again three weeks later at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. But in the last 10 races, he's crashed out three times and had only a single top-10 finish – a third-place finish at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600 . In fact, four of his finishes in this stretch have been 25th or worse. Before a 12th- place finish from the pole position at New Hampshire last week, Johnson uncharacteristically crashed out in back-to-back races with a 35th- place showing at Daytona and 32nd at Kentucky. He's currently eighth in the points standings, however, he is fourth on the Chase Grid because of his multiple wins. "I guess last week is kind of a good example of some of the difficulties we've had," Johnson said of New Hampshire. "We had competitive cars all running in the top 11 and in one corner we lose two of them. "It's been tough, but I think we have a good foundation to build from. We have respectable finishes in our cars, but nobody wants to be a decent finisher or a respectable finisher. We all want to dominate. And, we're working real hard on all fronts; from our engine shop, chassis shop, aero, teams, pit stops, and all of it." Contrary to what other teams may be experiencing, Johnson said it's not that his team isn't trying hard enough to return to form. It may be they are trying too hard. "And that's the problem," Johnson said. "I've been at 110 percent and you make too many mistakes there. And I think our team has, too. So, that's one thing we have recognized and we're going to really try to dial back and make sure that we run where we should. "If we have a fifth place car that week, let's be sure that we at least finish fifth. Maybe there's some opportunities to give us a chance to win, but stop making mistakes. And, I've got to do that, first and foremost." Johnson said he was even open to having the team’s "new driver" Jeff Gordon give feedback on the cars since Gordon – who retired last year – is filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this week at Indianapolis and next week at Pocono while Earnhardt continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms. "We're months in, and I feel like all the drivers have expressed where we could be stronger and what we might need, but a fresh set of eyes and I guess it is kind of biased, but versus the four drivers in unbiased evaluation of the car and where we stack-up and how the engine feels compared to others," Johnson said of possibly getting Gordon's opinion. "And Jeff has had a unique opportunity to see the sport from a totally different angle; and certainly watching cars and I know he's formed some opinions watching other race cars and where the Toyotas might beat us. So, to be able to sit in the car and look for those opportunities and moments, I think will be helpful for us, for sure." The recent struggles are certainly an unfamiliar position for team owner Rick Hendrick, who was just selected for the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class. He's grown much more accustomed to winning championships or at the very least challenging for titles. Recently his team has been challenging simply to finish a race. But righting the course is something everyone expects. And the trick is doing it sooner than later. "It seems like when it rains, it pours," Hendrick said. "I think at Daytona we wrecked three or four cars. And then we went to Kentucky and wrecked again. We were in good shape in New Hampshire, but wrecked again. I've been doing this long enough that you can't stay on top forever. You have to work hard to get back. And I think we've made a lot of improvements. "I think we'll see some, hopefully, this weekend. But, you never like having a curveball. This is kind of one of the toughest things you have to go through as one of your star drivers can't drive. And so, the encouraging news is that everybody just stepped up and is working harder. "We're determined to work in every area from the engine to the chassis and aero and everything. And the teams are excited. It's kind of our 'refuse to lose' belief. But we didn't need this, for sure. We didn't need the wrecks we've gone through. Our place looks like a salvage yard where all of the cars have been tore up. But that just makes us dig harder." And Johnson appears ready to lead the charge. "We're all highly inspired to get back on top of the mountain, that is where we feel we should be at Hendrick Motorsports," Johnson said. "We've just got to clean it up on all fronts. Hopefully we have it all together here and can win."
Busch picks up Coors Light Pole Award in search of Brickyard defense
RELATED: Full starting lineup " See the full field SPEEDWAY, Ind. – A sweep at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is nothing new to Kyle Busch. But this year, he started early. With a lap at 184.634 mph (48.745 seconds) in the final round of Saturday's knockout qualifying, Busch claimed the pole position for Sunday’s Crown Royal 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, IMS, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Earlier in the day, the driver who swept both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series races at Indy last year earned the pole award ahead of the heat races prior to Saturday afternoon’s Lilly Diabetes 250 XFINITY race. But the Sprint Cup pole that completed the Saturday sweep was special, because it was the first for Busch at the vaunted Brickyard . "I haven't been great at qualifying here, but the guys gave me a great piece this time around, and I'm real pumped about that," said Busch, who claimed his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season and the 19th of his career. "We're starting first in both of these (races), and hopefully we can end that way. "It means a lot (to win the pole). It's definitely pretty special to be running the way that we're running and to have the success that we've had here the last couple of years at Indy, and I’d love nothing more than to try to win here again." Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was .023 seconds faster than the No. 19 of teammate Carl Edwards (184.547 mph). "I was happy with my lap," Edwards said. "I was surprised Kyle got me. That was a good lap for him – I mean, that was a good lap that he ran because I felt like my lap was pretty good – but, yeah, it's frustrating right now to be second because it's so close, and the pole position is obviously huge here. "But by tomorrow, the race gets started and I think I'll be pretty happy with that starting spot, so just good job by all my guys." Making his last appearance at Indy as a Sprint Cup Series driver, Tony Stewart earned the third starting spot with a lap at 184.328 mph and knew exactly where he had lost critical speed. "I just wish I could do lap three (final round) one more time and not clip the apron in (Turn) 4," Stewart said. "I think we could have been on the pole." RELATED: Stewart discusses his qualifying effort Denny Hamlin qualified fourth, giving JGR three of the top four spots. Brad Keselowski in fifth has the top Ford. Ryan Newman , Kevin Harvick , Martin Truex Jr. , Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson will start from positions six through 10, respectively. The time trials were a disappointment for the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, who failed to place a car in the top 12. Jimmie Johnson ran the fastest lap of the day in the first of three rounds, touring the 2.5-mile speedway in 48.435 seconds (185.816 mph). But the six-time series champion failed to advance beyond the second round, losing the 12th and final position to Kurt Busch by .008 seconds. Johnson will start 13th, Chase Elliott 15th and Jeff Gordon , subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. , who is out with concussion-like symptoms, claimed the 21st spot on the grid. "I felt really comfortable right there," said Gordon, who was 15th fastest in the first round. "I feel like today I’m much calmer than I was yesterday (in practice). Usually, my heart is beating more for qualifying than it is for practice, but that wasn't the case. "So, today I feel more relaxed and comfortable in the car. I hope to feel the same way tomorrow. Tomorrow's challenge is going to be being around traffic, and also trying to get the balance of the car right and do that when you're by yourself as well as when you're around other cars." Josh Wise failed to make the 40-car field. </p>
Filled with Indy memories, Patrick looks to better season at the Brickyard
SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Danica Patrick is always the first to remind you that her success competing in the Indianapolis 500 does not necessarily translate directly in her quest to win her first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the historic track. But she remains optimistic about the good juju the speedway tends to send. And after a frequently frustrating season in the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, Patrick welcomes any change in success – at Indy or otherwise. The vibe here is tangible. "I totally feel it," Patrick said. "I think that it's probably undeniable on some level; even just driving back into the track and seeing the Pagoda all lit up which is what I love seeing when I come in through the Turn 2 tunnel. Seeing that and just having spent so much time here. "I feel it. And having great memories. That always helps." Indianapolis is undoubtedly the venue that propelled Patrick into worldwide vernacular. She finished fourth as a rookie in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and backed it up with a career-best third place in 2009 -- the best-ever finish for a woman in the race. The talent, fame and promise she showed in IndyCar -- created and punctuated by her showings at the great Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- provided her opportunity to shift career paths and give stock cars a go. But her results racing at Indy in NASCAR haven't been up to Patrick par. She hasn't finished better than 27th in three Sprint Cup Series tries at the track. She scored that career-best last year after finishes of 30th and 42nd in her first two stock car starts. "I don't think they all have been really bad, but I think it's tough for me," Patrick acknowledged Friday before Coors Light Pole qualifying for Sunday's Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN). "Do I miss running in the top five? Of course I do. Especially for casual fans, it's very easy to understand. But a top five for me now is a top 15 right now. And it's just different. In stock car racing there's so many more cars and there's so much that goes into it and there's so many of these guys who have just been at it for so long. "Especially with my lack of stock car experience before I jumped into it, I didn't start off racing dirt. I didn't start off in Late Models and things like that and work my way up. The car itself is challenging. It's a work in progress and I think that at any point in time, when everything is right, it can be a breakthrough and a great result. By great, it's a top 10; maybe a top five." Rolling off the grid 24th in Sunday's 400 -miler, Patrick comes to Indianapolis ranked 24th in the point standings and is still looking for her first top-10 finish of the year. A 14th-place run at New Hampshire last week is her best showing since posting a season-high 13th-place finish at Dover in May. Patrick said she and new crew chief Billy Scott are still getting familiar with one another. It's her third crew chief in four seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing as the team looks for the best combination. Certainly as the schedule starts to revisit tracks for a second time, she is more hopeful -- make that expectant -- of signs of progress. Half of her six career top-10 finishes have come at tracks still to come on the schedule -- Kansas, Martinsville and Bristol. "There's constant car revisions that get done and updates to cars that get done throughout the season," Patrick said. "Every single week that work is done in the wind tunnel. So, things are very evolving from the car perspective. But, there are a lot of things that go into a race other than just the car. And so, having a set-up when you first start the weekend that's closer than when you went there the first time is a great thing. "We don't really get that many shots at making the car that much better when we get there. It's more about optimizing what you have. So, hopefully that will be a good second-half of the season for us to have that foundation established between rules, crew chief, me; and I know that none of us are happy running 20th. I'm not. It's miserable. So, we want to do better."
Complete Brickyard 400 winner history
RELATED: Complete list of Brickyard winners
Cassill loses eight pounds in Brickyard 400
Driver documents fluids taken and weight lost at Indianapolis Landon Cassill performed a "science experiment" during Sunday's Crown Royal presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The full-time driver in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series proved his stamina after May's Coca-Cola 600 , running 14 miles to the NASCAR Hall of Fame following NASCAR's longest race of the season. He also qualified to compete in next month's Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Austria. As he braved temperatures that saw one in-car thermometer in Casey Mears ' car reach at least 131 degrees, Cassill had a query: How much weight would a driver lose over 400 miles in a race? See the results of his experiment below. Science experiment! My pre race weight, I'm planning on taking in 80oz of fluids in the race, we'll see what I lose. pic.twitter.com/QJ0W071Yz3 — landon cassill (@landoncassill) July 26, 2015 Consumed 110oz fluids & 1100 calories->post race 147.4lbs. That's -15lbs, replaced 7 of it with fluids, net loss 8lbs pic.twitter.com/WsXq6rsvO0 — landon cassill (@landoncassill) July 26, 2015 That's a 10% gross loss of body weight, getting it back to 5% with fluid replacement. I think I'd like to see closer to 3%. — landon cassill (@landoncassill) July 26, 2015 I few more stats from the 110oz of fluids I took in...1,100 Cal, 1,978mg of sodium, 264g Carbs, 572mg Potassium — landon cassill (@landoncassill) July 26, 2015 FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
With long history in sport, Childress ready for Friday's Hall of Fame induction
RELATED: Mark Martin on what drove him to success Richard Childress will go into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Friday night with perhaps a bit more of an appreciation than most, having spent the better part of his life tied snugly to the sport of stock car racing. It's been his livelihood and his lifeblood. From selling snacks as a youngster in the grandstands at a local track to overseeing a racing organization today that boasts more than 500 employees, Childress is one of the few still around that has seen and done it all. Childress, 71, will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Friday along with fellow team owners Rick Hendrick and Raymond Parks and former drivers Mark Martin and Benny Parsons (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Incredible stories shadow each of this year's inductees. The story of Childress' rise from dropout to multi-millionaire is no less so. Today, his Richard Childress Racing organization fields three full-time teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and three in the NASCAR XFINITY Series . His teams have won 12 championships and 214 races across NASCAR's three national series (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck). Six of his championships came with driver Dale Earnhardt, an inaugural member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and regarded by many as one of the sport's most talented and influential drivers. "I'm sure every one of the inductees are very proud," Childress said last week during a round of media availabilities for this year's Hall of Fame Class. "My feeling is, I started out selling peanuts and popcorn at Bowman-Gray Stadium watching my heroes, Billy and Bobby Myers, Curtis Turner and Glen Wood, these guys race and that's all I ever wanted to do was become a race driver." He worked full time to live his dream part-time until the pull of the racing won out and for the longest time it looked like a fool's errand. Money didn't flow and bills piled up but like everyone else chasing a dream, Childress was undeterred. At 24, he got his first big break, competing at Talladega Superspeedway after many of NASCAR's top stars, citing tire concerns, boycotted the race. He returned home to purchase a small parcel of land with the money he earned from that weekend's races, and started his own auto repair business. "I left there with more money than I'd ever seen at one time," he said. Being his own boss also kept his NASCAR dream alive. He jumped in full time in 1976 as an owner/driver at a time when only a handful of teams had the support and the finances to contend for wins on a consistent basis. "I can remember the days when we had to syphon the fuel out of the race car to get home, put it in the tow car," Childress said. "A lot of people don't understand how it was back in the early '70s … what not just me but everyone was going through. You had the Pettys, Junior Johnson, Bud Moore, there were about four big teams … those were the guys you were racing against." His second big break came in the early '80s when he made the decision to focus on ownership and leave the driving to someone else. Earnhardt came and went, driving a handful of races at the end of the '81 season. A two-year stint with Ricky Rudd helped the team turn the corner and build the consistency necessary to compete for wins on a regular basis. By '84, Earnhardt had returned and RCR had improved its product tremendously. "Ricky was a young, up and coming driver and I think we both helped each other a lot," Childress said. "He helped me as a car owner and I think we helped him as a driver, with the past driving experience I had and as an owner being able to work with a driver was totally different. I think it was a learning experience for all of us. "When Dale came back in '84 I was much more comfortable as an owner at that point." It's been three years since a driver for RCR won in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series although all three of its current drivers -- Austin Dillon , Paul Menard and Ryan Newman -- have qualified for the Chase on one or more occasions. Childress, winless as a driver in 285 career starts, remains positive and focused. No different than when he was just starting out with little more than a dream and a desire. "You had to have a passion," he said. "Even when I was driving and wasn't winning … I never started a race that I didn't think this was going to be the day that the big boys had a problem and I was going to be able to come in there and win. "Just the sheer drive of wanting to succeed, that's what kept me going." And it's led him right into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Determination, focus drive Martin to Hall of Fame
RELATED: Learn more about the Class of 2017 " Martin's top moments Mark Martin is respected and revered for a 31-year NASCAR racing career that includes 40 Cup victories, 49 XFINITY wins and five heralded IROC championships. He is considered one of the most talented, highly focused and broadly successful competitors in NASCAR history. And later this week, Martin will formally acquire a designation that makes him most proud of all: NASCAR Hall of Famer. "When I'm introduced at a function, now people can call me something, I'll have a title," Martin, 58, said this week with a laugh. "Prior to that, you kind of had to search for a title, although I had done a lot of cool and amazing things in my career." His long list of "cool and amazing things" is what earned Martin this highest of honors. He joins Benny Parsons, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Raymond Parks in this year’s Hall of Fame class and will be formally inducted Friday in Charlotte (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN). RELATED: Parks set early standard " Prolonged excellence Childress' hallmark For Martin, it is a story of supreme determination and talent. In addition to his 40 wins and five championship runner-up finishes in NASCAR's highest level, Martin proved to be one of the series’ most diverse competitors -- ever. He won four GT class championships competing in the Rolex 24 during the 1990s. And his five IROC titles -- and four more runner-up IROC championship finishes -- showed Martin’s great ability bettering the best drivers across all forms of racing from NASCAR to IndyCar to sports cars to sprint cars. It is certainly something that separates and elevates him to the highest of standards through four decades of the best competition in multiple genres. So understandably, Martin had to really think about what in his vast career makes him most proud. "I don't know if there's a single thing," Martin said. "One thing, I would have to say the fact that I made it to NASCAR at such a young age (22). At the time it was an amazingly young age, then I fell on my face and had to go home and start my career again. "So I would say perseverance, if you want to sum it up in one word. Having to start my career all over again and building my way back. Having a second chance is probably the biggest thing." "And the second thing is what I did in the IROC Series." Martin has acknowledged that he was as focused and intense as they came. He was the first driver to seriously incorporate fitness training into his race preparation -- something that may have eased his ability to compete at such a high level even into his 50s. That determination to find an edge was apparent in the garage, even from an early age. He was among the rare drivers to frequently be seen looking into the hood of his car and working alongside the crew. It was the way he was raised by his father Julian, who took great care in guiding his son's passion. There are photos of Martin’s earliest racing days clearly showing how Julian Martin had gone so far to alter his son's first race cars out of love and safety -- mounting the steering wheel in the middle of the car instead of having it on the far left. Dad and son travelled from their native Arkansas throughout the Midwest following the racing dream and they were very close -- now the hard work rewarded with Martin’s long list of achievements and this highest of NASCAR's high honors. Heartbreakingly, Julian was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed in the Nevada mountains in August of 1998, also taking the life of Martin’s stepmother and 11-year old stepsister. Martin remembers immersing himself in competition as best he could to deal with the tragedy. Martin won the night race at Bristol two weeks after losing his father. Immediately after climbing out of his car in Victory Lane, he emotionally thanked the race fans for "their sympathy, love and support" saying their "love for our family has meant everything." "I felt it was my obligation and responsibility to go racing and that's what my dad would have wanted," Martin acknowledged last week. "It was tough, but it would have been tough sitting on a couch in a daze, too. "To me, racing was sort of a responsibility that I had. I felt responsibility toward the 50 or 100 people that supported the (then-Roush Racing) 6-car and a responsibility to race. I just didn't feel like missing a race because I was grieving. … To me, at the time, it just didn't seem like the right thing to do. "It did help me cope with the horrendous loss I was experiencing because I did have to pick up and go racing." And for Martin, the success he would later experience in the second half of his career is as impressive and inspiring as anything he accomplished. He came as close as he ever had to winning the Daytona 500 in 2007, losing the race to Kevin Harvick by a mere 0.02-seconds -- a hood-length -- in a photo finish that marked Martin’s best ever showing in the Great American Race. RELATED: Closest finishes in the history of the Great American Race Two years later, at the age of 50, Martin challenged Jimmie Johnson for what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, winning five races and claiming seven pole positions. Martin led the standings after each of the opening three Chase races, only to finish runner-up to Johnson, a seven-time winner on the year. It marked the fifth and final time Martin was a championship runner-up in an amazing 20-year span of his career. It is a remarkable accomplishment and something he says he is at last comfortable enjoying, free of any near-miss regret. "I never scored enough points to win one, and that's that," Martin said, when asked about it last week. "I would have won one if I had scored more points than anyone else. … and I let that take an enormous amount of joy (from me). "It's something I let go of and I refuse to allow that to rob me of joy. I have a lot to be thankful of, be grateful for. I accomplished a lot in my career and I’m not sour about the things I didn't accomplish." The attitude accompanies good reason -- because by all standards Martin accomplished so much and is admired by so many. Later this week, he will be fittingly celebrated in all the glory he deserves for a career that showed everyone what hard work and mental focus could produce. Forever more, Mark Martin shall be known and introduced as a NASCAR Hall of Famer. "It means more than anything I achieved while I was racing because I was so busy racing, anything I achieved I never paid attention to," Martin said. "I was just storming ahead worried about how I would win the next race. "Now that I've had some time to soak it in, it's the last big deal, the big win, the crown jewel of my career. "Don't forget the people in the Hall of Fame are my heroes, the founders of the sport, the real men that did it with their bare hands. I'm a little bit uncomfortable going in there with them, to be honest with you, because I don't feel like I belong in that kind of company." Perhaps once he stands on stage -- properly celebrated and duly honored -- Martin will accept that he is absolutely a part of that good company. The best. &amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;gt;