HAMPTON, Ga. – Following his success in the Craftsman Truck Series this season, there already is talk of Mark Martin adding more truck races to his already crowded schedule.
Martin's two wins and second-place finish in the first three races has Ford executives (and others) thinking manufacturer's title, according to sources in the garage. Ford has won the manufacturer's title just once (2000) in the 11-year history of the series. Instrumental in winning the title for Ford that year was another Roush driver, Greg Biffle.
With most of the series' strongest teams running Toyota Tundras this season, the manufacturer's title was expected to be a runaway for the Japanese automaker. But Martin's performance has some in the Ford camp thinking that the veteran driver running more races this season could give Ford a real fighting chance for the title.
Following Friday night's race Martin is scheduled to go on hiatus from the trucks until May 19 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. David Ragan will take over the driving duties on the No. 6 Ford F-150 starting in Martinsville on April 1.
Undoubtedly the hottest topic in the Busch garage this year has been the proliferation of full-time Cup drivers – a.k.a. "Buschwhackers" – on the grid every week.
The number of Cup drivers varies from week to week. This week there were 20.
There are reasons aplenty as to why this has happened, but regardless of the reason, it has become a serious issue for the Busch regulars.
According to a manufacturer source, NASCAR officials have floated one solution to the apparent problem to the series' manufacturers. It involves changing the cars that race in the series from the current models being run in the Nextel Cup Series to smaller, sportier ones.
The current Busch Series cars are slightly smaller versions of their Nextel Cup cousins. In the past, the Busch Series used makes of cars not used in the Cup series, as well as V-6 engines instead of Cup V-8s, but now the cars used in the two series are more alike.
If the two series ran cars that differed more from each other, it would greatly limit what Cup drivers and teams could learn in the Busch Series and apply to the next day's Cup race, thus making racing Busch a less attractive proposition.
A change back to smaller cars could have Chevrolet fielding the new retro Camaro (scheduled for 2009) and Dodge running its new Challenger (scheduled for 2008). Pontiac could return to NASCAR to run its new, smaller GTO, Ford would field its highly-successful redesigned retro Mustang, and Toyota could run a Celica or its future replacement.
Initial reaction among the manufacturers has been very positive.
Any changes would be instituted well after the new Car of Tomorrow is fully integrated into the Nextel Cup Series, which currently is scheduled to happen in 2009.
Atlanta looking at changes
While overall attendance at Nextel Cup events has been down this season compared to last year, officials at Atlanta Motor Speedway are bullish on NASCAR and have announced major changes and expansion of their facility.
First to go are the nearly 50-year-old concrete grandstands on the back straight that were the main grandstands on the old track configuration. They will be flattened to make way for a new, upscale Trackside Terrace Camping section, featuring more than 90 motor coach parking spaces. All spaces in the section will have full water, electricity and sewer hookups.
"The new camping area is in response to a soaring demand from our fans, who are making a visit to our track more than just a one-day experience," said Ed Clark, general manger of the speedway.
Even more dramatic will be the changes to the Turn 1 area of the track.
More than 13,000 new grandstand seats will be added in the newly created Winners Grandstand, located at the Turn 1 end of the front straightaway.
The new grandstand will feature more than 7,700 individual-style chair seats with drink holders and an additional 5,300 bench-style seats.
Also being added is a new luxury seating area at the top of the new grandstand called "Club One."
Spectators in Club One will be able to view the action in both an enclosed theater-style seating area as well as an open-air observation deck. A gourmet menu and bar also will be available.
Busy NASCAR officials
NASCAR officials will have a hectic summer, as no less than nine new cars will be submitted by the July 1 deadline for approval for competition in 2007.
All four Craftsman Truck Series manufacturers (Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota) will be submitting new models, and the same four will be submitting new Car of Tomorrow models. Also, Toyota will be submitting its version of the current Nextel Cup and Busch car.
More on the Car of Tomorrow
Rusty Wallace has been asked by NASCAR officials to help with the development of the new car. Wallace is scheduled to drive one at an upcoming Bristol test session scheduled for March 27, the day after the Nextel Cup race. Wallace knows the high-banked track extremely well, having won there nine times.
Still ready to rumble
NASCAR legend Donnie Allison watched last month's on-track fight between drivers Chris Bingham and J.C. France at the Grand Am Series race in Mexico City with a unique perspective.
Allison and his brother Bobby were involved in the infamous, nationally-televised postrace fight with Cale Yarborough following the 1979 Daytona 500.
Although he doesn't condone that kind of activity, either on the race track or off it, he smiled broadly when asked about it.
"Those fellows just showed that they really mean it," Allison said. "There's always going to be that kind of emotion in racing, that's what it's all about. I hope they never take that away.
"I probably would have done the same thing in my day."
He added that he called Grand Am Series founder Jim France (whose son is J.C. France) after the race and congratulated him on the good show.
- Nextel Cup