By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- A scintillating run for pole-sitter Mark Martin ended abruptly and violently against the pit road wall.
Martin had dominated Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 early, leading 54 of the first 64 laps, but that was before a wreck ahead of him in Turn 4 sent his No. 55 Toyota spinning off the track at an unlikely angle.
Martin's car missed the outside pit road wall and the barrels protecting it and slid rapidly toward Kasey Kahne's pit stall, just beyond an opening to the garage. Nicking the wall before the opening, Martin's car turned and slammed into the unprotected end of the wall near Kahne's pit.
The impact, centered behind the driver's-side door, broke Martin's oil cooler, which ignited moments later. Martin escaped without serious injury. Luckily, so did members of Kahne's crew behind the wall, though Kahne said after the race that one of his crewmen had been hurt slightly by a tire.
"That was a pretty freak angle that I got at that," Martin said after escaping from his battered car. "I'm not sure what you could do. It could have been really bad if I would have got in that hole a little deeper, where it caught me in the door instead of in the crush area back there.
"I was hoping that I was going to miss the pit wall completely and not tear the car up, but then I saw (from) the angle I was going that I was going to hit the end of pit wall. . . . It's unfortunate. I fought it with everything I had, but with where I came from and the speed that I came from and the confines of pit road, I couldn't miss it."
Race runner-up Brad Keselowski was watching a replay during his post-race press conference and gasped when he saw the wreck.
"Could have been a lot worse than it was," Keselowski said. "Over the course of time, we always get complacent and think that we've hit all the buttons on the safety side. Then you see something like that. It shows you why you have to never quit working at making these cars and tracks safer, because that could have been a lot worse, whether it was for Mark or for the crew members or anybody.
"So it's just one of those moments where you realize you might think that you have safety covered in this sport, but you never do."
GORDON vs. EARNHARDT
Sunday's fourth-place finish was just what Dale Earnhardt Jr. needed to stop a tailspin that started two weeks ago at Pocono, but the race wasn't without controversy for the sport's perennial most popular driver.
Yes, Earnhardt eliminated the sorts of mistakes that cost him last week at Watkins Glen (where he overdrove the inner loop and spun out late in the race) and this week at Michigan (where he wrecked his primary car in Saturday's final practice and was forced to start Sunday's event from the rear in a backup.
But Earnhardt rankled teammate Jeff Gordon after a restart midway through the race. In Gordon's view, Earnhardt took him four-wide in the corner and came up the track in front of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, causing him to lose momentum.
"The (expletive) 88 can thank me later for not wrecking him," Gordon told his spotter on the radio.
"Wreck me?!" retorted an incredulous Earnhardt after he got the message. ". . . I don't know what I did, but I'm sorry if I did something."
Gordon indicated there are lines you shouldn't cross.
"I just didn't think that it was the smartest thing to do, especially as teammates," he said. "But he chose to do it and that's fine. It all worked out. I don't care who I'm racing out there; I'm going to show my displeasure if I'm not happy about something."
HENDRICK ENGINES FIZZLE
A tiff with a teammate wasn't Gordon's biggest frustration. On Lap 93, he fell off the pace with engine troubles and eventually retired in 28th place.
Gordon fell one spot to 16th in the Cup standings, 30 points behind Ryan Newman in the battle for the second of two wild-card berths in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Likewise, teammate Jimmie Johnson blew his engine while leading, five laps from the checkered flag, and finished 27th. Tony Stewart, also with a Hendrick engine under the hood, was first to experience motor issues and finished 32nd.
Stewart's crew and Hendrick engine tuners tried to repair the problem but were unsuccessful. Stewart completed 109 of 201 laps before falling out of the race.
"It's something that is not a norm, for sure," Stewart said. "I appreciate everybody at the Hendrick engine department. We had three different engine tuners down there trying to get it fixed for us. It wasn't for a lack of effort.
"It's uncommon to have a problem like this. . . . Like I said, we have the best engine department in the world in my opinion. Definitely, in this series, they did everything they could do."