NASCAR & Auto Racing

Martin finding comfort, confidence, too, at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS - It's not exactly like Mark Martin pulled a Babe Ruth and called his shot, or a Joe Namath and "guaranteed" he'll win the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

But the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet absolutely is confident that could happen in Sunday's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"I have every reason to feel good about my chances," Martin said Friday before two afternoon practices at the historic 2.5-mile track.

"I understand and respect the challenge this sport sets forth and I understand you can have the fastest car and not win. But I think we should have a fast enough car to be able to challenge."

Martin's car was fourth fastest in the first practice and eighth best in the final session before Saturday morning's qualifying, so it's apparent his confidence is not completely unfounded.

This whole thing started several weeks ago at Pocono. After qualifying well there, Martin admitted he and his Dale Earnhardt Inc. team were pointing toward this weekend.

"That's the one we need to get," Martin said. "Sometimes miracles happen. Sometimes it all works out and it almost did at Daytona last year for us. ...Daytona and the Brickyard are the two that would be crown jewels of my career, and this team can do it. So that's the place that I have targeted."

The car Martin has for this weekend is one he ran well in at Phoenix and at Richmond. He said his team has put a "monster" engine in to generate the kind of power needed to push a car down this track's long straightaways. He likes the way his team has been making fast, solid pit stops.

So he feels good about his chances - and has not been shy to say so.

"I am not sure I did a Muhammad Ali," Martin joked on Friday. "But I do feel very confident that we'll have a car that we'll have a car here that will be strong enough to be a contender. I might say that every week, maybe. But deep down inside I usually know it's a bigger challenge than it might be here this week."

Martin has competed in each of the first 14 Cup races held here. He finished second in 1998 and has finished in the top 10 here nine times, including four times in the past five years.

Martin said that racing at this track has grown on him.

"There was so much hype built up around it, it was too much for me," he said of the early years of NASCAR's being here. "It's kind of like when they play a good song on the radio too many times. Enough is enough."

He also didn't believe the track, with its four relatively flat 90-degree corners, was the right shape for stock-car racing. But that began to change after diamond grinding was done to the racing surface.

"That was crucial to the stock cars being able to race here," he said. "We need the additional grip the diamond grinding gives it. That really makes the stock cars work here. ... I have grown more fond of this race each year. I love it now."

Martin is scheduled to go out 31st in Saturday’s qualifying session, a bit later in the draw that would most likely be ideal.

Earlier, usually, is better here, which could be good news for Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne, who go out second and third, respectively, after Greg Biffle. Newman was third fastest at 179.723 mph in the second practice Friday with Kahne fourth at 179.076.

They trailed only Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson (180.147 mph) and Jeff Gordon (180.007 mph). Johnson goes out 19th and Gordon 22nd Saturay morning.

Elliott Sadler was fastest in the earlier practice at 179.190 mph.

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