By David FerroniFebruary 27, 2008
FONTANA, Calif. (Feb. 25, 2008) - Mark Martin and the No. 8 Principal Financial Group/U.S. Army team fought to a 16th-place finish in Monday's rain-delayed Auto Club 500.
Martin's milestone 700th Sprint Cup start occurred Sunday at Auto Club Speedway (formerly known as California Speedway), but rain wreaked havoc on the event, causing several delays and finally resulting in the race being red flagged and postponed after 87 laps.
"The car just wasn't as good in the race as we had hoped," said Martin. "I have to take the blame for that. We just missed the setup and that falls on my shoulders. We had a great test out here and were strong in practice with this Principal Financial Group Chevy, but I must have misjudged somewhere along the way. I'm not sure where we were off, but the car just didn't handle like we needed it to out there."
"We definitely have our work cut out for us heading into Vegas next weekend," added Martin. "I would have liked for a little more with the 700th start, but you don't pick the races you want to run well in. I do want to thank all the fans and everyone out there who have made it possible for us to do this all these years, and I want to thank the Principal Financial Group for riding on the car with us this weekend."
Martin ran around 20th position for much of the event, and the veteran was running in 19th when the race's 11th caution was called on Lap 220 of 250.
With just 30 laps remaining, crew chief Tony Gibson opted for a two-tire stop and track position. When green flag racing resumed, Martin was in fifth place and battling cars on four fresh tires. The veteran driver was able hold on for a 16th-place result.
"We finished a lot better than we ran most of the day," said Martin. "Sometimes that's all you can do out there. We'll keep working with it and get a lot better."
The highlight of the day was the quick work of the No. 8 crew in the pits. The team helped Martin pick up valuable positions during several stops.
"The pit crew had a great day, and nobody on this team gave up," said Gibson. "We needed a better car for the race, but everyone dug in and we were at our best at the end. Mark had a handful out there, but he never gave up. I'm looking forward to getting out to Vegas and continuing to build on what we have going here."
The team will return to action this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, March 2, with the U.S. Army back as the primary sponsor. Martin won the inaugural race at Las Vegas' 1.5-mile track in 1997 and has also posted eight top-10 finishes in 10 starts. The race will be broadcast live on FOX beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET.