Against the Wall: RC 29th in Martinsville

March 31, 2009 2:52pm | by:
The Kroger 250, round four of the 2009 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, was scheduled to go green on Saturday afternoon, May 28, 2009 at 2:00 P.M. However the Weatherman botched it all, and as race time approached, the rain began to fall so hard it was almost crooked. Bored out of his skull — but at least dry — Ricky Carmichael sat in #4 Oakley/KHI All-Stars Chevrolet Silverado. After a qualifying time of 20.710 at 91.434 miles per hour, he held down the 29th spot on the stating grid and, being the racer that he is, really wanted to get things rolling. Keen to take to the 0.526-mile oval known as Martinsville Speedway, Carmichael knew this race, the fourth of he “freshman” year in the discipline would require him, yet again to “prove” himself to the NASCAR contingent. Unlike the high speedways he had started 2009 upon — Daytona, California and Atlanta — Martinsville is a throwback. A throwback to 1948 when NASCAR was just getting started and short track racing and wild-eyed moonshine runners were the star attractions. Yet here Martinsville was, 62 years later, the smallest and lone track the original NASCAR series still raced on since 1948. That said, it’s 800-foot straights and 588-foot turns, are so small and tight, it’s all downright claustrophobic. All this withstanding, a VERY unique situation for a 15-time AMA Motocross and Supercross Champion to be in.

Remarked 1981, 1982 and 1985 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Fox TV analyst and Darrell Waltrip of the rookie Carmichael, “Whether you are racing a car or a truck, there is one constant here: Anger management.”

Added fellow TV talking head Phi Parsons, “It takes a rhythm here. You’re on the brakes, there is beating and banging — it’s a real throwback. And, yes, Carmichael. Like all the other drivers, will need to use anger management. Ricky Carmichael will be prepared, though, as he’s used to short track racing after doing the whole Camping World East Series last year.”

With its super short straights and amusement park-like corners, Martinsville is an old school anomaly and one that, far more than any other track on the Trans-American circuit, chews up and spits out brake parts. A full-on scratch and dent race 131.5 laps in length, Ricky Carmichael would be jamming the brake pedal into the aluminum floorboard of his Chevy well over 300 times throughout the course of the race. With boss and coach Kevin Harvick always in his ear, RC was certainly cognizant of not only his brakes, but of the other 35 trucks that would leaving streaks of melted rubber and big gouges al over his #4 Oakley Chevrolet. Now he just needed to go out and execute.

Etched out of the mountains of south-central Virginia, Monday morning at Martinsville Speedway dawned cool at 55 degrees, with skies streaks of blue and grey. Race day. At 12:08 P.M. the command “Gentleman start your engines,” was shouted and immediately 36 trucks and over 25,000 horsepower coughed to life. A few pace laps later, the green fag was unfurled and waved and it was on, Rick Crawford streaking into the lead. Carmichael, with nowhere to hide, held station in 29, waiting for things to calm down and sort themselves out. On lap number 13, the first caution was waved do to the engine of Johnny Sauter’s #13 truck turning into a grenade. On lap 24, the race went back to green, but not 10 seconds after the restart, Colin Braun punted the inside wall and back out came the yellow. On lap 34 the race back to green, and Carmichael moved up four spots to 24th. Then, on lap number 49, Carmichael’s teammate Ron Hornaday hit the inside curb, which then caused his Longhorn Chevrolet to rocket up the track and heavily clout the #1 truck of resigning series champion Johnny Benson. Under another caution on lap number 69, Carmichael moved up to the 18th track position, and by lap 85 was in 14th and now deep in the middle of the fray. And to that end, a few laps later, like a pinball, Carmichael and the #4 Oakley Silverado careened off a curb and the #7 truck of J.R. Fitzpatrick, got sideways and spun thus bringing out a caution. When the race restarted on lap number 100, Carmichael was way back in 29th spot, but another caution flag was soon thrown attributed to a spinning truck — the sixth caution of the race — and Carmichael was able to get back on the lead lap and when the race went back to green he was in 25th place.

With exactly 100 laps remaining in the race, Ricky Carmichael was in 25th position and16.395 seconds behind the leader. Nonetheless, he kept chipping away at it, waiting to see what would come next. Then, with 64 laps left it all went sideways, litteraly, for Carmichael when tangled up with the #84 truck of Chris Fontaine.

Ricky Carmichael has had a bit of a rough day,” said announcer Michael Waltrip after the smoke had cleared away.

On the completion of the white flag — the conclusive lap number 250 — Carmichael and his battered and bruised #4 Chevy flashed beneath the checkered flag, the 29th truck to do so. On the upside of things, his two KHL All-Stars teammates, Kevin Harvick and Ron Hornaday, finished the race in first and second, respectively.

“Everything was really good until that first spin," lamented a somewhat frustrated Carmichael. "I learned a lot today – especially that it’s so tough to come back from a mistake. I was able to get to the finish to gain the experience. My teammates Harv [Kevin Harvick] and [Ron] Hornaday have run more pace laps here than I’ve had total laps so I needed to learn a lot in a hurry when the green flag fell. We were able to hang on to the lead lap after the first crash, but then the second one (on lap 186) really jacked us up. After that, it was just hanging on by a thread and trying to stay out of the way of the other guys.”