Originally created 05/30/99

Coca-Cola 600 notebook: Quickest pit stop helps Martin win



CONCORD, N.C. -- Mark Martin's pit crew helped him make the biggest pass of the race during Saturday's Carquest Auto Parts 300, and from there, Martin did the rest in winning his fourth NASCAR Busch Series race of the year.

Martin trailed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 36 laps remaining at the Lowe's Motor Speedway at Charlotte when a caution allowed the eight cars remaining on the lead lap to make their final pit stop. Martin came in the pits in second place, but he left in first and never looked back.

"The car has to handle good," Martin said of the key to winning on the 1.5-mile raceway. "When it does, you can drive it hard. (Earnhardt Jr.) had us part of the race, and at the end, I think we had the car to beat."

Martin, who averaged 119.377 mph, increased his Busch Series record for career wins to 38, has won five of the last eight Busch Series races at Charlotte.

Earnhardt Jr., who will be making his Winston Cup Series debut tonight in the Coca-Cola 600, held on for second place, followed by series points leader Matt Kenseth in third, Jeff Burton in fourth and Michael Waltrip in fifth.

"I couldn't keep my car on the bottom until my front tires got hot (after a caution)," Earnhardt Jr. said. "(Martin) had such a great car, he pulled me down the straightaway. I couldn't do anything with him."

Martin led 104 of 200 laps.

Driver Kevin Schwantz was taken to a local hospital following an accident in the first 60 miles. He was flown to nearby Charlotte with a broken pelvis, a speedway spokesman said.

HAPPY HOUR:

All 43 cars entered in today's Coca-Cola 600 participated in Happy Hour Saturday afternoon -- the final practice session leading up to stock car racing's longest race.

Tony Stewart, who will start today at the Indianapolis 500, then fly back to Charlotte in time for tonight's 6:05 start, was quickest, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Elliott Sadler and Mark Martin.

Slowest of the 43 cars was Dale Earnhardt Sr.

HEAVY HEARTS:

Tonight's Coca-Cola 600 was supposed to be the happiest night for crew chief Tony Eury, but his joy was replaced by sadness when his father died Friday morning.

Eury led Dale Earnhardt Jr. to a Busch Series championship last year and was part of Earnhardt's debut tonight.

Ralph Eury raced against Earnhardt Jr.'s grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt. He was 71.

GOING ONCE, GOING TWICE:

With nearly 200,000 race fans in town, drivers and car owners staged an auction Saturday night to raise money for the Speedway Children's Charities.

Included in the auction of racing memorabilia, was a raffle for a new $50,000 motorcycle.

The function was expected to raise about $30,000 in profits.

MONTE CARLO DEBUTS:

Chevrolet hoped to use tonight's race as its stage for the new 2000 Monte Carlo. While the race car still is a year away from reality, the street version will be debuted as the pace car.

Car owner Richard Childress, who owns cars driven by Dale Earnhardt and Mike Skinner, will drive the pace car in the opening laps of tonight's race.

"With the 2000 Monte Carlo, we had big plans to introduce that car at this race," Childress said. "Some things got us a little behind on it with NASCAR trying to get the rules and stuff up to speed."

Translation: NASCAR has yet to approve Chevrolet's interpretation of the race-ready Monte Carlo.