Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer: Old school racing style binds them together

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One of the highlights of the opening day of Darlington Raceway’s throwback weekend was the press conference featuring Clint Bowyer and NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin.

It’s clear the former Michael Waltrip Racing teammates admire each other. Bowyer admires the career Martin had, while Martin compares Bowyer to an old school driver like himself.

Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford is carrying a 1990 Martin paint scheme this weekend and that took up much of the conversation during the media session.

“Man, it is really, really cool,” Martin said when asked about the car carrying sponsorship from Carolina Ford Dealers, which Martin’s car also carried. “It was so amazing when they pulled the cover off of it at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“The first thing I thought of was the setup that I ran in that old car, and how it was pretty much unbeatable at Darlington. Clint’s a man to take it to Victory Lane,”

Bowyer quickly interjected, “By the way, we do have that setup in the car. I sure hope it was a good one.”

Even though there’s two decades between the pair, Martin, 58, considers Bowyer, 38, “one of the oldest school and coolest dudes in NASCAR today, so it’s pretty neat.”

Bowyer joined Stewart Haas Racing this season, replacing the retired Tony Stewart. He considers this year’s throwback weekend the best because he gets to honor Martin, who was one of his heroes as a youngster.

“That’s what’s so special about this weekend in Darlington is being able to pay tribute to all of our heroes that paved the way for all of us to have this opportunity,” Bowyer said. “Mark Martin, a teammate of mine back in 2012, was one of the neatest things that ever happened in my career.

“And then just his story from that Midwestern kid that grew up beating up and down the road, making a name for himself in those late models, the ASA Series, and then making the most of those opportunities and becoming a legend of this sport and a Hall of Famer. So to be able to pay tribute to him means a lot to me personally.”

Bowyer appreciates Martin’s racing style perhaps more than most drivers because he has a similar style.

“It’s kind of that old thing,” Bowyer said. “You see a guy race that aggressive, you think he’s gonna get out and be a grizzly bear and this little guy gets out and you’re like, ‘Man, he sure drives like a grizzly bear.’

“That’s the way he’s always been. He attacks any race track that you put him on. He gets everything there is to get out of a race car and always has. I think his work ethic and everything about him is what makes him so unique and special and stand out amongst the rest over the years.”

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Truck practice report at Atlanta

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Justin Haley was the fastest in the first of two practices Friday for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He had a top lap of 178.029 mph.

Daytona winner Johnny Sauter was second with a lap of 177.040 mph. He was followed by Myatt Snider (177.040 mph), Stewart Friesen (176.995) and Noah Gragson (176.589).

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Truck practice will be from 4:05 – 4:50 p.m. ET.

Click here for Truck 1 practice

Police investigating vandalism, theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway

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The Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a report of vandalism and theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the track, which last hosted a NASCAR Cup race in 1996, suffered damage of about $10,000 when several trespassers were on the grounds last weekend. No arrests have been made.

The report states that several windows were broken and other damage was done to the structures. Also, large amounts of electrical wire and circuit breakers were reported missing.

The investigation continues.

North Wilkesboro Speedway hosted NASCAR Cup races from 1949-96. Winners included Fireball Roberts, Buck Baker, Junior Johnson, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon, who won the final race there.

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Others’ predictions motivating Austin Dillon after Daytona 500 win: ‘I guess they don’t believe it yet’

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Fresh off the greatest victory of his NASCAR career, Austin Dillon already has motivation to win the next.

The Richard Childress Racing driver heard others predict this week that the Daytona 500 would be his only victory this season.

“I think on Race Hub, Brad (Keselowski) and Chad (Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson) saying that we weren’t going to win again,” Dillon said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “So, that was good to hear. That was something to get me fired up a little bit more and our team, get those competitive juices flowing again. So, we will just keep rocking it however we can. We still have a lot to work on.”

Prior to Daytona, Dillon’s lone win in four seasons as a full-time Cup driver came in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600. His No. 3 Chevrolet qualified for the playoffs the past two seasons, but his top 10s (13 to four) and average finish (15.9 to 18.6) slipped demonstrably from 2016 to ’17.

“So yesterday in my group text with my buddies they watched Chad Knaus and Brad Keselowski, and it was like, ‘All right, it’s time to keep knocking them down, I guess they don’t believe it yet,’” Dillon said. “We’ve got to step up though at RCR. We’ve still got a lot to prove. It’s a speedway race, even though it’s the biggest race in our deal, it’s a speedway race.  We’ve got a lot more to prove.

“(Competition executive) Andy Petree and all the guys are RCR are working hard. I think coming down to a two-car team move is big for us. We’ve got to take advantage of that. I’m not going to lie, I’m tired right now, but we are going to kick butt this weekend and get back regrouped and get in the groove and try and gain as many bonus points as we can.”

But qualifying for the playoffs by winning the season opener should be a morale booster that avoids any letdown.

“The one thing they don’t have right now that we have is a win,” Dillon said. “So, we are on top right now, and no matter what they can’t take that away, and we are going to keep working.  I don’t expect us to lay down at all. I feel like now more than ever we need to go head on and go after it.”

Xfinity practice report from Atlanta

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Christopher Bell posted the fastest lap in the first of two Xfinity practice sessions Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bell posted a lap of 178.447 mph. He was followed by Joey Logano (177.323 mph), Cole Custer (175.933), Ryan Reed (175.688) and Kevin Harvick (175.487). Daytona winner Tyler Reddick (175.388) was sixth on the speed chart.

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Xfinity practice will be from 3:05 – 3:55 p.m. ET

Click here for practice 1 report