Martin's crew staying busy thanks to Harvick

Updated: February 19, 2005, 3:44 PM ET
Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Hours of hard labor got Mark Martin's car back in shape to race in the Daytona 500. Then Kevin Harvick smacked the side of it during Saturday's final practice and it was back to work again.

"I don't know what his problem is,'' crew chief Pat Tryson said as he pointed out the fresh paint scrapes on the right front fender. "But we'll get it fixed. We're probably at 90 percent right now, we've got some more work to do and we'll be ready for tomorrow.''

Martin believed he had a solid shot to win the Daytona 500 on Sunday, his final chance before he retires from full-time competition at the end of the year. But the No. 6 Ford was damaged in Thursday's qualifying race in a wreck that Harvick caused.

Martin was livid afterward, saying his backup car had no shot at winning.

His crew used all day Friday to work on fixing the primary car, and NASCAR opened the garage to them an hour early Saturday to finish the job.

With the work complete, Martin posted the 11th fastest time in Saturday's final practice session before contact from Harvick caused more damage.

Still, Martin said he was feeling better about his chances. His mood has changed dramatically since his victory in Friday night's IROC race made him the all-time wins leader in that series.

"Last night got me over my frustrations (of the accident),'' Martin said. "I had 100 percent confidence in the team. They said they were going to fix it and that meant it would be right.''

Feeling ill
Joe Nemechek's Speed Weeks took another turn Saturday when he woke up feeling ill and skipped the final practice session for the Daytona 500.

"Joe is a little under the weather and since our Army car ran strong in practice yesterday we felt it would be best to skip today's practice,'' crew chief Ryan Pemberton said. "We feel we're as ready as you can possibly be for the Daytona 500. This car has logged a lot of miles here beginning with testing last month.''

Nemechek did compete in the Saturday afternoon Busch Series event, and started on the pole.

He's had an up-and-down time since arriving in Daytona two weeks ago. His Chevrolet was fast as soon as his crew unloaded it, but he was one of a handful of drivers to experience tire troubles that led Goodyear to recall about 900 wheels from its inventory.

Then his car was demolished in an accident caused by Kevin Harvick in Thursday's qualifying race, and Nemechek was so angry, he threw a water bottle at Harvick as he left the infield care center.

Nemechek will now race in his backup car, which he drove to an 11th place finish last weekend in an exhibition race.

Fan injured
A race fan was injured late Friday night when a transporter ran over him as it was leaving the track.

The truck was leaving the infield after Friday night's race at Daytona International Speedway when a golf cart cut in front of it. The driver of the cart lost control, hit a bump and a passenger was ejected. The truck then ran over the male fan, Matthew Jensen of St. Petersburg, Daytona spokesman David Talley said.

Jensen was transported to Halifax Medical Center, where he underwent surgery Friday night and was in intensive care Saturday, Talley said.

Also, another unidentified male fan died of a heart attack in an offsite parking lot, Talley said.

Watch this
Jamie McMurray has a sparkly little incentive to win the Daytona 500.

Felix Sabates, part-owner of McMurray's car, was showing off one of the about 200 watches in his personal collection Saturday at the Daytona track and caught the eye of McMurray. When McMurray admired the $22,000 custom-made, titanium watch from Switzerland, Sabates said, "Tell you what. You win the Daytona 500 Sunday and I'll give you this watch in victory lane.''

It wouldn't be the first time Sabates has shown such largesse.

In 1989, when he was sole owner of SABCO Racing, Sabates was flying home from the Daytona 500 with driver Kyle Petty, who had a terrible race.

Sabates said the only thing that seemed to raise Petty's interest on that ride was talking about a new Rolls Royce automobile the team owner had bought. To lift the driver's spirits, Sabates promised he would buy Petty one of the British luxury cars if he won the next Sunday at Rockingham.

"Kyle had zero chance to win that race,'' Sabates said, chuckling. "He started from the pole and wound up lapping the field.

"He still has that car, but I think it's in his barn with about an inch of dust on it.''

Sabates suddenly realized he had forgotten about two-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin, who also drives for him.

"Now I have to figure out what I'm going to offer Sterling,'' he said. "Maybe a new pickup truck.''

American muscle
Matthew McConaughey kicked off his first trip to the Daytona 500 with a joy ride around the track Saturday morning with Jimmie Johnson.

McConaughey, the Grand Marshal for Sunday's season-opening race, was hooked after his first trip around the track.

"We got up to about 150 mph, just enough for me to feel the buzz,'' McConaughey said. "I would have liked to get going a little faster, but it was pretty good.''

McConaughey said he's been a longtime Formula One fan and is just starting to catch on to NASCAR.

"I enjoy the Formula 1, but the cars are like spaceships -- you don't really understand them,'' he said. "This here is American muscle and there's nothing better than that. Plus, this has a lot more access. The fans, the drivers, you get over here and you are right in the middle of that. You can't beat it.''

Roush Racing officials said they are close to signing Greg Biffle to a contract extension. Biffle's deal is up at the end of this season, and his public criticism of the company last year gave strong indications that he was considering leaving. ... Kevin Harvick has denied he is under consideration to replace Rusty Wallace at Penske Motorsports when Wallace retires at the end of the season. ... Checkers Drive-In Restaurant has signed with NASCAR and will run a pit road-service contingency program this year that will give $10,000 to the team with the best pit stop in every race. Checkers will give a $100,000 year-end bonus to the team that wins the most weeks.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press