Luis Martinez Jr. didn't exactly get off to the start he wanted in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. After winning the Sunoco Rookie of the Year in 2010, Martinez was poised to challenge for the K&N Pro Series West championship when the season started.
NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Racer Luis Martinez Jr.
Instead, his team sputtered off the starting grid. Martinez said his team had to examine the direction it was going midway through the season.
After the K&N Pro Series West race at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, Martinez's home track, the team made some significant changes to the car.
Luis Martinez Jr. at Portland International Raceway
"We took a car to Irwindale. Took that same car to Monroe. It was just not working out," Martinez said. "At that point we decided it's not worth trying to keep fixing stuff and trying to make it better. We had something great to start with last year. Now we're running a lot better."
Martinez broke through with the first K&N Pro Series West win of his career at Portland International Raceway in July, three weeks after a 13th place finish at Irwindale. The 21-year-old driver from Long Beach has turned his season around and is showing why he is one of the Next 9 developmental drivers as chosen by NASCAR.
"That was a great win for us," Martinez said. "The season started out real slow. After Irwindale, our home track, we didn't really run great. We decided to go back and start at square one. Go back to the basics. That's where our season started taking a turn for the best."
Luis Martinez Jr. in his #6 King Taco Ford Fusion
Winning at Portland is no easy task. It's one of three road courses on the K&N Pro Series West schedule and one of the more challenging tracks for stock car drivers.
But Martinez raced Formula cars and won races at Portland when he was younger. Even though he has only raced twice in Portland with the K&N Pro Series West, he said he is very familiar with the track.
"I've had a lot of experience at Portland. That's where I got my first Formula car win. I have good history on the that track. Winning there was really special for me," Martinez said. "For me, I like it. I don't find it really difficult. Some people don't like short tracks, some people don't like big tracks. I like road courses. It's just driver preference."
Experience paid off for Martinez at Portland. He was actually running second behind David Mayhew during a green-white-checkered finish. Mayhew overdrove one of the final corners of the course and slid off the track. Martinez passed Mayhew and crossed the finish line in first place.
While Martinez was happy to win his first race, he said he had one regret. Greg Pursley, the leader in the K&N Pro Series West standings, fell out of contention early in the Portland race. Martinez said he would have liked to race Pursley for the win at Portland.
"We knew some of the guys weren't going to make it the whole time," Martinez said. "It wasn't my plan to have him not be there - because that's the one guy that I did want to race. It's unfortunate, but a win's a win. The team has definitely been looking forward to that for a long time. So have I."
There are three races left on the K&N Pro Series West schedule. Martinez said he is looking forward to returning to All-Amerian Speedway in Roseville for some unfinished business. He finished a disappointing seventh in the second race of the season.
"I think we have a good chance when we go to Roseville," Martinez said. "The last time we went there, we ran really strong. We made some changes to that car and I know for a fact we are going to be really good when we go there."
Before the Roseville race, the K&N Pro Series West visits Spokane County Raceway in Washington over Labor Day weekend. Martinez will also be racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Richmond International Raceway in Virginia before the end of the year.
Despite the slow start to the season, Martinez is in third place in the K&N Pro Series West standings after 11 races. He has two top fives and seven top 10s in those 11 races. While it might be a bit of a lost season for Martinez, he can look back on a couple positive notes.
"Our expectations were big. We wanted to go out there and be one of the top contenders for the championship and definitely win a couple of races," Martinez said. "We won a race. We gotta get another one by the end of this year. Honestly, we wanted to be in championship contention. Now, that's hard to do. There's always runner-up. That's good for press, good for the team."
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