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Giles County native Marty Smith will be in Martinsville this weekend, getting paid to talk about something he truly enjoys.
Associated Press | File April
Matt Kenseth (20) and Jimmie Johnson (48) are viewed as the favorites to win the NASCAR Chase. “It looks like one of those two will probably win the championship this year,” said ESPN reporter Marty Smith.
Marty Smith (Courtesy ESPN)
Monday, October 21, 2013
Marty Smith will be back in Southwest Virginia this weekend, doing what he loves.
The Giles High School and Radford University graduate reports on NASCAR for ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and ESPN2’s “NASCAR Now.” He also contributes features to ESPN’s pre-race show, “NASCAR Countdown.”
“I am tremendously blessed to have this opportunity. I love ESPN. I love NASCAR racing,” Smith said in a phone interview. “If you have legitimate, genuine passion for something, it resonates with people. This has been voiced to me randomly at airports or bars. People have said to me, ‘I’m not that big a fan, but when I see you, it is obvious to me how much you love this and you care for this.’
“That’s the truth. It’s real. I just happen to be one of the lucky ones that got a chance to do it.”
The Sprint Cup series returns to Martinsville Speedway on Sunday for the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500.
Jimmie Johnson leads Matt Kenseth by just four points in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Sunday’s race will have a “tremendous bearing” on the Chase, said Smith.
“Martinsville Speedway is … a wild card event because the racing is so physical, the quarters are so close and it can shake up the Chase tremendously,” said Smith, who has been with ESPN since November 2006. “Some drivers just aren’t good there. It’s a very technical place and it’s a hard racetrack to drive.
“Jimmie Johnson, he’s so good there. You can kind of point at that and say, ‘Is this the track where maybe he could take that step on Kenseth?’ Quite possibly. But it is very hard. I expect it to be challenging for the people in the Chase.”
Johnson and Kenseth are the favorites to win the Chase.
“Those two teams are so strong and really don’t have any weaknesses to speak of,” Smith said. “It looks like one of those two will probably win the championship this year.”
There has been a lot of news for Smith to cover this year, from Tony Stewart suffering a broken leg in August to the machinations of Michael Waltrip Racing at the Richmond race last month.
“It’s just insane. It’s been quite a season,” Smith said. “It’s been a nutty couple months.”
NASCAR officials ruled that Michael Waltrip Racing tried to manipulate the outcome of the Richmond race, so they put Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman into the Chase field and knocked Martin Truex Jr. out of the Chase.
“Michael Waltrip Racing put NASCAR in a damn difficult spot, because if you look at the way the race was unfolding, from NASCAR’s perspective, Jeff Gordon was going to qualify for the Chase. So Brian France and Mike Helton made that unprecedented decision,” Smith said. “But if you’re not a hard-core consumer of motor sport, you look at it and say, ‘How in the world can they make that decision and grant someone a playoff spot when that is not the way the Richmond race ultimately unfolded?’ It’s a head-scratcher.
“Then you look at a guy like Martin Truex … on paper he raced his way into the Chase. He was then removed from the Chase because NASCAR said his organization, Michael Waltrip Racing, purposely manipulated the outcome of the race at Richmond. So they pulled Truex out of the Chase. As a result, he ultimately lost his sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts … and when he lost his sponsor, he ultimately lost his ride.
“That entire fiasco at Richmond was a debacle. It’s the weirdest set of events that I’ve ever experienced in this job, and this is my 16th year in NASCAR.”
The Chase would have included Stewart, but he suffered a broken leg while moonlighting in a sprint car race in August.
Smith expects Stewart to continue to race sprint cars in future years.
“That’s his passion,” Smith said. “He is the team owner and people want to persecute him — ‘You shouldn’t be doing that,’ and there are millions of reasons why people say he shouldn’t be racing those cars, and they make sense … because he does have so many responsibilities.
“But sprint racing for Tony … reminded him why he does it. It’s not corporate. It’s very grass roots. It’s racing to its purest degree.”
Reporting on NASCAR news keeps Smith busy, but he also enjoys the features he gets to do for “NASCAR Countdown.” He has done in-depth interviews with Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and others for the pre-race show.
“It’s really getting inside their heads instead of … sponsor-mention crap,” Smith said. “Those are the types of things that I really enjoy.”
After next year, ESPN won’t be televising Sprint Cup races because it did not retain the broadcast rights.
But Smith is not part of ESPN’s race telecasts, so he expects to remain with the network “for the foreseeable future.” Smith said he is under contract with ESPN beyond next year.
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