Print and Go Back ESPN.com: IROC [Print without images]

Thursday, September 8, 2005
Updated: October 29, 3:20 PM ET
Martin on the brink of record fifth IROC title

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. -- A third restart worked for Mark Martin, and he edged out Kurt Busch to win the International Race of Champions event Thursday night at Richmond International Raceway.

Busch, the reigning NASCAR Nextel Cup champion and a teammate to Martin in that series, appeared on the way to an easy victory in the 90-lap race. He took the lead on the third lap on the three-quarter-mile oval and stayed out front nearly to the end.

But it was Martin, a four-time IROC champion, who wound up beating Busch in a two-lap shootout after the last of six caution flags in the race. Martin won by just 0.021-seconds -- less than two feet -- in the race for identically prepared IROC Pontiacs.

"I knew on the last restart I had to get going," Martin said. "I got a great jump. I knew I was ahead a little bit coming off [turn] four, then he got to rubbing me a little bit and I could feel the wind got him and he started to get the momentum. The finish line got there just in time."

Martin, who had moved into second place by passing two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series star Helio Castroneves on a restart on lap 60, acknowledged he would not have had a chance to catch the leader if it had not been for three caution flags in the final five laps.

Caution laps don't count in the four-race all-star series, and that gave Martin three shots at Busch.

"I hate restarts," Martin said. "I hate cautions with a passion and I despise double-file restarts, too. But all of that won it for me tonight.

"It sure made for a great show. I knew it was going to be incredibly hard to beat Kurt."

On the first restart on lap 86, after Castroneves and Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr. crashed and brought out a caution, the two leaders stayed side-by-side until World of Outlaws sprint car champion Steve Kinser spun and brought out a yellow.

Martin managed to get past Busch on the next restart, again on green-flag lap 86, taking a momentary lead before Busch charged past and began to pull away.

But Truex and reigning Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais bumped. The contact sent Bourdais spinning into a wall and bringing out the final caution on lap 88, setting up the two-lap showdown.

"It's something I'll remember forever, racing Mark Martin like that," a smiling Busch said. "I thought I had the preferred line, on the inside, but it was just one of those great battles. The restarts kept adding up. I didn't want to hit him, didn't want to crash him.

"I thought I had him. I guess the outside line was the difference. I knew he'd be there. It was just a fun race."

Martin, who came into the race leading Bourdais by 10 points, now has a 27-point edge over new runner-up Busch and can wrap up his record fifth IROC title simply by starting the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Oct. 29.

"No matter what anybody thinks, the highlight of my racing career has been running IROC and I was thinking about this championship even before Daytona," Martin said, alluding to the series opener in February. "This means the world to me."

Matt Kenseth, another Roush driver, finished third, followed by IndyCar Series star Buddy Rice, Truex and sports car champion Scott Pruett.

Martin also said it appears he will be back in Jack Roush's No. 6 Ford next year. Martin had hoped to leave the series, but Roush lobbied him to stay for a year because Jamie McMurray, hired to drive in 2007, has been unable to get out of the final year of his contract with Chip Ganassi.