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Sunday, October 9, 2005
Martin wins with Roush teammates in close pursuit

Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Mark Martin is probably NASCAR's best known pessimist.

As Martin raced toward a victory Sunday at Kansas Speedway that would keep his slim championship hopes alive, he couldn't shake the feeling that something would keep him from Victory Lane.

"We got the lead in the first half of the race and just stayed out front and that's a formula for heartbreak in my world because, more often than not, something goes wrong," Martin said.

Not this time.

Teammate Greg Biffle did give the 46-year-old Martin a late scare, but the veteran racer remained out front for the 35th victory of his career. It was Martin's first points victory -- he did win an exhibition event at Lowe's Motor Speedway in May -- since June 2004 at Dover.

To do it, Martin had to hold off his Roush Racing teammates -- a lot of them.

Martin and Biffle led a team sweep of the top three spots and another Roush driver, Matt Kenseth, finished fifth.

But the last laugh might belong to Tony Stewart, who finished fourth and extended his Chase lead from four points to 75. It was Stewart's 15th top-10 finish in the last 16 races and, more important, his third in the first four events of this year's 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup championship.

Biffle, another of the 10 drivers in the 10-race Chase, passed Stewart for second place 30 laps from the end of the 267-lap Banquet 400 and went after Martin, cutting a lead of about 20 car-lengths to less than half of that.

But Martin was able to hold on, leading Biffle and Carl Edwards to the finish line. Martin jumped from ninth to seventh in the standings, 113 points behind Stewart with six races left in the Chase.

"That's too far back," said Martin, that pessimism showing up again. "We can go and win us some more and you never now. But it's going to be a lot harder now than it was going to be if we could have finished in the top 10 at Talladega [Ala.].

Martin's crash early in the race Oct. 2 at Talladega Superspeedway relegated him to a 41st-place finish and, worse, cost him valuable points, sending the four-time series runner-up tumbling to ninth place, 138 points out of first. Sunday's race was a bit of redemption for Martin, who took the lead for the first time with a two-tire stop on lap 122 and wound up leading three times for 139 laps, including the final 48 trips around the 1.5-mile D-shaped oval.

Crew chief Pat Tryson knows what it is going to take to get his driver back into the title battle.

"I said after last week that we've got to try to make up 20 points a race," Tryson said. "I think we made up 20 points today, so we just have to keep doing that."

Asked if he was worried when Biffle began to catch him in the waning laps, Martin said he was determined not to let that happen.

"I don't want to lose," he said. "I always tell these guys, 'You give me the lead and four fresh tires with the end in sight, and you'll never get a fight like you'll get from me.' I had the race car to do it.

"I ran as hard as I could run there, in the beginning maybe saved a little bit, and then when Greg started coming I stepped it up. I could have drove maybe a little harder, but I might have wrecked. That's as fast as I could go and keep him behind me."

Biffle won five of the first 15 races this season but has not visited Victory Lane since. Yet he said he was not really frustrated by finishing second to his revered teammate.

"Don't get me wrong," Biffle said. "I was going to pass him if I could. But you have a lot of time to think around here and I was just picturing him buckled down in that race car giving it all he's got, just thinking about him winning. I'm probably as happy as he is that he won today."

All five Roush drivers are in the Chase field and four of them finished in the top 10. Reigning Cup champion Kurt Busch, the fifth Roush driver, finished 14th.

Title contenders Jimmie Johnson and Rusty Wallace finished sixth and seventh, with Casey Mears, Ricky Rudd and Jeff Gordon rounding out the top 10. The other two contenders, Jeremy Mayfield and Ryan Newman, finished 16th and 23rd.

Newman, who came into the race trailing Stewart by just four points, got caught up in a crash early in the race and spent the rest of the day trying to make an ill-handling car work.

He fell 75 points behind Stewart, with Biffle 88 points down. Only 28 points separate Biffle from eighth-place Kenseth, with Wallace, Johnson, Edwards and Martin in between.

Stewart, who had to shut down the cooling belts on his Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet after it threw an alternator belt early in the race, was not feeling well after the checkered flag because of the heat. He was pleased with his third top-five finish in the first four Chase races but not ready to talk about winning his second championship.

"This is like being in week 16 of a 36-week season and talking about points," Stewart said. "There's still a lot of time left. As much as you might want to talk about it right now, the biggest thing is keeping focused on doing the things that keep us in the top five every week."