Saturday, May 9, 2009
Martin gets second win in four races
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Don't let Mark Martin's joyful demeanor fool you -- he knows how well he's running and knows where that could lead this season.
"It's early in the year," Martin said Saturday night. "A lot of cool things could happen the way things are going."
Like maybe a Sprint Cup championship?
The 50-year-old Martin moved into playoff position, 11th in points, with his victory at Darlington Raceway -- his second series win in four races. Martin outlasted his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, three-time defending series champ Jimmie Johnson in a wreck-filled show.
"Once we got out front, man, it was just easy. The car was awesome," Martin said.
In other, younger, Roush Racing years, Martin might have followed such a win by ticking off all the tracks down the road he planned to dominate.
These days, Martin wants to revel in the moment -- and not look too far ahead.
"We don't need to say we're going to win a whole bunch of races," Martin said. "Don't take those kind of answers from me as pessimistic, or a lack of confidence. All I want to do is be happy and have fun doing this."
Martin's only other Darlington win was in the 1993 Southern 500, a 16-year stretch.
Martin's victory ended a long, hot day for NASCAR that began with the sobering news of Jeremy Mayfield's failed drug test and indefinite suspension, which was announced about two hours before the start of the race.
The garage buzzed most of the afternoon about who was snagged by NASCAR's beefed up testing system.
"I don't know much about it," Johnson said. "There's a policy in place and it's there for a reason."
Mayfield, who had failed to qualify for the event, said in a statement he believed a mix of an over-the-counter drug and a prescription medication led to the failed test.
NASCAR also announced the suspension of two other crew members for failed drug tests under its new policy, which calls for weekly random testing. NASCAR does not reveal the banned drugs found in the positive tests.
"There is no place for substance abuse in our sport," NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said.
Seems like Martin's place is back in Victory Lane. He won multiple races for the first time in 10 years, all the while swearing he's driving for the moment and not chasing a championship.
Earlier this week, Martin re-upped with Hendrick for 2010.
"It's OK to have the passion. It's OK to have the drive, but you can't let it tear you apart," he said.
Martin ended a 97-race winless streak in Phoenix last month and proved there's no age limit on mastering the track "Too Tough To Tame."
Martin led the final 46 laps in his 37th career Sprint Cup victory.
Besides his two Darlington wins in NASCAR's top series, Martin has won a record eight Nationwide Series races the track.
This time, Martin had to show as much patience as speed, handling a record 17 cautions on Darlington's 2-year-old pavement.
The wrecks surpassed the previous high of 15 set in Darlington's spring race 14 years ago, and more than doubled the eight of last year after the track was freshly paved.
Johnson wrecked in qualifying and had to start 42nd. He made it all the way to Martin's bumper before settling for second.
"This is one of the most difficult places we run," said Tony Stewart, who finished third.
Ryan Newman, Stewart's teammate, was fourth, followed by points leader Jeff Gordon. Brad Keselowski, in seventh, gave Hendrick four cars in the top seven.
"This is as good as I've seen us in some time," Alan Gustafson, Martin's crew chief, said of Hendrick's garage.
Gordon held on to his points lead, while Stewart took over second place from Kurt Busch. Johnson moved up two spots to fourth.
One by one, the slick surface knocked out the top contenders.
Kyle Busch, the defending race champ and last week's Richmond winner, saw his chance to repeat disappear when he slammed the wall on lap 274.
Not long after, Carl Edwards was tapped by teammate Greg Biffle, hit the wall and was hemmed in as the field moved around him. Edwards then was hit with a one-lap penalty after he drove right instead of left to make it into the pits.
Next came Biffle. Just like a year ago, he led the most laps (117) and looked to have the strongest car. While his 2008 race was ruined with a busted transmission, this time he hit the wall and missed out on his third Darlington win in the last five races.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s season-long struggles continued. He hoped to break his winless career at Darlington and finally break through for his first victory in 11 months. And he got as high as second early on, but pitting after the race's 10th caution, one of his tires escaped the pit box and Earnhardt was sent to the back of the field.
Darlington also cost Clint Bowyer his string of 83 straight races running at the end. Bowyer and A.J. Allmendinger hit and Bowyer bounced off the outside wall before rolling across the track and crunching an inside wall. Bowyer ended a race shy of Herman Beam's feat of finishing 84 straight races from 1961-63.