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Saturday, July 11, 2009
Martin takes chance late to win race

Associated Press

JOLIET, Ill. -- Mark Martin will feel his age in the morning or a day or two after a race.

His bones will stiffen and his body will ache after driving 400 grueling miles, even though the fitness fanatic is still in top shape.

After all, 50 is 50 and that matters -- well, everywhere but on the track.

Martin is still nifty at 50 and has made Cup racing his personal senior circuit. He won at Chicagoland Speedway, getting the strong jump off the double-file restart with two laps left to win his series-high fourth race of the season.

"I'm going to feel like hell tomorrow because I ain't going to sleep much tonight," Martin said on Saturday night. "When I'm pumped up driving fast race cars, I certainly don't feel 50."

He's far from the sunset of his career and proved it under the lights on the 1.5-mile track.

Martin dominated the race early and led 195 laps, easily the most of the 400-mile race. He was in so much control of the No. 5 car, he radioed his crew to say, "this is easy."

But he dropped the lead to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson with just over 40 laps left. Then a frantic finish that saw Johnson and Kurt Busch tangle on the track allowed Martin his chance to regain the lead and hold on.

"I don't know how we have one, much less four," Martin said.

Jeff Gordon's hard-charging finish got him second place. He made a late pit stop for four fresh tires which helped him quickly make up ground and earn his third runner-up finish in the last five races.

Martin and Gordon are Hendrick teammates and earned a $1 million prize for a Colorado family. The teammates also grabbed the top two spots at the LifeLock sponsored race in June, setting up the fan's shot at the big cash prize.

"I saw Jeff coming and I was like, 'Get it, get it," Martin said. "I wanted him to get it. This is really, really special. Incredible what everybody does for us."

Not only that, they gave team owner Rick Hendrick a nice early birthday present. Hendrick turns 60 on Sunday.

"It's a slightly early birthday present," Martin said just a few ticks before midnight eastern.

Martin might still be racing and winning races at 60, showing no signs in the No. 5 Chevrolet of slowing down.

Not for Kyle Busch.

Busch had a dreadful night, and was unruly on the radio as his No. 18 car was on the track and finished 33rd. He complained all race about his car to his crew and fell to 10th in the points standings.

"I got nothing," Busch said over the radio. "I don't care what you do. It's junk."

Mark Martin
Mark Martin wins his series-high fourth race of the season at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kyle Busch had shared the series lead for wins (three) with Martin.

While Busch sank, Martin soared. He went from 13th to 11th to propel himself into contention for a spot in the Chase for the championship.

Martin has insisted all season he wasn't racing for points. His move to Hendrick rejuvenated him and gave the best driver to never win a Cup championship perhaps the best ride of his career.

Martin, who was series runner-up four times, might have to start thinking championship over the season's final 10 races if he can stay inside the top 12.

"I leave the track in my mind 13th and that's fine with me," Martin said. "I'm not going to let myself get sucked into that. I may change my mind later, but I'm leaving the track at the same position I was last week."

Kasey Kahne was third. Points leader Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.

Martin Truex Jr. finished 16th, but the No. 1 Chevrolet is headed back to research and development because the right rear was high.

Hamlin briefly took the lead late when he pushed past Johnson off a restart. Johnson got loose and bumped into Busch. Busch slammed back in Johnson's No. 48 Chevy, sparking chaos and some ill feelings.

"Everyone was going for a win right there," Hamlin said. "[Johnson's] had his fair share."

Just not at Chicagoland.

Johnson, who let the checkered flag slip away in the final laps last year, is still searching for his first career victory at the track just outside Chicago. He told his crew before the race he owed them a win.

Busch and Johnson picked up where they left off after they also ran into each other three races back at Sonoma. Busch finished 17th on Saturday night and criticized Johnson's performance on the track.

"I am starting to lose faith in his ability as a three-time champion," Busch said.

Johnson accused Busch of "bodyslamming" him on the track.

Greg Biffle fell out of the top 12 in the points standings and Kahne moved from 12th to eighth.

They were all looking up at Martin at the end.

"That's what life's all about right there," he said.