Missing the Mark (Martin) 

November, 16, 2009

There is no one -- and I am including Jimmie Johnson here -- that doesn't want to see Mark Martin win a Sprint Cup Series championship. At 50, he now races against younger drivers who grew up as Mark Martin fans. And, as happens in sports, even those fans who used to boo him lustily during his days as one of Dale Earnhardt's greatest foils, now give him standing ovations each and every week during prerace driver introductions. Just last week he was named NASCAR Illustrated's Person of the Year.

But after Sunday's race at Phoenix -- despite finishing fourth -- his shoulders were drooped. He knew, like we all did, that yet another Cup had been won right off the nose of his ride. "I have lost them to the best," he said with a shrug. "Earnhardt, Stewart, Gordon, and now maybe Jimmie. And yes, he has to be in any conversation about the best."

That kind of humility is why if -- when -- Martin finally ends his lifelong quest for the Cup, we will see a celebration that might match the garage-wide eruption of joy that came after Dale Earnhardt's 1998 Daytona 500 victory.

But until then, Mark Martin will have to continue to live with the title "Best Driver Never to Win a Championship." Here's a look at Mark's record four runner-up finishes (with, barring a "2012"-ish natural disaster this weekend, number five on deck). After Sunday's season finale we'll either be able to toss this list into the shredder forever or I'll be updating it for next year.

Ryan McGee | email

ESPN Senior Writer