MARK MARTIN will drive a Ford owned by the Davey Allison/Robert Yates team Sunday in his bid to overtake Chevrolet rival Dale Earnhardt for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship.
Martin trails by six points for the $1 million-plus title going into the season finale Journal 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Steve Hmiel, manager of the Jack Roush Racing operation that normally fields Thunderbirds for Martin, confirmed the unusual decision to go with someone else's machine rather than one of its own.
"That car has a new Mike Laughlin-designed snout on it, and in tests at Atlanta on Thursday it was the superior car," Hmiel said. "Robert Yates has been kind enough to offer it to us for the race and put Davey in a similar car, the one he won the Mello-Yello 500 in last month at Charlotte.
"We have a car with the same new snout on it, but we bought it for 1991 and we can't get it ready in time to race this weekend."
Front snout design is critical because of aerodynamics at Atlanta, NASCAR's third-fastest track behind Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway.
Martin clocked unofficial laps at 176.463 mph in the black and gold No. 28 while testing the Ford that Allison drove Nov. 4 in the Checker 500K at Phoenix. His best speed in one of the Roush-prepared cars was 174.608.
Earnhardt tested last week and reached a top speed of 174.497 mph in the same Chevrolet Lumina he drove to victory in the Motorcraft 500 at Atlanta in March. Earnhardt, going for a fourth national championship while Martin tries for a first, has six triumphs at the 1.522-mile Georgia track, including wins in three of the past four 500s.
Also at stake Sunday will be the NASCAR Manufacturers Championship. Chevy leads Ford 194-191 for a title that undoubtedly will be attended by widespread national advertising, either way it goes. Chevy has taken that championship seven straight years, while Ford hasn't won since 1969.
Competition for this crown, as well as for the Winston Cup title, led to the loan of the Yates-owned car to the Roush team. Said Yates: "Jack Roush has helped us in the past and we're returning the favor. Plus, we want to help Ford win the manufacturers championship."
"We have that car in our shop right now," Hmiel said. "It is being repainted with our colors and readied for our decals to go on it."
Martin, who led the standings for 16 races before losing 51 points in finishing 10th at Phoenix as Earnhardt won, has a maroon and white paint scheme with the No. 6.
"Yates told me take whatever you need, and it's something I'll remember a long time," Roush said.
He added a Yates engine will be in the car, although Roush also is noted for his motor-building talent.
"We won't crossbreed the engine and chassis packages," said Roush.
This is the second-closest championship chase going into a season finale in NASCAR history. It is surpassed only by that of 1979, when Darrell Waltrip led Richard Petty by two points and lost by 11.
But this one is unsurpassed for a surprise like the Martin-in-an-Allison-car development.