Mark Martin won't admit it, but he has a shot

Jimmie Johnson crash Sunday opens opportunity

November 13, 2009|By Tania Ganguli

It took only one word for Mark Martin to explain his humility, his pessimism at times and his tendency to insist he's not really that good.

"Experience," Martin said, calmly and quietly, shortly before NASCAR's Chase for the Cup began.

Martin and teammate Jeff Gordon received a gift Sunday when another teammate, Jimmie Johnson, crashed on the third lap at Texas Motor Speedway. Having entered the race with a 184-point deficit, Martin goes to Phoenix this weekend just 73 points behind leader Johnson.

Whatever Martin says about his championship chances, he has a good opening.

Two races from the end of the season, his first championship is well within his grasp after a fourth-place finish at Texas.

But in true Martin fashion, he didn't see it that way. Instead, he referred to the drivers behind him, close enough to overtake him in points. Martin said after Sunday's race he has "his hands full."

Why? Experience.

This, after all, is a man who had raced in two Daytona 500s and got fired in 1983.

Martin, who lives near Daytona Beach, gazed into the garages through a chain-link fence during the 1984 Daytona 500, heartbroken that he wasn't inside.

He's a man who finished second in the points standings four times but never won a championship via what he wryly calls "Mark Martin luck."

He won seven races in 1998 and didn't win the championship because Gordon won 13.

In a rare moment of optimism two weeks ago, Martin said he felt great about Talladega and was certain his car would avoid a big wreck. He crashed late in the race, flipping upside down in the process.

That's why the man Gordon called "the greatest driver there is" won't admit to himself or others that winning the Cup is a possibility.

"He will beat himself up," Gordon said. "He will say negative things. I never pay any attention to it. He's always way stronger when the race starts than what he claims to be. Now I can tell you, when he says, 'We're pretty good,' you better watch out."

And, oh, by the way, Martin won in Phoenix earlier this year.

"The most fun races I've won are ones we didn't know we were going to win," Martin said.

If he wins it, then this championship will be a blast.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.