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Ageless Mark Martin is top Chase seed

At the end of the 2006 Sprint Cup Season, Mark Martin spurned full-time competition, saying he was ready for a break. Martin was spending a lot of his time helping his son Matt with his budding driving career.
Fast forward to 2009, at age 16, his son decided that a career in racing was not his thing. Then Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick made Martin an offer he couldn’t refuse, and in his first full time season since 2006, Mark has rewarded Rick Hendrick’s faith in him.
Teamed with crew chief Alan Gustafson, 50-year-old Martin entered last Sunday’s Sylvania 300 as the top seed in the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup, on the strength of four wins during the season’s first 26 races. His reset point total was 5,040, 10 points ahead of second seed Tony Stewart and third seed Jimmie Johnson.
Martin has never won at New Hampshire; however, he does have eight top fives, 13 top 10s and two poles at the flat New England 1-mile track.
“Every track that we’ve come back to a second time this year, Alan and these guys have brought me a better race car than we had the time before,” Martin said in New York at NASCAR’s media blitz of the city before heading on to New Hampshire.

Asked what he had to do to win the Chase, Martin said: “We’ve got to go out and score every point that we can, take advantage of every opportunity that we have, and really minimize the problems. I think your championship effort is really defined by the bad days, not so much the good days. I think everybody in the Chase is going to run well, really strong. We’ll have to keep our eye on recovering if we have any problems on the race track.”
Asked if winning a championship would fulfill all his aspirations in racing, Martin replied: “Well that’s a heck of a question. Would it be the crown jewel of my career? Of course, it would. But I also really believe that the trophy doesn’t make the man. It’s their actions, what you do that really defines who you are. You know, at the end of the 10 races, if I do everything that I can to score every point I can, to get the most out of myself, my car and race team, then I will be a success no matter what.”
Martin has always been known as one of the circuit’s top physical fitness buffs, and when asked his thoughts on being mentally tough, Mark said, “It’s been tested, I said in February before we got started that I was, you know, mentally the toughest I’ve ever been. That was certainly tested through the summer when we were in and we were out. We’d win a race, then we’d go finish 43rd. So you know, I had to reflect on that on some of those Sunday nights when I went home after a bad day.
“But it is really important; everyone says you can’t beat yourself. Everyone has different ways that they deal with success and disappointments. I have my own way you know, that works for me. I feel really good about where I am right now because I don’t feel desperate. I feel lucky to have this tremendous opportunity to drive, an incredible team with incredible sponsors, an awesome crew chief and a great car and great teammates. And to have a chance to race for this thing is a tremendous opportunity for me.”
Mark was asked his assessment of Jimmie Johnson’s three consecutive championships and challenging for a fourth this season.
“What he did last season was unreal,” Mark said. “His average finish over the past couple seasons in the Chase is fifth. That’s pretty spectacular. I think oftentimes it appears that his accomplishments get overlooked or overshadowed by something. I don’t know what it is. But I think Jimmie is probably underrated for what he does. If someone does get a fifth place average these 10 races, they will win, but I don’t see that happening with the competition as close as it is this year.”

Pete Barber

 

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