LAS VEGAS -- Mark Martin reiterated after Sunday's fifth-place finish that he didn't want to extend his part-time schedule to run for a championship.
Then he added a new twist.
While Martin insisted he doesn't want to run the March 25th race at Bristol Motor Speedway for points, he left the door open that he could run it to win.
He was so excited with his third straight top five -- he was second at Daytona by about three feet and fifth at California -- that he said his Ginn Racing Chevrolet was better than his Ford at Roush Fenway Racing a year ago.
"Here's the thing," said Martin, who heads to Atlanta with a six-point lead over Jeff Gordon in the championship standings. "I thought I was getting too old to do this stuff. And now I have found out that my car wasn't as sharp as it needed to be. It wasn't me. There's still some racing left in me. I really thought my ability was diminishing.
"My car, my team is very strong. My cars are very sharp right now."
Sharp enough to change his plans and drive at Bristol?
"I suppose a win [at Atlanta might change my mind]," Martin said. "But the points lead doesn't. I'm not worried about that. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- at this point in my life, it just doesn't mean that much to me.
"But driving a great racecar does. And I want to tell you, that was a great racecar I drove today."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in position to have a top-5 finish when he followed Jeff Burton onto a closed pit road during a late caution.
He was sent to the end of the lead lap, forcing him to rally to finish 11th.
Assuming he finished at least fifth, the mistake cost Earnhardt Jr. 25 points that would have moved him from 28th to a tie for 24th in points.
"I didn't even think if it was closed or open," Earnhardt said. "You're not thinking about that. The No. 31 [Burton] was coming and I was thinking he was on the lead lap with me and I forgot he had motor trouble or whatever.
"I'm thinking he's thinking what I'm thinking. Let's get tires and try to win."
The day wasn't a total wash for NASCAR's most popular driver. He is 12 spots higher in the points than he was before the race, and he finished for the first time in three events.
"I've just got to convince [crew chief] Tony Eury Jr. that it could have been worse and we'll go on," Earnhardt said. "He's a little upset. The team likes to finish where they're supposed to finish. We weren't able to do that."
Stupid mistake II
Casey Mears didn't blame the hard tires on his crash nine laps into Sunday's race.
He blamed a hard head.
"Every time I think Robby [Gordon] can't do anything more stupid than he's already done, he one-ups himself," Mears said. "It's such a long race and he puts us three-wide going into Turn 1. It's ridiculous. He's trying to pull something off in the first opening laps when it means nothing.
"I guess he's trying to be a hero, you know."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.