This time around, Martin can relax

RICHMOND, Va. -- Mark Martin is having some fun this week at
Richmond International Raceway.

The longtime NASCAR star's idea of fun is racing as much as
possible. That's why he was smiling a lot as he prepared to compete
in Thursday's night's International Race of Champions event, Friday
night's Busch Series race and Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll
400 Nextel Cup fixture.

Unlike last year, Martin was able to relax heading into the busy weekend. He has already clinched a spot in the Chase for the Cup, a
10-race championship battle that will begin next week in New

Last year, he came to Richmond 10th in the points and needing a
big race to earn a place in the inaugural Chase. A fifth-place
finish was more than enough to get him into the show, moving Martin
up to eighth in the standings.

"Our goal was to clinch our spot in the Chase and we've done
that," said Martin, the only Cup driver to join the open-wheel
entries in Thursday afternoon's IROC practice. "We can kind of go
for it all at Richmond and then it's on to the next goal: the
Nextel Cup Championship."

Martin, who had planned to retire from his Cup ride at the end
of 2005, won the IROC race, then the four-time Cup runner-up said
he probably would stay on for another year in the Roush Racing No.
6 Ford, filling in until Jamie McMurray takes over the ride in

Trophy envy
It has not been many years since most of the
trophies handed out for victories in NASCAR's top series were
hardly more special than the hardware awarded at many of the
nation's short tracks.

No longer. Tracks now seem to be competing for the honor of
having the most exotic or impressive trophy.

A year ago, Richmond gave the winner of the Chevy Rock & Roll
400 a guitar.

The latest offering by the Virginia track, built by PRS Guitars
of Stevensville, Md., is a work of art more than 4 feet tall. It's
a custom guitar with red and gold enamel, surrounded by flames of
polished aluminum and sitting atop a mahogany and maple pedestal.
The entire unit weighs in excess of 70 pounds.

Not up front
Jamie McMurray heads into Saturday's race barely
holding onto 10th in the Nextel Cup standings, one point head of
Ryan Newman and 30 in front of Jeff Gordon for the final spot in
the Chase.

Amazingly, McMurray remains in contention despite totaling only
five bonus points -- far fewer than any other driver in the top 10.

Cup drivers earn five bonus points for leading at least one lap
during a race and another five points for leading the most.
McMurray's No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge has led just one lap in
25 races this season.

Third-place Rusty Wallace and eighth-place Carl Edwards have 35
bonus points apiece. Newman has 65, Gordon 60 and 13th-place
Elliott Sadler, 42 points behind McMurray, has accumulated 40.

Racing for Governor
Virginia is one of only two states with a
gubernatorial election this November, and NASCAR driver Hermie
Sadler is entering the fray.

No, the Emporia native isn't running for the state's highest
office. Instead, he'll have a Kilgore for Governor paint scheme and
partial sponsorship on his No. 92 Chevrolet when the Nextel Cup
Series moves to Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 23.

Kilgore is Republican Jerry Kilgore, running against Democrat
Tim Kaine and Independent Russ Potts in the election Nov. 8. Sadler
said he's been a longtime fan of Kilgore and looks forward to
supporting his campaign and even doing some stumping himself.

The car also will be used in several campaign appearances,
Sadler said.

He also said it's unlikely younger brother Sadler, who drives
the No. 38 Ford, will wind up running with a competing Kaine for
Governor paint scheme.

"Not if he wants to stay a Sadler," Hermie said.

Kilgore campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said almost half of the
approximate cost of $200,000 of running the car will be borne by
the campaign, while Hermie said he and his family will pick up the
rest as an in-kind contribution to the candidacy.

Spark plugs
Thirty-nine of the top 40 in the Nextel Cup
standings have won more than $1 million this season. Only
40th-place Terry Labonte, who has driven in just 11 races this
season, is under the mark at $953,945. … Not surprisingly, series
points leader Tony Stewart tops everyone with 12 top-fives and 17
top-10s in 25 starts. He has failed to finish just one race. …
Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett are the only drivers in the top 40
to have been running at the finish over every Cup race this season.
… Each of the past 11 races at Richmond has produced a different
pole winner.