KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Mark Martin is probably NASCAR's best
As Martin raced toward a victory Sunday at Kansas Speedway that
would keep his slim championship hopes alive, he couldn't shake the
feeling that something would keep him from Victory Lane.
"We got the lead in the first half of the race and just stayed
out front and that's a formula for heartbreak in my world because,
more often than not, something goes wrong," Martin said.
Not this time.
Teammate Greg Biffle did give the 46-year-old Martin a late
scare, but the veteran racer remained out front for the 35th
victory of his career. It was Martin's first points victory -- he
did win an exhibition event at Lowe's Motor Speedway in May -- since June 2004
To do it, Martin had to hold off his Roush Racing teammates -- a
lot of them.
Martin and Biffle led a team sweep of the top three spots and
another Roush driver, Matt Kenseth, finished fifth.
But the last laugh might belong to Tony Stewart, who finished
fourth and extended his Chase lead from four points to 75. It was
Stewart's 15th top-10 finish in the last 16 races and, more
important, his third in the first four events of this year's
10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup championship.
Biffle, another of the 10 drivers in the 10-race Chase, passed
Stewart for second place 30 laps from the end of the 267-lap
Banquet 400 and went after Martin, cutting a lead of about 20
car-lengths to less than half of that.
But Martin was able to hold on, leading
Biffle and Carl Edwards to the finish line. Martin jumped from
ninth to seventh in the standings, 113 points behind Stewart with
six races left in the Chase.
"That's too far back," said Martin, that pessimism showing up
again. "We can go and win us some more and you never now. But it's
going to be a lot harder now than it was going to be if we could
have finished in the top 10 at Talladega [Ala.].
Martin's crash early in the race Oct. 2 at Talladega
Superspeedway relegated him to a 41st-place finish and, worse, cost
him valuable points, sending the four-time series runner-up
tumbling to ninth place, 138 points out of first. Sunday's race was
a bit of redemption for Martin, who took the lead for the first
time with a two-tire stop on lap 122 and wound up leading three
times for 139 laps, including the final 48 trips around the
1.5-mile D-shaped oval.
Crew chief Pat Tryson knows what it is going to take to get his
driver back into the title battle.
"I said after last week that we've got to try to make up 20
points a race," Tryson said. "I think we made up 20 points today,
so we just have to keep doing that."
Asked if he was worried when Biffle began to catch him in the
waning laps, Martin said he was determined not to let that happen.
"I don't want to lose," he said. "I always tell these guys,
'You give me the lead and four fresh tires with the end in sight,
and you'll never get a fight like you'll get from me.' I had the
race car to do it.
"I ran as hard as I could run there, in the beginning maybe
saved a little bit, and then when Greg started coming I stepped it
up. I could have drove maybe a little harder, but I might have
wrecked. That's as fast as I could go and keep him behind me."
Biffle won five of the first 15 races this season but has not
visited Victory Lane since. Yet he said he was not really
frustrated by finishing second to his revered teammate.
"Don't get me wrong," Biffle said. "I was going to pass him
if I could. But you have a lot of time to think around here and I
was just picturing him buckled down in that race car giving it all
he's got, just thinking about him winning. I'm probably as happy as
he is that he won today."
All five Roush drivers are in the Chase field and four of them
finished in the top 10. Reigning Cup champion Kurt Busch, the fifth Roush driver,
Title contenders Jimmie Johnson and Rusty Wallace finished sixth
and seventh, with Casey Mears, Ricky Rudd and Jeff Gordon rounding
out the top 10. The other two contenders, Jeremy Mayfield and Ryan
Newman, finished 16th and 23rd.
Newman, who came into the race trailing Stewart by just four
points, got caught up in a crash early in the race and spent the
rest of the day trying to make an ill-handling car work.
He fell 75 points behind Stewart, with Biffle 88 points down.
Only 28 points separate Biffle from eighth-place Kenseth, with
Wallace, Johnson, Edwards and Martin in between.
Stewart, who had to shut down the cooling belts on his Joe Gibbs
Racing Chevrolet after it threw an alternator belt early in the
race, was not feeling well after the checkered flag because of the
heat. He was pleased with his third top-five finish in the first
four Chase races but not ready to talk about winning his second
"This is like being in week 16 of a 36-week season and talking
about points," Stewart said. "There's still a lot of time left.
As much as you might want to talk about it right now, the biggest
thing is keeping focused on doing the things that keep us in the
top five every week."