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Daytona gives Martin rude send-off

Mark Martin Martin

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Mark Martin looked up at the mammoth
replay screen, shook his head in disgust and then walked into his
hauler.

His final Nextel Cup race at Daytona International Speedway was
over -- much earlier than he expected.

It was hardly the way he wanted it to end Saturday night in the
Pepsi 400, even at one of his least favorite tracks.

"I'm glad this is the last time I ever have to race here,"
said Martin, winless in 41 Cup starts at Daytona and retiring at
the end of the season.

"I just didn't want to wreck," he added. "I wasn't worried
about winning. I just wanted to race. I had a good car, and my guys
are awesome. Now we've just got to worry about making the Chase."

Martin entered the race fifth in the series points standings.
Although he has run well here over the years, he hasn't had much to
celebrate at NASCAR's most famous track.

He is 0-for-21 in the Daytona 500 and now 0-for-20 in the Pepsi
400. Throw in various other races at Daytona, and Martin isn't much
better.

He has three wins at the track -- two in the International Race
of Champions series (2003, 2005) and one in the Bud Shootout (1999)
-- in a combined 108 starts.

"I don't particularly love this place," he said earlier this
year. "It never has been that kind to me."

It didn't get any better Saturday night.

The accident started when Jeff Gordon slowed down to turn onto
pit road, and Scott Riggs, who was two cars back, missed the
signal.

Riggs ran into the back of Jamie McMurray and then turned up the
track and into Martin, who bounced off the wall and collected
several other cars with him.

"There's not room for all those cars," Martin said. "That
kind of accident can happen on a smaller racetrack, too. I'm just
bitter right now because that's a stupid way to wreck. Somebody
wasn't communicating. I wish Scott would have chose to stay in line
instead of hang a right."

Riggs said he had no idea Gordon or McMurray were slowing down.
He also said he hated it for his team and for Martin.

"I've heard Mark several times complain about speedway races,
so I know he knows what this is all about," Riggs said. "So much
depends on everyone else around you, not just you and your car and
your team.

"You have to depend on other people around to work with or be
in the right place at the right time or bow down and give you room.
That's just typical speedway racing."

Fond farewell
Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace were honored
Saturday night before their final race at Daytona International
Speedway.

The retiring NASCAR stars were given framed photos of the first
cars they drove at Daytona in 1982 and greeted with a standing
ovation during the drivers meeting before the Pepsi 400. The photos
also contained head shots that Martin said reminded him of
"Starsky and Hutch."

"You got me beat with the mustache, but I've got the hair,"
Wallace said.

Truex taken
When Martin Truex Jr. agreed to a three-year
contract extension with Dale Earnhardt Inc., it took one of the
most coveted drivers off the free-agent market.

Truex, the reigning Busch Series champion, said he signed the
new deal right before Friday night's Busch race at Daytona
International Speedway. He won the race and announced the new
contract in Victory Lane.

"I'm glad it's out of the way and I don't have to read all over
the Internet that I'm driving this car or that car," Truex said.

Hours before signing the new deal, Truex was reportedly being
wooed by Penske Racing to replace Rusty Wallace in the No. 2 Dodge.
He also was mentioned for the Roush Racing seat that will open when
Mark Martin retires at the end of the season.

The Wallace and Martin rides are the two most prolific openings
on the horizon. Neither team has indicated who they will hire, and
team owner Roger Penske said Saturday he wasn't panicking.

"There are all sorts of options, and I think we'll just sit
tight right here for a while," Penske said.

Emotional Ebersol
NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol thanked
the "NASCAR community" Saturday for supporting him through what
has been a difficult time.

Ebersol's 14-year-old son, Teddy, was killed in a plane crash in
November in Colorado. The pilot and a flight attendant also were
killed. Dick Ebersol, Charlie Ebersol and co-pilot Eric Wicksell
were injured.

"I wanted to tell you all from the bottom of my heart, 'Thank
you,'" Ebersol said, holding back tears. "This community more
than any other in sports has been there for my family and for me
through all of this."

NASCAR driver Kyle Petty and team owner Rick Hendrick also have
lost sons, and Ebersol said both reached out to him.

"To Kyle and to Rick, who belong to the same club that none of
you I hope will ever have to belong to, I owe so much," said
Ebersol, who spoke during the pre-race drivers meeting and received
a standing ovation. "You don't ever want to lose a child, but if
you do, you want to have your faith in humanity renewed by the love
and good works of the people around you trying to help you."

Rusmfeld reception
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
signed autographs, posed for pictures and was generally given a
warm welcome as he made his way through the NASCAR garage area
before the Pepsi 400.

Rumsfeld also got a standing ovation during the pre-race drivers
meeting.

"Everywhere I go around the world the troops talk about NASCAR
and how much it reminds them of home," said Rumsfeld, the honorary
grand marshall for the race.

Coaching VIPs
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops were among the VIPs at the Pepsi 400.

The NASCAR race was the first for Spurrier, the former coach at
the University of Florida and for the NFL's Washington Redskins. It
was the second race for Stoops, but his first in about eight years.

Spurrier, who rode a few laps around the track in one of the
pace cars, said drivers might be the best athletes of all. "You
don't see many fat drivers out there," he said.

He also compared racing to golf, where dozens of individuals vie
for victory each week.

"In football, we've got two teams, and one of is going to
win," he said. "If it's an even game, you've got a 50 percent
chance. So this is a much tougher sport, when you have just one
winner out of so many competitors."

Lug nuts
Team owner Robert Yates missed the Pepsi 400 after
battling kidney stones earlier in the week. He was expected to
return next week at Chicago. … Singer Lisa Marie Presley, who
performed several songs during pre-race ceremonies, had quite an
experience when she rode around the superspeedway with former
NASCAR Cup driver Wally Dallenbach. "I want to kick his [butt]
right this minute," she said. "It would have been great if we
just went around really fast in the middle of the track. But he
perpetually wanted to make me feel like I was going to die every
two seconds, riding me an inch from the wall." … PGA Tour golfer
Chris DiMarco also was recognized as a VIP at the race.