"That's what life is all about right there.."
For Mark Martin, post-partial retirement life simply couldn't be better, as he and the No. 5 Hendrick group collected their fourth win of the season in Chicagoland.
It was the Red Bull Racing team of Brian Vickers and rookie Scott Speed led us to the start of the Lifelock.com 400.
By the second lap, Vickers already had a large lead, and the field seemed to be fit as to whether they were "too tight" or "too loose." The constantly changing conditions, however, couldn't stop the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson, who took the lead on lap 10.
The first caution on lap 39 for debris erased Johnson's five-second lead, and would end up costing him the lead when teammate Mark Martin won the lead off of pit road.
After the restart five laps later, outside pole sitter Scott Speed fell from his sixth-place position at the restart all the way back to 19th, and continued falling; he would be 29th by lap 54, and dropped a lap 30 laps later.
Martin left the antics up to the drivers behind him, pacing the field until the second caution 87 laps later. Kyle Busch smacked the wall on lap 63, after "going ballistic" on the radio about how loose his car was. He would continue on, but would fall off the lead on lap 92.
It wouldn't be the end of his struggles, nor the end of Martin's absolute annihilation of the field.
Another round of green flag pit stops saw Reed Sorenson, who was running in the top 15, penalized for passing Marcos Ambrose on pit road.
Once green flag stops cycled through, Martin retook the lead and started lapping the field. By lap 112, just 22 drivers were on the lead lap. Passing for position, however, occurred far behind the No. 5 car, with Kevin Harvick rebounding to run 15th and Kahne taking second from Johnson.
The second caution of the day, again for debris, came out on lap 131. Juan Pablo Montoya, who had made it up to 18th, was the lucky dog.
Martin's crew made sure their driver stayed in the lead, as he beat Johnson, Kahne, and Tony Stewart off pit road.
While Johnson looked to give his teammate a run for his money on the restart, Martin once again pulled away, leaving the rest of the field to fight for second.
Stewart had worked his way up to third, twenty nine spots from where he started, but was constantly challenged by the No. 9 Dodge of Kahne.
A surprise of the night was Paul Menard, who before having his tire cut by Dale Earnhardt Jr. on lap 226, was running 10th on lap 157.
More trouble for then 32nd-place runner Sorenson; NASCAR threatened to pull his scoring card after he refused to come into the pits for a penalty.
His crew chief, Mike Shiplett, was said to be arguing the call. For refusing to come in, NASCAR took a lap from the No. 43 McDonald's McCafe Dodge, sending them three laps down.
Stewart and Kahne continued their battle for third, while Martin continue to pace the field, leading over 100 laps when yet another round of green flag pit stops began again around lap 193.
And once again, Martin would be the driver who came out on top when all was said and done.
On lap 211 a third debris caution was called by NASCAR, once again bringing the leaders to pit road, allowing Martin's crew to show their utter dominance of pit road by sending their driver out first once again.
The next green-flag run would only last three laps, when on lap 218, rookie Joey Logano got under the No. 77 of Sam Hornish, Jr. sending him spinning and eventually hitting the inside wall.
He would be okay, and the caution helped the 12 wave-around cars, including Jeff Burton and the embattled Sorenson.
Lap 223 saw Martin lead the familiar crew of Johnson, Vickers, and Hamlin to the green flag, only to be passed by Johnson the following lap. During the three green flag laps, Clint Bowyer also took fifth from Kasey Kahne.
Paul Menard's strong run of the night ended when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. cut his tire down in a wreck that also collected Speed, Burton and Jamie McMurray, all of whom were running a lap down. Menard ended the night in 35th.
The next 14 flaps of green-flag racing saw Johnson jump out for a 1.2 second lead while teammate Martin and former teammate Vickers fought side by side for second. Farther back in fifth place, Kahne regained the spot from Bowyer.
David Reutimann brought out the night's sixth caution on lap 246. The top eight drivers stayed on track while Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Stewart, and Kevin Harvick were among drivers ninth or back who made stops.
And here's where things were about to get very interesting.
Denny Hamlin, who restarted behind leader Johnson on lap 250, gave the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet a huge push before making a pass for the lead. Getting together with leader Brian Vickers, Martin pounced on the opportunity and took the lead from the two.
Johnson fell back to fifth, making contact with the No. 2 of Kurt Busch when Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon, who was on fresh tires thanks to his earlier pit stop, made it three wide.
Busch would fall back because of the contact, finishing 17th. Johnson finished eighth.
Kyle Busch's miserable day finally came to an end with seven laps to go, when his engine blew; he had lost a cylinder earlier in the race.
Gordon's poor restart with just three laps to go helped Martin pull out to a strong lead, leaving the rest of the field to battle for first loser again.
And battle they did, as Gordon and Kahne battled to the stripe to finish second and third, respectively.
Martin was pull of pride in Victory Lane.
"I've been watching (Ron) Hornaday! I had some nice restarts tonight; I just knew these double file restarts were going to cost us! That was fun," he said.
"Luckily, we pulled it off."
"I had no idea it could be like this," he added in the media center. "I had no idea it could be this much fun."
Gordon was also pleased with his second-place finish.
"We had our struggles, we were just a little too tight there and we were making adjustments and then Edwards and I got to racing and then we got wrecked," Gordon said. "But what an incredible job by crew chief." he said, complimenting Steve Letarte for bringing him onto pit road.
Denny Hamlin, who ended his night rounding out the top five, wasn't too pleased with the No. 48 car.
"I was pushing the 48 getting into turn one and I let go of him once we got to the corner but I got so close to him we got loose. It's just everyone going for a win, and the last time I checked, he got up under me at Martinsville.
Either way, everyone was going for a win right there. He's had his fair share and I was going for a win." It was Hamlin's fourth top-five finish in his last five starts.
Adding to the drivers unhappy with defending champion Johnson was Kurt Busch.
Busch said he was "losing confidence" in the 48 team; the pair
also had contact, which resulted in Busch spinning out, at Infineon just a
few weeks ago.
A pleasant surprise in the chaotic Chicagoland event was Marcos Ambrose, who impressed with his 11th place effort.
"It was great. We battled back from two laps down, just a strong night for us.
We didn't expect much coming here, being our first try. But we got a finish out of it. We're excited about how we're running. We're overachieving."
The double file restarts were on the mind of several drivers, including Joey Logano, who battled back from the "loosest race car I've ever had in my life" to finish 18th.
"It was out of control out there. It was really fun, though; I was having fun out there.
This is a real fun place to race at."
A sister track to Chase race Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland shook up the points heading into the off weekend; Hamlin and Edwards traded fifth and sixth, while Kahne jumped up four spots to to eighth.
Martin's fourth win of the season, and his bonus points for leading 195 of the event's 267 laps rocketed him back into the Chase in 11th.
Former teammate and new father Matt Kenseth currently sits in the 12th and final Chase place, ten points ahead of fellow Roush Fenway Ford Greg Biffle.
The drivers of the Sprint Cup Series head into a well deserved week off before going to the historic Indianapolis Motorspeedway for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
This article also appears on SoCalSportsHub.com.