I have this buddy who hails from San Diego. In fact, he is from El Cajon, Calif., the same hometown as Jimmie Johnson. He is probably the biggest Johnson fan I know of, and Jimmie owes this guy for his rank among merchandise sales because anything with a No. 48 on it, this guy buys.
By extension, he is also a fairly big supporter of Hendrick Motor Sports. Except for one thing, he carries this irrational hatred of Mark Martin. Granted my buddy is a newer NASCAR fan and was not watching races back when Mark was in his prime. However, he is constantly bagging on him for being wildly inconsistent and for his failure to snag a cup title along the way.
When I started watching NASCAR in 1989, I immediately became a Martin fan, for whatever reason any of us decide to support this driver or that, and I always take offense to my buddy’s hatred of Martin.
While Mark has never won a cup title, and while we could argue that Mark was never the best guy in the garage, Mark has had no less than five cup seasons (including so far in 2009) where his performances at the track were good enough to earn him a title. The sad fact here is in each of those seasons a few guys have better years, or historical performances.
Let us start with the 1990 Winston Cup Season. In that season, Martin had three wins, won three poles, had 16 top-five finishes, and 23 top-10s. It took a 46-point penalty for an unapproved carburetor spacer to steal away the title. Dale Earnhardt Sr. won the cup that year by 26 points on the strength of nine wins, 18 top-fives, and 23 top-10s.
In 1993, Martin again had a Cup-winning worthy performance. Martin scored five wins, 12 top-5s, and 19 top-10s. He also won five poles. Dale Sr. beat Mark, who finished the season third, by 376 points. That means mark lost two titles to Dale Sr. by 402 total points.
Let us skip to 1995. On the strength of four poles, four wins, 13 top-fives, and 22 top-10s, Martin finished a disappointing fourth in the final points standings behind champ Jeff Gordon, Dale Sr., and Sterling Marlin.
Let us skip to 1998, where Martin had the best year of his entire career. Martin won seven races, with 22 top-fives, and 26 top-10s. In any other year this is a championship run, but in 1998, Gordon set the modern era record of 13 wins in one season, and Martin was denied the title yet again by 364 points.