For Mark Martin, this season has been all he could dream of. On Sunday, that dream continued to become reality.
At a race track that was self-admitted to be his most difficult, Mark Martin was able to hold off a hard-charging Juan Pablo Montoya to win the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire.
It came down to a three-lap dash between the three drivers, and a gutsy move on the part of Martin to secure the win.
Hamlin was able to get around Montoya to finish second. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.
In victory lane, Martin was quick to point out that he wasn't the one who won the race. Instead, it was his crew chief.
"Alan Gustafson is the man," Martin said to ESPN. "I can't get around this place worth a lick. I knew we were pretty good in practice but I didn't know how in the world they'd (the No. 5 team) figure out how to get me in front."
Kyle's brother, Kurt, finished sixth with Ryan Newman, Elliott Sadler, Greg Biffle, and Clint Bowyer finishing out the top ten.
A majority of the Chase contenders ran well early in the race, but struggled late and faltered. Tony Stewart battled Montoya through the first 150 laps, but pit strategy set the team behind, giving them a 14th-place run.
Jeff Gordon said early that his car could get through turns one and two perfectly, yet struggle in turns three and four; however, late in the race, the handle went away in the No. 24 car, relegating him to a 15th-place finish.
On the final restart with three laps left, Martin opted for the outside lane, and both he and Montoya ran side-by-side for the first three corners. Martin was able to gain the advantage coming out of turn four, but Montoya was right with him heading to turn one.
Martin went low, stopping the momentum of Montoya, and giving the opening for Hamlin to come up and challenge for second. By that time, Martin had pulled away.
"I knew it was going to be interesting because my spotter told me the (No.) 42 wasn't lifting until the (No.) 5 did," Hamlin said. "The 42 was in a bad spot."
The race was filled with very close and dicey competition, especially being the first race in the Chase. Some drivers were going three-wide on restarts, bumping and rubbing in the corners.
"I think every hole that you see in the race track, you immediately go for," Hamlin said in the media center.
The driver that took the biggest hit in the race was Kasey Kahne. After starting the race near the top 10 and running strong, the engine in the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge let go after 66 laps.
"I felt it start to run a little bit rough down the backstretch and it broke on the frontstretch," Kahne said after climbing from his car.
The race was marred by late caution flags, with the last one coming on the final lap as the No. 44 of A.J. Allmendinger spun down the frontstretch. The race stayed green as Allmendinger tried to start the car, but was unable to, forcing the yellow to come out just as the leaders were approaching his car.
When questioned about the final caution, both Hamlin and Martin believed NASCAR made the right decision in waiting to throw the yellow.
"I think, ya know, NASCAR just thought that car (Allmendinger) was gonna get going quicker than it really did," Hamlin said. "At least they let us race it out to the finish as long as we could without endangering someone."
Martin echoed Hamlin's statement saying "I think they should have waited till they did to throw the yellow, because it could've cleared itself and then they wouldn't have spoiled the finish."
With the win, Martin is now 35 points ahead of second-place Johnson heading into Dover next Sunday.
This was a race Martin never thought he'd win, and when asked to compare his career now compared to a couple years ago when he was part-time, one word summed it up.
"Unbelievable," Martin said. "Unbelievable."
-11 cautions for 48 laps. Lap 68-74 (fluid), 87-91 (debris-frontstretch), 142-146 (debris-turn 3), 162-165 (No. 96 spin-turn 2), 169-174 (No. 7, 19, 20, 34, 43, 55, 98 wreck-backstretch), 177-180 (No. 00, 31 wreck-turn 2), 277-282 (debris-turn 3), 284-287 (No. 00, 88 wreck-turn 4), 295-297 (No. 44, 47 spin turn 2), 300 (44 spin-frontstretch)
-20 lead changes among 10 drivers. Montoya POLE, Stewart 1, Montoya 2-36, Stewart 37-68, Montoya 69-123, Kurt Busch 124-142, Montoya 143-147, Hamlin 148-152, Montoya 153-162, Stewart 163-180, Johnson 181-194, Kurt Busch 195-203, Martin 204-242, Kurt Busch 243-247, Hamlin 248-264, Newman 265, Edwards 266-267, Stewart 268, Ambrose 269-270, Labonte 271, Martin 272-300
-Time of race: 3 Hrs, 9 Mins, 4 Secs.
-Average speed: 100.760 MPH
-Margin of Victory: 0.159 Seconds