Look, I've been a Mark Martin fan for fifteen years. I have a framed poster in my room, a cross-section of his 1994 Valvoline Thunderbird, hats, T-shirts, and at least one die-cast of his from every year except last year. ($10 for a small Checkered Flag car? Bite me, DEI!)
I'm excited as any of you are about Mark's chances this year. Five wins - most in the series - with a well-played victory in the Chase opener at Loudon are a good sign. He's got fantastic chemistry with Alan Gustafson, his crew chief. He's drawing more attention than even Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, guys who have won it all before and made it look easy.
But in that fifteen years of fandom - and being born in 1990, the year when an idiot weld cost Martin the title - I've learned to be a pessimist. I've grown cynical. Bad things happen.
They happened at Atlanta early in the year, when Martin wrecked and finished 31st.
They happened at the second Michigan race, when Martin couldn't get the fuel load to last to the end.
Remember the 2007 Daytona 500?
Ask The Kid himself, and I'm sure he could go through tough breaks spanning his entire career.
As such, I'm reserved in my dreams of Martin's first title. I've always wanted it to happen, yes, but I've seen too much go wrong.
Even in his best years (such as 1998, where he had seven wins and an outrageous 26 top-10s), he's been outperformed in the end (Jeff Gordon's 1998: 13 wins, 26 top-5s, and 28 top-10s). Hell, stellar average finishes of 6.6 in 1990 and 8.6 in 1998 still weren't good enough to win it all for him. (Dale Earnhardt won the 1990 title despite an 8.0, but Gordon's was an incomprehensible 5.7.)
And unlike 1990 and 1998, Martin has more challengers this year: Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and Denny Hamlin have all asserted themselves as legitimate title contenders, and Kurt Busch and Juan Montoya are strong dark horses. It's no longer just a one-on-one battle. Anybody can win.
I will say this, though: As long as these strong runs keep coming, I'll make like Mark, and try to keep my worrying to myself. For all I know, this could be the year...