Martin Poised for Fifth Chance to Win his First Sprint Cup Championship

Sal Sigala Jr.Senior Analyst INovember 10, 2009

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 07:  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 7, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Throughout his career, NASCAR driver Mark Martin, of the No. 5 Kellogg's/Carquest Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports, has had more than his fair share of disappointments.

Martin can proudly boast of having the most Nationwide series victories with 48 to go along with his astounding 148 top 10's.

Even with all his wins and finishes, the most important piece of hardware still eluded him, with his best finish coming in 1987 when he finished eighth.

Many look at Martin as the sports most respectable driver, by the way that he carries himself whether he is having a good day or bad one.

Martin is unafraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve, despite his naturally soft-spoken persona.

With the energy level along with the intensity that NASCAR racing generates, not even cynics can explain what keeps this driver so cool and calm, especially in retrospect of all the years Martin has put behind the wheel.

Three decades of frustration should have at least put a small kink in his armor, but instead, it created a more precise, meticulous, and defined driver.

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Martin already knows about disappointment, but what he understands even more is that the sport he chose to make his living from is one with no guarantees.

It is this mindset that continues to make him a fan favorite and puts him in a class almost untouchable.

Racing fans have their favorite drivers, as well as the ones that they just love to hate.

However, looking back at the remarkable career of a driver who has finished second to three of the sport's biggest stars (Earnhardt Sr., Gordon, and Stewart) in the cup series, it is no wonder Martin's attitude continues to shine brightly like a character out of a fairy tale.

Martin’s first disappointment came back in 1990, only a year after his first win.

With only two race left in the season, Martin was ahead of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. in the standings by a mere 45 points.

After Earnhardt’s win at Phoenix, where he finished 10th, Martin found himself six points behind the new leader. All Martin needed to do during the final race at Atlanta was to finish two places higher than Earnhardt and hope that Earnhardt would not lead a lap.

Not only did Earnhardt lead a lap, but he also finished three spots higher than Martin, giving him the championship by 26 points.

Martin was never close in 1994, when he finished 444 points behind Earnhardt who picked up his seventh and final championship.

A new era of drivers continued to make their presence felt thereafter.

Jeff Gordon won his third championship in 1998 while denying Martin his first by 364 points.

By now Martin had to be asking if he would ever get another chance, and if he did, would the fourth time be a charm? It didn’t take that long for Martin when 2002 rolled around, and he once again found himself battling for that first elusive championship.

With two races left on the schedule Martin was well within striking distance, only 112 points behind leader Tony Stewart. Martin would cut Stewarts lead to 89 points entering the last race of the season at Homestead.

But Martin would be denied a fourth time, this time falling short by 38 points after finishing fourth at Homestead while Stewart finished 18th.

When you look back, Martin's best chance was back in 1990, and he would have won it if not for a 46-point penalty at Richmond, for using an illegal (but non-performance enhancing) carburetor spacer.

In 2009, here is Martin once again, looking at his fifth chance at possibly winning his first championship—only 73 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson with two races left.

After the race a couple of weeks ago at Talladega, Martin was looking down the barrel at a 184 point disadvantage, which has now been sliced thanks to Johnson, who wrecked on the third lap this past weekend.

Back in familiar territory, and Martin knows the feeling all too well, which should make him a threat these last two races.

If the No. 48 team happens to falter again, it’s up to Martin and the No. 5 team to take full advantage while going for the jugular.

"We can go head-to-head with them. No doubt about it. In Phoenix, we led the most laps and won the last time there, and we have no reason to think we can't run strong at Homestead” said Martin.

Martin added, "There could still be swings in the points. There are two races left; you never know what's going to happen. No matter what the outcome is we've raced our guts out and I'm so proud of this team."

If Martin does happen to finish second for the fifth time in his career, at least he can say that he finished below some of the sports greatest drivers.

And no matter what the outcome may be, Mark Martin has accomplished what he set out to do when the season began.

“Definitely no heartbreak whatsoever. I wasn’t BS’ing you guys; I didn’t take this job to go try and get a championship trophy. I took this job, you know why, and doggone, it has worked out pretty good.”