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Mark Martin is flat amazing! Mr. Old School whips them all to win the Southern 500


Mark Martin, in victory, on the skid-mark riddled field of battle at Darlington Raceway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

    Yes, it was a full moon for Saturday night's Southern 500, and NASCAR's finest turned into werewolves, in yet another wild one – make it three straight now for this sport.
   And Mark Martin, in a brilliant performance of survival on a brutal, brutal night at Darlington Raceway, won again, outhustling teammate Jimmie Johnson over the final 30 miles.
   A key for Martin and Johnson – skipping a late round of pit stops, in order to gain track position over top rivals Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and surprising Joey Logano.
   Martin, at 50, showing once again that NASCAR racing isn't just for the kids, won at Phoenix two weeks ago. And he just signed a new contract with team owner Rick Hendrick to run the full tour again in 2010.
   Perhaps the best driver never to have won a Cup championship, Martin insists he's not hanging around this sport just to make another run for the title, but rather because he just loves driving competitive cars.
   And Martin was more than competitive in Saturday's 4-1/2-hour marathon.
   "Thanks, Rick, I'm loving it, man!" Martin said in victory lane.
   "Once we got out front, it was easy. I just want to thank everyone for letting me do this."
   Johnson had to run a backup car after crashing Friday.
   "We had a great car, with no laps on it…..but we had so many things going on – to come back and finish second, after all we had to overcome, is great," Johnson said.
   Ironically once again Hendrick was not at the track to celebrate. He has missed several key wins lately.
   "Clean air was so, so important,   and there's no falloff in tires, so track position was key," Johnson said. "It was just such a chaotic night.
   "I was figuring on a 10th place finish at best."
   At one point late in the race drivers with Hendrick engines and Hendrick engineering were the top-six…but Dale Earnhardt Jr. was not one of them. In fact Earnhardt was stuck back in 19th down the stretch, then crashed, and he wound up 27th.
   Hendrick wound up sweeping the top five, with Stewart, Ryan Newman and Gordon right behind Martin and Johnson. And until he slapped the wall in the final miles Hendrick rookie Brad Keselowski, the Talladega winner, was running sixth; he wound up seventh.
   Why was this race so chaotic? And why have NASCAR drivers now had three straight races of wild and crazy driving?
   "At Talladega you get frustrated with the environment…and Richmond is very similar," Johnson said. "And these things just build up…and then you come here, and this track is just so tough. So fast. Track position is everything.
   "Lapped cars, even if they want to get out of the way, they can't. And if they do move over, then they may get warned by NASCAR for running too slow. So they quit laying over.
   "So every position you go for out there, you've got to scratch and root and gouge for….and run people over…and you're fighting with other people, and running into people under caution…
   "It was just absolutely out of control. The fast speeds on such a narrow track…."
   The 500-mile race was slowed by a record 17 cautions, for 73 laps. And just about everyone in the field slapped the wall or spun.
   Stewart complained that lapped cars made the night difficult: "Lapped cars were absolutely miserable. If these guys that were a lap down would race that hard before they got a lap down, it would be great.
   "But you get guys that run on that inside line….and it's hard enough to get around here single-wide, much less two-wide…especially with the entries and exits the way they are – in turns one, and two and three. That's three opportunities a lap for something to go wrong.
   "It's a wrestling match.
   "But nothing needs to be done, we don't need restrictor plates or anything like that. It's just going to take time."

A full house at Darlington Raceway salutes Southern 500 winner Mark Martin on his victory lap (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




Stewart, "nothing needs to be

Stewart, "nothing needs to be done," like hell it doesn't. Darlington was outdated a layout decades ago, and the fact no one can put on good racing there has been hitting the sport in the face for decades. For all the talk about how "you have to root and gouge and scratch for every position," I last remember an actual battle up front at Darlington from 1993 when Martin won the Southern 500. When track position is everything and passing isn't there, then it's flat wrong saying "nothing needs to be done."

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