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Somebody call Vegas and get the odds on a Mark Martin championship

Mark Martin gets congrats from teammate and runner-up Jeff Gordon (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Maybe it's time to start putting some money down on Mark Martin's championship bid.
   Not just because he just won Sunday's Michigan 400. Not just because it was his third win of the season, even before the halfway mark of the year. But because of how Martin won this thing – by using his smarts….to outsmart Jimmie Johnson no less, and Greg Biffle.
    And team owner Rick Hendrick, after missing Martin's breakthrough win at Phoenix and Martin's brilliant win at Darlington, was around to celebrate this one.
    Runner-up Jeff Gordon, who gave Hendrick a one-two finish, said Martin's cool down the stretch was impressive: "It's really hard to discipline yourself while trying to save fuel like that. That's why I give Mark so much credit – this guy is such a great driver, a smart driver.
   "He could have pushed hard (near the end) to hold Jimmie off. And maybe even caught Biffle.  But he and his crew chief were communicating, and Mark was disciplined enough to say 'I got to back off.'
   "He played it perfectly."
   Championship perfect.
    Yet again.
   This could well be Mark Martin's year, at long last.
   But don't pressure him about that.
   "If we don't win another race this year, we still did good," Martin said when pressed about a title run. "I'm not going to deal with expectations any more that cut my legs out from under me. I just won't do that anymore.
   "I am just pleased we're having a great year. And we're fast. When you're not fast, there's not a lot you can do. But when you are fast, there's a lot of opportunities.
   "So I don't feel any pressure. This team deserves to make the chase, and we've got the equipment to do it. We just have avoid more disasters."
    Sunday wasn't easy for Martin, who started deep in the field and then had to deal with a failing battery, forcing him to cut off all the fans and electrical devices that these cars now need.
    "When those battery problems started, I got sick to my stomach," Martin said. "I thought 'here we go again.'"
   "Just look at Mark," Hendrick said. "The fans were off, he had no coolers, and the car had to be terribly hot inside. And yet he looks as cool as if he'd only run five laps.
    "He's a real inspiration to me.
    "And remember how Darlington went – every other driver finished that race with a Darlington strip, except Mark, who didn't have a mark on his car.
    "List all the categories you would want in a driver, and Mark is at the top in all of them. And it just radiates throughout the entire organization."
    For Hendrick this was a first – the first time he'd been at the track when Martin, his newest driver won. And Martin's wife Arlene was at the track for the first time this year to watch him win too.
    "So it's extra special," Martin said.
     "It's fun to have a surprise win. So this is pretty cool."
    Martin jumped up to eighth in the standings, from 13th, with the win. The top-12 men after the year's first 26 regular season races make the 10-race championship chase playoffs. And the NASCAR title is one thing Martin has never achieved in his 28 years in this sport.
   "Everyone knows we've had some pretty horrendous luck this year, which has put us on the outside looking in," Martin said of the chase.
   "So we had to finish this race."
    Martin, of course, has missed on fuel mileage gambits so many times in his career that he knew what he had and what he could do and what he couldn't do.
   "I always come up short on the gas mileage thing," Martin said. "I've probably lost 25 and won only two. So I just don't have the luck.
   "But the car worked perfectly for me to save fuel today. Last weekend we weren't.
   "And it was important to me to finish this race. If we were in the top-five in points, I would have run out, because I would have gone after it.
   "I had to let 'em go do their thing. I couldn't run their pace and still save enough gas.
   "I was just lollygagging when I saw them running out. So I told my guys the last lap 'I've got good fuel pressure, so I'm going for it.' Then I started really catching them, I mean really catching them. And I realize they were running out.
   "But we'd have had our hands full if we'd had to run another lap."
    "It's not an exact science, we just do the best we can," crew chief Alan Gustafson said of fuel mileage runs. "Jimmie has almost exactly the same car we had.
    "So we knew what we had. We knew we couldn't go as hard as Jimmie because we had to pad our points.
    "We did struggle in qualifying; didn't give Mark the car he needed Friday, and he had to start 32nd. And then we had that electrical problem all day."
     "I was so worried Friday night after that qualifying run, worried that Rick would want to fire me," Martin said. "And if I can't qualify any better than that, he needs to fire me. But we came back Saturday and won practice.
   "Usually fuel mileage races aren't very exciting, don't make for a good show…but the fans got an exciting race this time. It was one of those situations where everybody needed to make the distance…and lucky for us we had the perfect balance between speed and saving.
   "I knew I could get an easy top-five, when that last run started. But I knew I couldn't run the pace that Jimmie and Greg were running, and still save enough fuel to finish. We could have run with them, but we would probably have fallen short and finished 25th, and we couldn't afford that."
    Gordon agreed that this was not your typical game mileage finish: "This was not a boring fuel mileage race. You usually think of a fuel mileage race as boring, but not this one. The two guys leading both ran out of gas.
    "It was great entertainment, and that's what we're here for."
   Why so many fuel mileage finishes this season?
   "We've seen a lot of races come down to fuel mileage here and at Pocono," Gordon said. "It's about not as many caution flags…because we're all figuring out how to drive these cars around each other without making a lot of mistakes."

Car owner Rick Hendrick (L) made a jewel of a move in hiring Mark Martin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




Las Vegas / Mark Martin

Prior to Daytona Mark was listed at 18 to 1 for the Championship. I Put down $50.00 to win $900.00. Holding my breath in California. JImB.

wonder what the odds on mark

wonder what the odds on mark are today?

Sitting easy

I've been a Mark fan since the early 90s and have seen far too much heartbreak in his career. I can't tell you how happy it make me to see him riding the wave this year with a new team, great equipment and a revitalized passion for the sport. If he keeps it under the radar and not overthink things too much, he just might be able to steal one away from the clutches of JJ

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