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Find out what's really going on in NASCAR. Look here to find out why your driver really lost his ride, or the real reason those two drivers can't stand each other. Learn about the hidden motives and reasons for the things that happen in NASCAR, from the drivers to the team owners.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The old man still has it

Mark Martin is probably the greatest driver ever who has not won a championship in NASCAR’s top division. He has finished second in the point standings four times, and the most heartbreaking time was in 1990. That year, he lost to Dale Earnhardt by 26 points, but had been docked 46 points earlier in the season for using an illegal carburetor spacer. That part, which didn’t even help him improve his finish, cost him the title.

After all the frustration, Martin gave up his dream of a title after the 2006 season and decided to run a part-time Cup schedule last year with the Ginn Racing team, which was later acquired by DEI. This year, he has the same setup, and is sharing the No. 8 Army car with Aric Almirola.

On Saturday night at Phoenix, this veteran, whose hopes of a title went unrealized, came to life and put on a clinic for a lot of the younger drivers. Part-time does not have to mean backmarker, and that was Martin’s message at Phoenix. He finished fifth, led a ton of laps and was a legitimate contender for the win.

Anyone who watched Winston Cup racing in the 1990s and early 2000s knows how great Martin can be. He’s strong on many different kind of tracks, including road courses, and surely should have won a title. But the fates did not go his way.

Maybe there’s a new role for Martin, a role not seen for a long time in NASCAR. Back In the 1970s, many drivers -- including the “Silver Fox” David Pearson, who many think was better than Petty and Earnhardt -- often entered a limited number of races each year and managed to steal several wins from the full-timers. If he gets good enough cars under his belt, maybe this can be Martin’s role this year, and into the future.

Regardless of what happens, Martin is a class act and still a tremendous talent. He overcame personal demons and a failed attempt to enter Cup earlier in his career, and has earned the respect of all his colleagues.

So while he may be the Dan Marino of NASCAR, he has nothing to hang his head about.

-- Roush Racing’s David Ragan, who has a disastrous rookie season in 2007, has come alive this season. He made a strong run up through the field early in the race at Phoenix, and has also run well at several other tracks this year, with a best finish of 7th at Las Vegas. Those who second-guessed Roush’s judgment about who should fill Martin’s seat are being proven wrong.

-- Meanwhile, DEI’s Regan Smith, driver of the No. 01 car, will probably be out of a job soon. He has started and finished at the back of the pack all year, and that doesn’t usually go over well with team owners in NASCAR.

-- In case you didn’t notice, Jimmie Johnson is officially back. A brave fuel gamble helped him take the win and moved him up to fourth in points. Fans of competition better hope this isn’t a sign of a return to last year’s Hendrick domination, although you can already hear Dale. Jr. screaming in delight at the prospect at heading to his personal playground known as Talladega with his Hendrick car.


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