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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Martin to teammates: Let the old man show you how it’s done

Experience won out, fittingly, in the 60th running of the Southern 500 at Darlington.

Winning his second race of the season puts Mark Martin on track to be a very strong contender for the title. The 50-year-old Martin is rejuvenated this year, and let the NASCAR world know Saturday that he is not going to be satisfied with just winning one race. He wants to win them all and take home the title.

To take the second win, he had to fight off a bunch of drivers … who all happened to be his teammates. Staying out when others pitted, Martin inherited the lead and had to hold off Jimmie Johnson, who had a great run despite crashing during qualifying and going to a backup car. He also had to hold off a very strong Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon.

But Martin did it like the true professional he is. No matter how hard Johnson dug in to try and pass Martin, he just kept going in his line smoothly and pulling ahead each time. Looking back at the last month, Martin has put on some amazing performances, and it’s easy to see why he announced he’s coming back for a full season in 2010. If you hadn’t stuck around to watch the Victory Lane interview, you would never know the driver of the #5 was a 50-year-old, as Martin is clearly as talented as any of the young guys out there driving.

Johnson may have won the last three titles, but Martin showed him Saturday that he’s going to have some stiff competition if he wants a fourth straight trophy.

As a side note, I’d like to point out that the one Hendrick car not running up front was the #88, who was busy wrecking and having pit miscues. I’m not bashing Jr. or saying everything that happened Saturday night was his fault. I’m just looking at the numbers, and numbers don’t lie. Something is not up to speed with that team, as compared to his teammates. He’s still hanging around the bubble and could make the Chase, but unless his performance picks up he’ll just bring up the bottom of the top 12 even if he makes the Chase.

Why is there only one race at Darlington?
I know money rules the world, especially in NASCAR, but I still find it to be a great injustice that Darlington Raceway only has one date on the Cup schedule. Saturday’s race provided some of the most competitive and exciting racing I’ve seen all year.

I recall that the second Darlington date was taken away several years back because of weak ticket sales and a glut of races in the South, but that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do. Somehow, we have two races at Pocono, the best substitute for sleep medication I’ve ever seen, but Darlington goes without a Cup race each fall.

I recognize that it’s the way things work in NASCAR, that ticket sales are more important than the quality of racing, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I hope the fans in the Darlington area will come out and support the track in larger numbers, so hopefully one day it can return to having two dates. I know it’s a pipe dream, but I love this track and the racing it provides, and it’s a tragedy the Cup drivers only get one crack at it each year.


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