2009-05-14 / Entertainment

Mark Martin Wins Again

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Mark Martin did it again. The oldest driver in the 43-car field showed the youngsters a thing or two Saturday night in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

"It's absolutely unbelievable," Martin said. "This is a big surprise. We had a strong car, but I never expected to win. Alan Gustafson (Martin's crew chief) is absolutely the best. I may have been his childhood hero, but I'm living a second childhood now - and he's my childhood hero.

"We had a good enough car to do it, and pit strategy put us in a position to pull it off."

Fifty-year-old Martin charged home ahead of three-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and other younger drivers to win the 367-lap marathon on what is known as NASCAR's toughest track.

Martin, an ageless racing junkie who tried to retire a couple years ago but couldn't, won the race in style, pulling away from Johnson at the end.

Physically fit and pumped up for the season in a Hendrick Chevrolet, Martin ran with the big dogs up front all night, keeping his car in one piece and saving the best for last.

It was a record-setting night for cautions under a full South Carolina moon. Seventeen times the caution waved as driver after driver made contact with Darlington's famous walls. Most of them didn't just get a Darlington Stripe as is the norm for this 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval. They hit hard enough to take the paint off the whole right side of the car.

Trailing Martin and Johnson across the stripe were Tony Stewart and his teammate, Ryan Newman. Stewart's third-place run was his fifth top five in his last six starts.

"This is the best I've run in the 500, so I'm ecstatic about it. We're doing things right, it's just a matter of time," said Stewart.

The remaining top-10 finishers were: 5. Jeff Gordon, 6. Martin Truex, 7. Brad Keselowski, 8. Greg Biffle, 9. Joey Logano, 10. Matt Kenseth.

Top-12 Chase Contenders after 11 of 26: 1. J. Gordon-1601, 2. Stewart-1572, 3. Kurt Busch- 1546, 4. Johnson-1465, 5. Hamlin- 1445, 6. Burton-1384, 7. Kyle Busch-1380, 8. Newman-1363, 9. Biffle-1345, 10. Kenseth-1326, 11. Martin-1316, 12. Edwards-1271

Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to struggle. He finished seven laps down in 27th.

Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the No. 41 Toyota, Tony Martin, a licensed crew member of the No. 34 Sprint Cup Series team, and Ben Williams, licensed crew member of the No. 16 Nationwide Series team, have been suspended indefinitely from NASCAR for violation of NASCAR's Substance Abuse Policy

Kenseth gets Darlington Nationwide win

Kenseth capitalized on Kyle Busch's flat tire with three laps to go to win Friday night's Nationwide Series race. Top-10 points leaders: 1. Kyle Busch- 1539, 2. Edwards-1502, 3. Leffler- 1386, 4. Logano-1340, 5. Keslelowski-1331, 6. Keller-1181, 7. Ragan-1139, 8, Lagasse-1095, 9. Allgaier-1089, 10. S. Wallace-1088

Another year for Mark Martin

Mark Martin will return in 2010 to drive the No. 5 Chevrolets of Hendrick Motorsports for the entire 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It will be the 22nd full-time Cup campaign of Martin's career and his second with car owner Rick Hendrick.

Last July, Martin signed a two-year contract with Hendrick Motorsports covering one full Sprint Cup season in 2009 and one part-time schedule of 26 events in 2010. The revised agreement was signed this past week.

With his April 18 victory at Phoenix, Martin became just the fourth driver to record 400 top- 10 finishes in Sprint Cup competition. It was his 36th career win in NASCAR's top series.

"It means a lot to drive the No. 5 Chevy for Rick and for Hendrick Motorsports," said Martin, 50, of Batesville, Ark. "I'm in the best condition of my life, I'm recharged, and I'm motivated. Going to the racetrack every weekend is still really fun, and that's the key. There's more gas in my tank."

Who is James Finch?

James Finch is a hero to all the fans who root for the underdog in racing.

I imagine Finch felt like giving up many times.

"I would race a while, work a while, build up some more money and then come back and race," said Finch. "Some people try and do it the other way - and bam - in a year or so, they have to fold up or whatever because it's really, really expensive to do this."

As an independent race team owner, he had been trying to win a NASCAR Cup race since 1990. His record going into the 2009 season was 105 tries with zero wins. His best finishes were two top-fives, one with Geoffrey Bodine in 2002 and Mike Wallace in 2007

All of us have one particular chunk of life we wish we could go back and live all over again. The one time that will forever stand out with Finch was his win in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega, with young Brad Keselowski at the wheel of his No. 1 Chevrolet.

Before the Aaron's 499, most racing fans outside Florida, or Southern short tracks, had never heard of James Finch, or his Phoenix Racing team.

Born in Panama City, Fla., his love for racing never swayed him from leaving his Florida home. He built his race shop in nearby Lynn Haven and has been there ever since. In 2000, Phoenix Racing and Yellow Freight joined forces and since then their teamwork has provided great results.

Instead of dress slacks and sponsor-adorned team shirts, Finch opts for a more laid-back look: cowboy boots, untucked shirts and work jeans. Polished and flashy is not in his makeup. Instead Finch chooses to be a blue-collar guy with a blue-collar work ethic. Everything about him says, '"working guy."

Finch dedicated the Talladega win to another great driver in NASCAR that was to make his comeback driving for Finch in 1994. It was Neil Bonnett. He was to debut the No. 51 Chevy at Speedweeks. Bonnett lost his life in a crash after hitting the outside wall during the first practice session.

Finch is hoping for more wins. "I would like to get some more Busch Grand National wins, and I hope to run both Daytona and Talladega Cup races. Those two tracks are very close to my home, so they are personal to me," said Finch.

Next Week: What is Happening to Dale Jr.

Weekend Racing: Friday, May 15, the Camping World Trucks will be at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway. It will be televised on Speed, beginning at 7:30 p.m. (EDT).

The 2009 edition of the Sprint All-Star Race will be run Saturday, May 16 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. There will be a total of 100 laps on the 1.5-mile trioval. There will be four segments - with a 50-lap first segment, two 20-lap segments and one 10-lap shootout to the finish line. It will be televised on Speed beginning at 7 p.m. (EDT).

The Nationwide teams have an off week.

Racing Trivia Question: How many Cup wins does Rick Mears, driver of the 07 Chevrolet have?

Last Week's Question: After a brief absence, Sterling Marlin is back in Cup racing. Which team does he drive for? Answer. He is driving part- time in the 09 Phoenix Racing Dodge.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at:hodgesnews@earthlink.net.

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