|Mark Martin dominated for 195 laps and won the NASCAR Sprint Cup LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. (John Harrelson/Getty Images)|
Martin jumps into 4th victory
JOLIET, Ill. - Mark Martin will feel his age this morning.
His bones will stiffen and his body will ache after driving 400 grueling miles, even though the fitness fanatic is still in top shape.
After all, 50 is 50 and that matters - well, everywhere but on the track.
Martin is still nifty at 50 and has made Cup racing his personal senior circuit. He won at Chicagoland Speedway, getting the strong jump off the double-file restart with two laps left to win his series-high fourth race of the season.
“I’m going to feel like hell tomorrow because I ain’t going to sleep much tonight,’’ Martin said last night. “When I’m pumped up driving fast race cars, I certainly don’t feel 50.’’
He’s far from the sunset of his career and proved it under the lights on the 1 1/2-mile track.
Martin dominated the race early and led 195 laps, easily the most of the 400-mile race. He was in so much control of the No. 5 car, he radioed his crew to say, “This is easy.’’
But he surrendered the lead to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson with just over 40 laps left. Then a frantic finish that included Johnson and Kurt Busch tangling on the track allowed Martin his chance to regain the lead and hold on.
“I don’t know how we have one [Cup victory], much less four,’’ Martin said.
Jeff Gordon’s hard-charging finish got him second place. He made a late pit stop for four fresh tires that helped him quickly make up ground and earn his third runner-up finish in the last five races. Kasey Kahne was third and points leader Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.
Martin and Gordon are Hendrick teammates and earned a $1 million contest prize for a Colorado family. The teammates also grabbed the top two spots at the LifeLock sponsored race in June, setting up the fans’ shot at the big cash prize.
“I saw Jeff coming and I was like, ‘Get it, get it,’ ’’ Martin said. “I wanted him to get it. This is really, really special. Incredible what everybody does for us.’’
Not only that, they gave team owner Rick Hendrick a nice early birthday present. Hendrick turns 60 today.
“It’s a slightly early birthday present,’’ Martin said just a few ticks before midnight EDT.
Martin might still be racing and winning races at 60, showing no signs of slowing down. Not so for Kyle Busch.
Busch had a dreadful night, and was unruly on the radio as his No. 18 car was on the track and finished 33d. He complained all race about his car to his crew and fell to 10th in the points standings.
“I got nothing,’’ Busch said over the radio. “I don’t care what you do. It’s junk.’’
Kyle Busch had shared the series lead for wins with Martin with three.
While Busch sank, Martin soared.
He went from 13th to 11th to propel himself into contention for a spot in the Chase for the championship.
Martin has insisted all season he wasn’t racing for points. His move to Hendrick rejuvenated him and gave the best driver to never win a Cup championship perhaps the best ride of his career.