Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mark Martin takes Subway Fresh Fit 500

How popular was Mark Martin's dominating win Saturday night at the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix? Everyone from teammates to second-place finisher Tony Stewart to former Roush Fenway Racing teammates came to Victory Lane to congratulate him.

Martin, who sat on the pole for the third time this season, picked up his first Cup Series win since September 2005, when he won at Kansas in his last year driving Jack Roush's No. 6. Martin led 157 of the race's 312 laps, though he needed to pass Ryan Newman on a late restart and hold off Stewart to do it.

There was also the scare of Kyle Busch, who neverly edged out Martin on the final pit stop, but NASCAR caught Busch speeding off pit road and kept him from being a factor. Busch finished 17th.

When the late Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 in 1998, every crew member from every team congratulated him and helped him celebrate. The prevailing wisdom in the garage was, "If my guy can't win this thing, I want Dale to. He deserves it."

Ditto that for Martin, four times the bridesmaid when it comes to Cup titles. Racing part-time the last three seasons, Martin signed on with Hendrick Motorsports before the start of the season with hopes at taking one last shot at a Cup title. The first few races saw Martin blow two engines and a tire, but the speed was always there.

Now, the most respected driver in NASCAR is back in Victory Lane. Martin is the third-oldest driver to win a Cup race, doing so at 50 years, 99 days of age. Harry Gant, at 52 years, 219 days, became the oldest when he took the chckered flag at Michigan in 1992.

Just how big a deal was Martin's win? It overshadowed a post-race incident in which Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun Casey Mears off the track. Junior had been falling backward in the late stages of the race, even getting lapped by teammate Martin, before Mears got into Junior and put him in the wall with 11 laps to go.

Junior, frustrated with his night and probably thinking he got intentionally dumped, spun Mears on the cool-down lap. Mears responded by rear-ending Junior twice once the cars reached pit road.

NASCAR did not call either driver to the hauler and said the incident would not be reviewed. Maybe it was the excitement over Martin's win, maybe it was NASCAR sticking to its promise to let the drivers be emotional again, but NASCAR's refusal to review the incident smacks of favoritism.

Think about it. Last August, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch had a similar post-race dustup at Bristol. Both drivers were put on probation. Fans already think Junior gets a pass from NASCAR (see the fallout from his wreck at Daytona a couple months ago), and this ruling just reinforces that belief. It's all a matter of perspective; all NASCAR had to do was say was they're looking into it, even if they weren't actually going to do so.

But back to Martin; will Saturday's win propel him to that first Cup title? Hard to say; first of all, he'll have to deal with teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson (you know, the points leader and the guy who's won the last three championships). Then there's Kyle Busch, not to mention the incredibly consistent Stewart (who's knocking on the door for his first win as a driver/owner) and Kurt Busch, who's looking more and more like a title contender the longer he stays this strong.

I said it before and I'll say it again: that Atlanta win was no fluke.

Martin's in the mix, though. If for no other reason than his talent and determination, Martin's in the mix. We're talking about a guy who was competitive in a car that's no longer running in the series (the No. 8), so no question Martin, who's 13th in the points and just nine points out of the Chase, can mount a charge.

And I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500
1. Mark Martin**
2. Tony Stewart*
3. Kurt Busch*
4. Jimmie Johnson*
5. Greg Biffle
6. Denny Hamlin
7. Martin Truex Jr.
8. David Reutimann*
9. Sam Hornish Jr.
10. Carl Edwards
11. Jamie McMurray
12. Reed Sorenson
13. Kasey Kahne
14. Marcos Ambrose
15. Jeff Burton
16. Ryan Newman*
17. Kyle Busch
18. David Stremme
19. Brian Vickers*
20. Casey Mears
21. Joey Logano
22. David Ragan
23. Paul Menard
24. Juan Pablo Montoya
25. Jeff Gordon
26. Clint Bowyer
27. Matt Kenseth
28. Regan Smith
29. Bobby Labonte*
30. Kevin Harvick
31. Dale Earnhardt Jr.*
32. Elliott Sadler
33. David Gilliland
34. Scott Speed
35. A.J. Allmendinger
36. Scott Riggs
37. Michael Waltrip*
38. John Andretti
39. Robby Gordon
40. Sterling Marlin
41. Joe Nemechek
42. Dave Blaney
43. Tony Raines

*led a lap (5 bonus points)
**led most laps (5 more bonus points)

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