Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

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

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mark Martin wins LifeLock 400

For the second straight week, a NASCAR Sprint Cup race came down to fuel mileage -- and for the second straight week, Jimmie Johnson found himself a few gallons short of potential glory.

Johnson, the three-time defending series champion, had the dominant car in Sunday's LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway, leading 142 of 200 laps. But after a spirited -- and ultimately ill-advised -- battle with Greg Biffle in the closing laps, Johnson ran out of gas coming to the white flag. Biffle took over the lead, only to also run out on the backstretch on the last lap.

Enter Mark Martin, who was running third and biding his time. Admittedly never one to catch the break when a race boiled down to fuel mileage, Martin was conserving all he could, content to finish in the top-5 while Biffle and Johnson duked it out for what they thought would be the win. However, that battle cost both drivers precious gallons of fuel, and even though Martin also ran out coming to the checkered flag, he was far enough ahead of second-place Jeff Gordon that it didn't matter.

Though Michigan gets a bad rap from the fans for boring racing, such was not the case on Sunday. There was plenty of side-by-side racing throughout the pack, with drivers running high, low and through the middle while jockeying for position. There were plenty of instances of three- and even four-wide racing, particularly on the new double-file restarts.

Leaders can still run away from the rest of the field; there were times on Sunday where Johnson had a 7- to 8-second lead. But really, I seem to recall the old car doing the same thing, so it's not like a runaway, dominant leader is anything new. If a team hits the setup just right, that combined with clean air creates one smoking fast race car.

Johnson had that on Sunday, but the fuel mileage game bit the No. 48 once again.

Though Martin picked up his third win of the season, which tied him with Kyle Busch for the most in the series this season, vaulted him to eighth in the points and gave him another 10 bonus points for the Chase, Johnson is still the man to beat. Don't look for Johnson and Chad Knaus to waste too many more opportunities like Sunday, where they spanked the field and arguably should've won the race.

Still, Martin won the race. Fuel mileage wins might feel cheap to the fans, but it's part of the territory. The winner of the race is the guy who reaches the checkered flag first, regardless of whether that's a matter of dominating, having more fuel than everyone else or just being out front when Mother Nature decides to interrupt things.

A win is a win is a win is a win. The trophies and checkered flags don't care how you got there ... just that you did. Former NASCAR driver Dick Trickle once told Martin, "In order to finish first, you must first finish," and that's exactly what Martin did on Sunday. When Biffle and Johnson couldn't finish, Martin did, and his reward was yet another win and another reminder that he'll probably have a lot to say about who wins the championship this season.

And come on ... who isn't happy when Martin pulls into Victory Lane?

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LifeLock 400
1. Mark Martin*
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Denny Hamlin*
4. Carl Edwards*
5. Greg Biffle*
6. Juan Pablo Montoya
7. Tony Stewart
8. Kurt Busch
9. Brian Vickers
10. Clint Bowyer
11. Jamie McMurray
12. Elliott Sadler
13. Kyle Busch*
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
15. David Ragan
16. Bill Elliott
17. Robby Gordon
18. Kevin Harvick
19. David Reutimann
20. Matt Kenseth
21. Kasey Kahne
22. Jimmie Johnson**
23. Ryan Newman
24. Casey Mears
25. Joey Logano
26. Jeff Burton
27. Reed Sorenson
28. Bobby Labonte
29. Sam Hornish Jr.
30. Michael Waltrip
31. Marcos Ambrose
32. David Gilliland
33. John Andretti
34. Paul Menard
35. Max Papis
36. Martin Truex Jr.
37. Scott Speed
38. David Stremme
39. A.J. Allmendinger
40. Dave Blaney
41. Sterling Marlin
42. Joe Nemechek
43. Tony Raines

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

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