In 2009, Mark Martin enjoyed a glorious comeback, finishing second in the Sprint Cup standings and winning five races.
And that was at age 50. Now Martin is 51, and results haven’t been as encouraging this season for the Batesville, Ark., native.
At the moment, Martin likely is worried about making the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which is limited to the top 12 in the point standings at the end of the 26 races that comprise the regular season. The championship is determined during the final 10.
Martin knows he faces a challenge to make the Chase, and he knows pressure will increase and tempers will flare as the next seven races wind down.
"As we go forward, the kind of racing that we had at the end of (recent races) will not be every three weeks in the future," he said. "It will be every week, everywhere. Right now, it’s every third week or so. That’s what equal cars, double-file restarts and all that stuff bring you to, which is going to be fun to watch."
Though Martin has only competed once in the Nationwide Series this year, he is its all-time leader with 48 victories. Kyle Busch is closing in and now has 37 victories, including seven this year.
"Records are going to fall, and I’m going to stand there and watch them," Martin said. "Just as Jack Ingram (31 wins) stood and watched his fall, it’s not going to stand the test of time, but that’s OK, too. That still doesn’t lessen what I did, what I managed to do."
Martin’s 40 cup victories rank him 16th all time, trailing Bill Elliott by four.
Racing isn’t just competitive. To Martin’s way of thinking, it’s rougher and more aggressive than ever.
"It’s getting worse mostly because of the nature of our racing and the growth of the sport," he said. "You wouldn’t be able to keep a job if you raced 20 years ago, if you drove for somebody and you wrecked as many cars as you wreck today.
"The teams could not justify it. They didn’t have the manpower. They didn’t have the money. They couldn’t repair these cars and get them back out there. You wouldn’t last. But it’s a different day and age now. It is just different, and there’s a lot of pressure on these guys."
Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston Gazette in North Carolina since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog, http://nascar.rbma.com, features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Dutton at firstname.lastname@example.org.