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Martin wins Southern 500 in Chevy Top-7 sweep

by Pete McCole
Sunday, May 10, 2009

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Mark Martin
Rhonda McCole/AR1.com

Who says the old man doesn’t still have gas in the tank?

Mark Martin scored his first Darlington win since 1993 with a victory in Saturday night’s Southern 500, holding off teammate Jimmie Johnson to notch his 37th career NASCAR Sprint Cup win in a grueling, wreck-filled race at Darlington Raceway.

Tony Stewart came home third, followed by Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon.

Martin and Johnson ran the last 70 laps without stopping for fuel, leading a Hendrick Motorsports parade to the finish with six of the top seven cars running Hendrick equipment.

“This is unbelievable. Just absolutely unbelievable,” said Martin in Victory Lane. “This was a big surprise. You know we had a strong car but never expected to win.

“(Crew chief) Alan Gustafson 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.”

It was the second win of the season for Martin, who earlier in the season notched his first victory since 2005 with a win at Phoenix and now has six top-ten finishes in the last seven races.

Not bad for a guy who contemplated retirement just three years ago.

Martin inherited the lead with 45 laps to go after electing to stay on the track rather than come to pit road during the 15th yellow flag of the night on lap 319, bringing the field to the green flag followed by Johnson, Newman, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin – all of whom stayed out.

Johnson trailed Martin for the rest of the race, keeping Martin in sight over two more caution periods but never able to gain enough ground to make a move for the lead.

Finally, with 10 laps to go, Johnson told his crew he had “nothing” for Martin and began to back off to save fuel.

Martin coasted the rest of the way, winning by 1.531 seconds over Johnson.

Johnson’s second-place effort was a remarkable comeback for the defending Sprint Cup champion after crashing his primary car during qualifying. Johnson started from the rear of the field in a back-up car, a car that hadn’t turned a lap until the start of the race

“We’ll take second after what we went through,” said Johnson. “Clean air was so, so important that it really boiled down to strategy at the end. Once I got up behind Mark (Martin), got comfortable with the car, understood the grip level, I’m like ‘Damn, I got a great racecar’. Then I realized I had a shot at winning it.

“I pushed Mark as hard as I could. We needed to go into fuel-save mode at that point. Unfortunately just had to ride home.”

For Stewart, it was close-but-no-cigar yet again, posting his fifth top-five finish in the last six races, still looking for his first win as a car owner.

“That’s the best I’ve run in the Southern 500 so I’m ecstatic about it,” said Stewart. “I wish we could’ve gotten the track position but I’m really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas. We’re doing things right, it’s just a matter of time.”

It was a frustrating night for many of the drivers as the track “too tough to tame” claimed its fair share of victims on Saturday with a track record 17 cautions flags, including defending race winner Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Dave Ragan and Clint Bowyer, who saw his no-DNF streak end at 83 – one short of the all-time record - after a hard crash on lap 222.

“It’s a wrestling match for 367 laps,” said Stewart. “We’re running so fast here, it’s such a narrow place. Any time they repave a place, it’s got a lot of grip, everybody’s fast. Everybody’s car feels good when the surface is fresh like this.

“That’s why you saw track position like you saw tonight, but at the same time that’s why you see a lot of cautions, because we’re running so fast around here.”

Martin was one of the few drivers who managed to keep his car clean all night, pulling into Victory Lane with hardly a scratch on the no. 5 Chevrolet.

“I felt like my car was 50 or 40 percent out of control, so I didn’t get close to anybody most of the time”, said Martin. “There were a lot of people eliminating themselves. You have to watch yourself if you want to survive conditions like they were tonight.”

Earlier this week it was announced that Martin would return to drive for Hendrick Motorsports for a full season in 2010, but Martin stopped short of setting his sights on a championship that has eluded him for so long.

“I’m just very, very happy right now and I don’t need to say we’re going to win a whole bunch more races,” said Martin. “It could happen, but if not, at least we got two (victories) instead of one.

“All I want to do is be happy and have fun doing this. If you don’t set yourself up for disappointment, then it’s much easier. It’s okay to have the passion. It’s okay to have the drive. But you can’t let it tear you apart.”

Saturday’s results jumbled the point’s standings a bit as Gordon holds onto the top spot, now leading Stewart by 29 points. Kurt Busch fell to third after a 16th-place finish. Johnson moved up to fourth while Hamlin slipped to fifth.

Results

FIN ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 12 5 Mark Martin Chevrolet Cheez-It / Carquest 190/5 367 Running
2 42 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 175/5 367 Running
3 18 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Old Spice / Office Depot 170/5 367 Running
4 3 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet U.S. Army 165/5 367 Running
5 2 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet National Guard ESGR / DuPont 160/5 367 Running
6 16 1 Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Tracker 155/5 367 Running
7 31 25 Brad Keselowski Chevrolet GoDaddy.com 146/0 367 Running
8 11 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M 152/10 367 Running
9 5 20 Joey Logano * Toyota The Home Depot 143/5 367 Running
10 1 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Dewalt 139/5 367 Running
11 24 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Shell / Pennzoil 130/0 367 Running
12 6 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar 127/0 367 Running
13 23 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota Farm Bureau Insurance 124/0 367 Running
14 19 19 Elliott Sadler Dodge Stanley Tools 126/5 367 Running
15 40 98 Paul Menard Ford Schrock / Menards 118/0 367 Running
16 8 2 Kurt Busch Dodge Miller Lite 115/0 367 Running
17 38 44 A.J. Allmendinger Dodge Best Buy 112/0 367 Running
18 27 96 Bobby Labonte Ford Academy Sports + Outdoors 114/5 367 Running
19 41 43 Reed Sorenson Dodge Valvoline Crew Chief Car 106/0 367 Running
20 25 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 103/0 367 Running
21 29 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row Companies 100/0 367 Running
22 20 26 Jamie McMurray Ford Crown Royal 97/0 367 Running
23 7 9 Kasey Kahne Dodge Budweiser 99/5 367 Running
24 34 12 David Stremme Dodge Star Trek 91/0 367 Running
25 39 34 Tony Raines Chevrolet A&W Root Beer 88/0 364 Running
26 32 187 Scott Speed * Toyota NEMCO Motorsports 85/0 362 Running
27 26 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Mountain Dew / National Guard 82/0 360 Running
28 28 7 Robby Gordon Toyota Quaker State 79/0 353 Running
29 21 00 David Reutimann Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 76/0 347 Running
30 4 77 Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge Mobil 1 73/0 344 Running
31 35 83 Brian Vickers Toyota Red Bull 70/0 333 In Pit
32 9 99 Carl Edwards Ford Aflac 67/0 314 Running
33 10 47 Marcos Ambrose Toyota Bush's Best Baked Beans / Kingsford / Clorox 64/0 312 Running
34 14 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's 66/5 303 Running
35 22 113 Max Papis * Toyota GEICO 58/0 302 Running
36 13 07 Casey Mears Chevrolet Jack Daniel's 55/0 238 Running
37 17 33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet BB&T 52/0 221 Running
38 15 6 David Ragan Ford UPS 49/0 199 In Pit
39 37 36 Scott Riggs Toyota Tommy Baldwin Racing 46/0 101 In Pit
40 36 55 Michael Waltrip Toyota NAPA Adaptive One 43/0 73 Out of Race
41 33 66 Dave Blaney Toyota Prism Motorsports 40/0 56 In Pit
42 43 09 Sterling Marlin Dodge Miccosukee Resort & Gaming 37/0 38 In Pit
43 30 171 David Gilliland Chevrolet TRG Motorsports 34/0 27 In Pit

* Denotes Rookie

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