For championship contender Mark Martin, Talladega Superspeedway has been a thorn in his side for years. Although he scored two victories at the 2.66-mile speedway in the mid-1990s, Martin has been knocked around enough to dread the track he calls “the lottery.”
Since 2002, Martin has just two top-10 finishes, an average finish of 27th, three DNFs and eight finishes of 20th or worse. During his partial retirement, Martin skipped Talladega, but returned earlier this year and was caught up in a lap 5 accident and finish 43rd. With the series headed to Talladega this weekend for the seventh race of the Chase, and so much at stake for the man who is second in the standings, the 50-year-old veteran says there is no longer any point in being worried.
“I refuse to be concerned about Talladega. I refuse,” Martin said. “We’ll go there, we’ll try to not worry about it much and we’ll strap in on Sunday and unless (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) asks me to take a different approach we will race as far forward in that pack as we can be every lap of the whole race. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m not going to sweat it. Somehow or another I just feel lucky about this one. If you can wreck on lap 5 of the last one there something tells me I ought to be able to miss it this time. That’s about as bad of luck as you can have. So I don’t know. I feel like it will be okay. If it’s not, it will still be okay.”
Instead of looking at this weekend’s race as a chance to fall out of contention, Martin sees it as an opportunity. Judging by his record at the track, he knows the dangers Talladega can present and is ready to pounce if points leader Jimmie Johnson has trouble.
“I’m going to go there and race and I am going to race like I am not concerned about getting in an accident,” Martin said. “If we wreck, then I am not going to worry about it. If we wreck, we don’t have a chance to win the championship and if we win, we might… we just might. So we are going to go there and just see what it turns out."
Sitting 118 points behind his teammate, Martin has the best shot at spoiling Johnson’s run at the history books. With just four races left, the consensus is that Johnson will have to have trouble in order for either Martin or fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon (who is 150 points behind) to have a shot at the title.
Throughout the Chase, Martin has refused to talk about the possibility of winning his first championship. You can understand why. After this weekend, the final three races of the year fall right into Johnson’s hands. He was second to Gordon in Texas earlier this year and has three top-two finishes in his last four races in Texas. Martin took the checkered at Phoenix in the spring, but Johnson has three wins and six straight top-four finishes in the desert. Neither Martin nor Johnson has won at Homestead, but Martin has not raced the final event of the year since 2007. Johnson has hoisted the championship trophy there the past three years.
This Chase is far from over and Martin knows that if he is going to have one last shot at his teammate, he needs to come out of this weekend with a clean race behind him. If Johnson does the same, things will be tougher for Martin, but for now the veteran is refusing to worry.
Family of girl injured at Talladega will be at race this weekend