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Mark Martin’s Closest Calls

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Mark Martin is one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, and he was also highly respected by fans and competitors alike. However, while Martin is well known for his triumphs, he’s typically referred to as “NASCAR’s Greatest Bridesmaid” due to his close calls in big moments. Today, we look at the 3 closest calls in Martin’s illustrious career.

  • Mark Martin won 40 races in his NASCAR Cup Series career, with 13 top-5 points finishes in 22 full-time seasons. However, he finished 2nd in points 5 times in his career, and he typically found himself coming up just short on the sport’s biggest stage.
  • Whereas many will focus on all 5 of his runner-up points finishes, today, we will focus on Martin’s biggest heartbreaks. Two of those are runner-up finishes in points, and one is an individual race.
  • Fans still love Martin to this day. He’s not seen at the race track as much anymore, but, when he does show up, there’s always a warm reception for him.

1990: Early Penalty Costs Martin Championship

Heading into 1990, Mark Martin was seen as one of the up-and-coming drivers in the sport. He’d teamed up with new team owner Jack Roush two years earlier, and, after some hiccups, the team won their first race in the fall of 1989 at Rockingham. Martin finished an impressive 3rd in points that season as well, further solidifying himself in the Cup Series.

In 1990, they picked up where they left off by winning the 2nd race of the season at Richmond thanks to a savvy pit call by crew chief Steve Hmiel. However, after the race, 2nd-place finisher Dale Earnhardt pointed out that the No. 6 team was running an illegal carburetor spacer. NASCAR penalized Martin by docking him 46 points and fining the team $40,000.

There was some controversy surrounding this penalty. Many felt the penalty was too harsh as it was unclear if the team gained a true performance advantage by running the part. ESPN broadcaster, Benny Parsons, said prior to his next broadcast the penalty was, “Like hanging a guy for shoplifting.”

Either way, the penalty stood, and it didn’t seem to affect Martin much. He held onto the points lead throughout the late summer and early fall, but, Dale Earnhardt was nipping at Martin’s heels.

Things fell apart in the final 2 races thanks to some questionable moves by the team. At Phoenix, Martin pitted late for tires, costing him valuable track position that he never made up, causing him to lose the points lead. The next week, they tested at Atlanta before the season finale, and the team decided to abandon their own cars and use a car from Robert Yates Racing during the test.

Martin finished a solid 6th at Atlanta, but, it wasn’t good enough. Earnhardt finished 3rd to take the Championship by 26 points, and that 46-point penalty at Richmond loomed larger than ever. A tough pill to swallow after a great season.

2002: Blown Engine, a Mechanical Failure. and ANOTHER Penalty Makes Martin a Bridesmaid Again

Throughout the 1990s, Martin was one of the most consistent drivers in NASCAR, but, he just couldn’t take home a Championship. He finished 2nd in points in 1994 and 1998, but he never led the points in either season. In both instances, the title race was wrapped up before the season finale.

In 2002, however, Martin came as close as he ever had to a title. Martin spent most of the season 2nd in points behind Sterling Marlin, but, after Marlin got hurt and performance dipped, the Championship fight was wide open. Martin had a 30-point lead over rookie Jimmie Johnson with only 8 races to go.

At Kansas and Talladega, things began to unravel. Martin was running solidly in the top-10 at Kansas, only for his engine to blow with less than 20 laps to go, and he finished 25th. The next week at Talladega, Martin started on the front row, only for his steering to lock on the pace lap, sending him into the door of polesitter, Jimmie Johnson. Martin lost the draft as he was forced to pit for repairs, and he went on to finish 30th as the race went caution-free.

Martin seemed to get back on the right foot a few weeks later with a 2nd place finish at Rockingham, but, he was penalized 25 points for a role violation. Martin and his team appealed, but, the appeal was denied.

He walked into the final race at Homestead 89 points behind points leader Tony Stewart. Martin finished a solid 4th, but, it was not enough as he lost by 38 points. Take out that penalty, the blown motor, and the mechanical failure at Talladega, and Martin is probably a Champion.

2007 Daytona 500: Oh So Close

Martin mulled retirement throughout the mid-2000s, and he even announced he would retire after the 2005 season. However, after Kurt Busch was let go from Roush Racing late in the 2005 season, Martin agreed to come back in 2006, but, he was out of his iconic No. 6 car after that season.

He decided to go part-time in 2007 for a rather surprising choice. He would drive the No. 01 U.S. Army car for Ginn Racing in 23 races. Formerly known as MB2 Motorsports, the team did have a win under their belt with Joe Nemechek at Kansas in 2004, but, this was a surprising move to many. The Daytona 500 showed that Martin may have been on to something, even if it was heartbreaking.

Mark Martin was quiet throughout most of Speedweeks in 2007. However, he quietly moved his way up through the field throughout the day. When the dominant cars of the day, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart, crashed out, Martin made his move.

He took the lead on lap 176, and he held it for 26 laps straight. As the white flag flew on an overtime restart, Martin seemed to have this race in the bag. he had never won the Daytona 500, and, if he couldn’t win a Championship, this might make up for it.

However, Kevin Harvick had other plans. Martin and Harvick fought door to door throughout the final third of the final lap, and it was Harvick who took the win by 0.020 seconds. A devastating loss for Martin in the sport’s biggest race.

Martin would go on to have a career resurgence 2 years later in 2009, winning 5 races for Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 5 car. He finished 2nd in points once again, but, Jimmie Johnson beat Martin by 141 points.

Maybe that’s the moral of the story here. Martin kept on giving it his all every time he was on the track despite how many close calls he had. Even if he never got that glorious moment on the sport’s biggest stage, he made a Hall of Fame career for himself, and that is what his legacy should be.

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