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Don't hand Martin the title yet

Not so fast, Rick Hendrick.

Not so fast, Alan Gustafson.

It's a little early to start talking about a championship for Mark Martin. First things first — your driver still has to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Hendrick, Martin's team owner, and Gustafson, his crew chief, were convinced before the season started that Martin could win the Cup title that has eluded him for nearly three decades.

They're right. He can — but he still has to make the Chase.

“I, legitimately — Alan as a witness — he and I talked about it,” Hendrick said Saturday night, after Martin won his series-best fourth race of the season. “Mark doesn't want to hear this, but I'm going to say it, anyway. Alan and I said we can win a championship with Mark Martin this year. We said that before we started.

“We were confident we could win races. He's so smart and takes care of his stuff. The Darlington car didn't have a scratch on it (after Martin won the May 9 race there) — the only car that came out of that race without the right side tore off of it. So he's a little bit more modest than we are about him. I think we felt that way early on.”

With four wins, worth 40 bonus points to start the Chase, Martin would be the top seed in NASCAR's postseason, if the ten-race run for the championship started today. Only one problem: The Chase doesn't start today.

The field won't be set until the chequered flag flies Sept. 12 at Richmond, seven races down the road — and Martin still has to make the Chase. Twelve drivers will qualify, and Martin, despite the four victories, is eleventh, with a tenuous eleven-point advantage over 13th-place Greg Biffle.

All else being equal, Biffle can wipe away those eleven points by finishing four spots ahead of Martin in the next Cup race July 26 at Indianapolis.

After falling out the week before at Daytona, Martin climbed back into the top twelve in the Cup standings Saturday night. Were in not for a succession of problems early in the season (he was 34th in points after four races, thanks to successive blown engines at California and Las Vegas), Martin would be solidly in the top twelve, rather than forced to fight for one of the final positions.

Clearly, it's too early to start talking championship for Martin, but don't make the mistake of underestimating his chances. Beneath his public persona — a folksy mixture of humble pie and self-effacing pessimism — Martin is driven to the point of obsession by a relentlessly hungry competitive spirit.




Related Pictures

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Mark Martin and Juan Montoya [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet Chevrolet SS races to victory followed by second place finisher Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Amp Energy Chevrolet SS, and third place finisher Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS Sunday, June 14, 2015, in the rain shortened NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 ARRIS Toyota, Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, race three-wide at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta `We Paint Winners` 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta `We Paint Winners` 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta `We Paint Winners` 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta `We Paint Winners` 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta `We Paint Winners` 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, affixes the winners decal to his car in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta `We Paint Winners` 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta `We Paint Winners` 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta `We Paint Winners` 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, races to victory, Sunday, June 7, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS is congratulated for his victory by Chevy teammate Jimmie Johnson (r), driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet SS Sunday, June 7, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Johnson finished third. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, celebrates in Victory Lane, Sunday, June 7, 2015, after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory, Sunday, June 7, 2015, after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta `We Paint Winners` 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for third position, Friday, June 5, 2015, for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Truex, Jr. is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualified for second position, Friday, May 29, 2015, for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Truex, Jr. is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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