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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 SS, finishes in sixth place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, qualifies for third position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Truex, Jr. is third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott (left) congratulates his son Chase Elliott, driver of the #25 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet, after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. This will mark Chase Elliott`s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #25 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS finishes in eighth place Sunday, March 22, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, leads Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 8, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS races to victory Sunday, March 8, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada. Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet SS finishes second. (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS races to a third place finish with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS who finishes in fifth place in the Daytona 500 Sunday, February 22, 2015 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by HHP/Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Percision Chevrolet, lead the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, captures the Daytona 500 pole for the second time in his career Sunday, February 15, 2015 after posting the fastest qualifying time for next Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Daytona Beach, Florida. Gordon, who has said this is his last full season of racing, has won the Daytona 500 three times. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second and will also start from the front row. (Photo by HHP/David Tulis for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, captures the Daytona 500 pole for the second time in his career Sunday, February 15, 2015 after posting the fastest qualifying time for next Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Daytona Beach, Florida. Gordon, shown with his team and crew chief, Alan Gustafson, said this is his last full season of racing. Gordan has won the Daytona 500 three times. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second and will also start from the front row. (Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, is congratulated by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, after capturing the Daytona 500 pole for the second time in his career Sunday, February 15, 2015. Gordon posted the fastest qualifying time for next Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Daytona Beach, Florida, which he has won three times. He has said this is his last full season of racing. Johnson qualifies second and will also start from the front row.(Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)

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