Mark Martin was talking to millions of race fans a couple of weeks ago during an interview at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but quite clearly, he was also talking to himself.

His message: He will not let his dislike of racing at Talladega Superspeedway come between him and the Sprint Cup championship he so badly wants.

"I refuse to be concerned about Talladega," Martin said that day. "I refuse."

This Sunday, Martin's resolute words and attitude will be put to the test because the drivers in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will do their thing in the Amp Energy 500 at nasty, unpredictable and potentially dangerous Talladega.

Oh, boy, and happy Halloween.

Some drivers find going flat-footed all the way around the 2.66-mile oval exhilarating.

Others simply suck it up when the series takes to the church-roof-steep banking at NASCAR's biggest track.

And some think there is something unnatural -- and wrong -- about putting a 3,400-pound stock car on superspeedway with 33-degree banking that produces speeds well in excess of 200 mph.

Martin has not been shy about proclaiming himself to be part of Group Three over the years.

In fact, he felt so strongly about not wanting to race at Talladega that he didn't. In 2007, Martin semi-retired from Sprint Cup. He left his longtime home at Roush Racing and took a job with MB2 because the folks there would allow him to compete on a part-time basis.

Martin was able to pick and choose the races he wanted to drive in, and among the first things he did was dump the races at Talladega.

For two entire seasons, Martin did yard work at home when the Cup cars were beating each other's fenders off at Talladega.

He returned to Talladega for the first time since 2006 in the spring. He had to. He had committed to run for a championship for new team owner Rick Hendrick, and that meant driving in 36 races in 2009 and that meant driving at Talladega.

This weekend, Martin will be back at the place, and how twisted is it that he will need to show well there -- perhaps win -- if he is to remain a serious threat to win this year's Chase?

Martin is second in points, 118 behind teammate Jimmie Johnson, who is going for his fourth straight championship. And unless Martin wins Sunday on his least favorite track, and/or Johnson has big trouble, Martin could leave Talladega all but eliminated from contention. Twisted.

Hence his attitude in recent weeks.

"We'll go there, we'll try to not worry about it much and we'll strap in on Sunday," Martin said. "And unless Alan (Gustafson, his crew chief) 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."

In fact, Martin said this week, he has a good feeling about Sunday. Perhaps the pep talks to himself have helped.

"Somehow or another I just feel lucky about this one," Martin said. "If you can wreck on lap five 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."

It's not as if Martin is bad at Talladega. He has two victories there and has finished in the top 10 in more than half of his 43 starts.

Yes, he has six DNFs and has been caught up in big wrecks: In the spring, he was caught up in a wreck minutes into the race.

But who hasn't done that at Talladega? Heck, Johnson has six DNFs at the place.

"To me, it's my opportunity to really get back into the running for it," he said. "So I plan on going there and driving like I know I am not going to wreck."

Meet the new Mark Martin -- optimist by necessity.

by Jim Pedley/Sporting News


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