Talk about hangdog. Mark Martin's car had been flipped and turned into a sparking bottle rocket heading to the white flag at Talladega last Sunday. He finished 28th, and the final thread connecting him to hopes of his first Sprint Cup championship had frayed to the point of nothingness.

His frustration was evident in his tone, his words and the look on his face. Tough old Mark Martin looked liked all-in, like he would just as soon head home to drink lemonade on the porch.

The problem is, he can't. There are still three races left in the 2009 season. There are still obligations to team and sponsors and himself, and even the faintest of hopes that he still can catch and pass Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

So this weekend, Martin will arrive at Texas Motor Speedway for the Dickies 500 and commence to picking himself up off a deck upon which he now finds himself splattered.

"I am tired of the points," Martin, who is now 184 behind Johnson, said this week, "I'm not just saying that because of being behind. We were chasing points to get into the Chase, and now that we're here, that's all people are talking about. I'm just ready to have a fresh outlook and get back to it just being about the race itself."

At least Martin will not be alone in his boot-strap pull. Hendrick Motorsport team-mate Jeff Gordon also went through a major deflation at Talladega. Like Martin, he was in position to gain good ground on Johnson late in the race. Although he did not crash, he ran out of fuel and limped home 20th and now trails the Chase leader by 192 points.

"I can't wait to get back there," Gordon said of Texas.

The pessimists, the quitters, would ask 'Why?', and Martin's crew chief didn't have to dig very deep at all to answer that question.

"Winning," Alan Gustafson said, "Winning is the biggest thing. It's a huge deal. There are a lot of good teams and good drivers that haven't won a race. We have to stay hungry. We have a chance to win at Texas."

That is true for Gustafson and Martin, and it's also true for Gordon. Martin has a victory at the 1.5-mile track. It came in 1998, the track's second year of existence. But that is not the only time he has been in contention there. Martin has finished in the top ten in nine of his 17 starts. And he has finished on the lead lap in every one of those 17 starts - something no other driver has done.

"Texas is a great place to race," Martin said, "I have a lot of fans that go there because it's kind of close to my home in Batesville. We have a lot of charged-up fans there. It's a great track and a great place to race. We're going to go there, try to sit on the pole, lead every lap and win the race."

Although Martin's love of the Fort Worth track dates back more than a decade, Gordon's love is newly blossomed. For year after year, TMS was known as one of those very few places where Gordon had not won a race but, in April, that all changed. Gordon, whose only 43rd-place finishes in 578 Cup starts have come at Texas, broke through with a victory and is using the knowledge that he can get another to dust himself off and move forward in the wake of Talladega. Won't be easy, he said.

"To get another win, though, we'll need to take a another step forward," Gordon noted, "If we showed up this weekend with the same set-up we used in April, we'd run 15th. That's just the way the sport is. Everybody is constantly learning, and the competition is constantly getting better and quicker."
by Jim Pedley / Special to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service


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