Ever gracious, Mark Martin thanked his #5 Chevrolet team for its efforts -- but there was resignation in his voice.

"Hey, man -- thanks, guys," Martin radioed to his crew after crossing the finish line in fourth place at the end of Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. "Good job. Awesome."

Even with the fourth-place run, Martin dropped 35 points to race winner and Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson.

A 25th-place finish or better in next Sunday's final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will give Johnson a record fourth straight title -- and will deny Martin, who has finished second in the standings four times, his first championship.

"We had a great run," Martin said. "The guys did a fabulous job, and we had a really good racecar. The car was awesome on the long runs. I really thought with that last long green flag (134 laps) that we were going to get up there and make it a four-car race, but our car got tight and kind of fizzled out."

By Reid Spencer/Sporting News


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