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Martin wins Chicagoland shoot-out

12 July 2009

Body-slamming and bump-drafting were the order of the day at Chicagoland Speedway and 50-year old Mark Martin was the last man standing in a wild LifeLock.com 400.

Pulling away after a double-file restart with two laps left in Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup race, Martin won a series-best fourth race of the season - and the 39th of his career - to gain two positions in the standings. Now eleventh overall, he will have at least 40 bonus points for the Chase if he can hold a position in the top twelve over the remaining seven 'regular season' races.

Martin took the chequered flag 0.415secs ahead of Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Jeff Gordon, while Kasey Kahne ran third, followed by series points leader Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin. Ryan Newman, pole sitter Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Juan Pablo Montoya completed the top ten. Martin is now within one victory of Harry Gant's 1991 record of five in a season by a driver 50 or older.

"That was fun," Martin exulted after climbing from his #5 Kellogg's/CarQuest car, "That's what life's all about right there. These guys deserved to win - we could have parked the car [on Friday] with an hour left in practice. I knew it was awesome.

"But the best car doesn't usually win. The double-file restarts are to mess the best car up so he doesn't win, to make it good for the fans - and it did - but, luckily, we pulled it off anyway."

As the race neared its end, the action intensified. Contact from Dale Earnhardt Jr's Chevrolet cut the left rear tyre of Paul Menard's Ford on lap 227 of 267, igniting a multi-car wreck in the tri-oval that eliminated the cars of Jeff Burton and Scott Speed.

NASCAR called a sixth caution on lap 246 for debris from David Reutimann's car, which scraped the wall in turn 2 after a side-by-side battle with Montoya, and Gordon took tyres under caution on lap 248. After a restart on lap 251 dropped Johnson from the lead and scrambled the running order at the front of the field, Martin pulled away with Gordon chasing.

Oil from Kyle Busch's blown engine brought out the seventh caution on lap 261, setting up the restart with two laps left, and Martin opted for the outside lane with Gordon beside him to the inside. The veteran got an excellent jump on the start, however, and pulled away for the win, while Gordon had to pass Kahne for second place on the final lap.

"Mark went a little bit early [on the final restart], and I just spun the tyres when I tried to get it going, but it was still a great finish, one-two for Hendrick," Gordon reflected, "What an incredible call [crew chief] Steve Letarte made, and the whole pit crew did a fantastic job getting us off pit-road with four tyres. Then it was just a battle, manoeuvring through traffic, cars slipping and sliding all over the place."

Johnson led the field to the restart on lap 251 only to see his #48 Chevrolet roughed up in traffic. The reigning Cup Series champion, along with Hamlin and Vickers, sustained damage as the cars were dicing for position during the next two laps.

"There was a lot of body-slamming out there, and guys were bump-drafting down the straightaways," Johnson said, "I didn't think we could do that at a mile-and-a-half track."

Greg Biffle finished 31st and fell to 13th in the standings, one place outside the Chase field and ten points behind Matt Kenseth in twelfth.


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