The 'old man of NASCAR', Mark Martin broke a 97-race losing streak by transforming pole into a 36th career victory - and perhaps his most fulfilling - in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

The 50-year old Hendrick Motorsport driver streaked away from Tony Stewart after a restart with six laps remaining, becoming the oldest man to win in the series since Morgan Shepherd won, aged 51, in March 1993 at Atlanta. Martin's victory was his first since 9 October 2005 at Kansas Speedway, and his first since joining Hendrick at the start of the 2009 season.

"The thought went through my mind - 1989 with Jack Roush - when I got my first win at Rockingham, when I said 'my life is fulfilled'," Martin admitted in victory lane. "I thought about saying that again tonight, but I'll stop short.

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"It really means that much though, just as much as getting that first one. We made a couple of early adjustments but, after that, we never made adjustments. There were cars better than us in the middle of the race, but it came to us. At the end, nobody could run with us."

Martin took the lead from Dale Earnhardt Jr with a pass off turn two on lap 256 of 312 at the one-mile flat track, and then increased his advantage over the chasing Tony Stewart to more than four seconds before Earnhardt and Casey Mears tangled in turn four with eleven laps remaining.

A hiccup leaving his stall might have cost Martin dearly, for he only narrowly pipped Kyle Busch - in perhaps the only machine that looked likely to threaten the #5 - across the stripe, but Busch was then penalised for speeding on pit-road in his own attempt to overhaul Stewart before the line. He finished 17th.

Stewart's team-mate, Ryan Newman, stayed out on old tyres and took the green flag in the lead on lap 307, but faded quickly. Martin was back in front before the cars got back to the start/finish line and again began to pull away from the chasing pack. He was 0.734secs ahead of Stewart at the finish.

'Smoke' was followed by Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle, while Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr, David Reutimann, Sam Hornish Jr and Carl Edwards - carrying the event sponsor's livery on his #99 Ford - completed the top ten, after the late caution scrambled the order.

The race left Stewart still seeking his first victory as an owner/driver at Stewart-Haas Racing, but the runner-up was encouraged by his progress.

"We're so close," he said, "We're going to win one of these soon, but I'm glad to see Mark get this win. He deserved it. He had the fastest car."

Series points leader Jeff Gordon took advantage of a pair of opportune cautions to avert disaster - temporarily - midway through the race. On lap 149, contact between Gordon's #24 Chevrolet and Hamlin's #11 Toyota bent the left front fender of the DuPont machine, causing it to rub against the tyre.

Gordon began to drop back but, two laps later, AJ Allmendinger's Dodge slammed the turn two wall, bringing out the third caution of the race. Gordon pitted for repairs on lap 152, while most lead lap cars stayed on the track, having come to the pits on lap 139.

Some 13 laps later, contact from Gordon's Chevy turned Michael Waltrip into Robby Gordon, causing the fourth caution of the night, but Earnhardt, Gordon, Marcos Ambrose and David Stremme stayed on the track while the rest of the lead lap cars came to the pits.

Though the four-time champion gradually faded on older tyres, he remained in the top ten until his crew failed to secure a lug nut during a lap 233 pit-stop. Having squandered his good fortune, Gordon finished 25th and lost 77 points of his advantage in the standings. He now leads second-placed Johnson by 85.

After his late accident, Earnhardt dropped to 31st at the finish, but was clear who he blamed for the incident, turning Mears around after the chequer. Mears responded by catching back up to the #88 and bumping it repeatedly on the run back to pit-road.....

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service