19 April 2009
Polesitter Martin converts to victory at Phoenix
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.
"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.
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