Typical Michigan, but with an extra measure of suspense — the guy who wasn't trying to win the race had a victory fall into his lap.
As is invariably the case at Michigan International Speedway, fuel mileage played a key role in Sunday's LifeLock 400, where Mark Martin was the disbelieving beneficiary when the dominant cars of Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle ran out of gas in the final two miles of the 400-mile race.
Conserving fuel, and content with the prospect of a top-five run, Martin, 50, crossed the finish line 2.992 seconds ahead of Hendrick Motorsports team-mate and runner-up Jeff Gordon, whose car also had enough gas in the tank for the final 44-lap green-flag run.
“Old man, you snookered us again,” Gordon said to Martin during the celebration in victory lane, with Martin still incredulous that he had won the race.
In a rough week for Chevrolet — with budget cuts announced in NASCAR's Nationwide and Camping World Truck series and ominous meetings with Sprint Cup owners on the horizon — Martin put his #5 Chevy in victory lane for the third time this year, tying him for the Cup series lead with Kyle Busch.
With his cooling unit and fans off as fuel-saving measures, Martin earned his 38th career win and vaulted five positions into eighth in the series standings, 321 points behind leader Tony Stewart, who finished seventh Sunday. Gordon, who started from the rear after blowing and changing an engine during Friday's practice, remained second in points, 47 behind Stewart.
“We were just on the outside looking in on this Chase thing,” said Martin, who entered the race 13th in points, one spot out of an eligible position for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. “I thought I could run with them (Johnson and Biffle), but I couldn't run that pace and save gas — and we really needed a finish.
“When Jimmie ran out (approaching the stripe to start the final lap), I said, 'I want to run hard! It's three quarters of a lap. What can happen? I can surely make it.' And we ran out coming off of (Turn 4). I can't believe we won this thing.”
Johnson, who led 146 of 200 laps and twice built leads of more than seven seconds, coasted into the pits as Martin was waiting to enter victory lane. After refuelling his #48 Chevrolet, Johnson had to drive around Martin's car to cross the finish line and was credited with a 22nd-place finish as the last car on the lead lap.