In their first season as team-mates, a deep mutual respect developed between Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson, however, would probably take issue with an assertion Martin made after Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead.

"My equipment is just as good, but I am not as good as Jimmie Johnson," Martin said, after his twelfth-place finish left him second in the final Sprint Cup Series standings, 141 points behind Johnson, who won his fourth straight series title.

Martin has finished second in the Cup standings five times, to a handful of the sport's greatest drivers: Dale Earnhardt (1990 and 1994), Jeff Gordon (1998), Tony Stewart (2002) and now Johnson. But don't call Martin disappointed this time.

"For me, to even have a chance is pretty incredible," said Martin, who won five races and a series-best seven poles this season. "It just speaks volumes about this team and my first opportunity to work with (crew chief) Alan Gustafson. I feel really blessed to have had a chance.

"There's no frustration, man. There's none. I'm very proud of what we accomplished, and on top of all that, I had more fun than anybody. So how could you ... what else can you say, man? I had a blast.

"It's been an honour and a privilege, and I didn't leave nothing (out on the track). I never left anything anywhere. We got beat, and we got beat under any scenario that might have happened. I didn't leave anything out there."

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News


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