• 46°

NASCAR: Busch, Martin stage thrilling duel

By Jenna Fryer
Associated Press
BRISTOL, Tenn. ó Mark Martin has never been a dirty racer.
With trophies on the line, or points, or a spot in the season-defining Chase for the championship, he’s prided himself on being a clean driver though 1,000 NASCAR races. So as a sold-out crowd watched to see if Martin would lay a bumper to Kyle Busch in the closing laps at Bristol Motor Speedway, it never even crossed his mind.
“We’re racing, going for it, you know?” Martin said. “I expect Kyle to race me hard. I expect him to race me clean. And he has. He can expect the same from me. I didn’t need to use the bumper. Kyle gave me all the room in the world to make that pass, and I didn’t make it.”
There were no last-lap fireworks Saturday night as Busch and Martin staged a side-by-side charge to the checkered flag.
Racing that hard could have been disastrous for both: Martin is clinging to a spot in the 12-driver Chase field, while Busch is fighting hard to get back into contention. Both drivers were in desperate need of a solid finish, and one small slip could have sunk their seasons.
Instead, they raced clean and Busch emerged the winner. It snapped his 13-race Sprint Cup Series winless streak ó an eternity by his standards ó while Martin settled for second. The two are now tied with a series-best four wins apiece.
“Man, what an honorable race car driver Mark Martin is,” Busch said. “Such an honor to race with him. To give him the room that he needed, for him to give me the room I needed, was awesome. I can’t thank him enough. He didn’t let me win the race, but he certainly didn’t take it from us.”
Just like that, two of the biggest stories of 2009 prevented their seasons from slipping away.
Busch, the hottest driver last season, had lost his way of late and was struggling to rein in his passion for winning. Down to 15th in the standings, he was on the ropes and unable to afford one more mistake or risk the knockout punch to his title chances.
Martin, on the other hand, never wanted to make this year about winning the title that’s eluded him over the past 27 seasons. He returned to full-time racing, he said, to have fun and work with a Hendrick Motorsports team that was determined to get him back to Victory Lane.
So when bad breaks the first four races dropped him to 34th in the standings, winning the championship became the farthest thing in his mind.
Yet there they were on Saturday night, running first and second the final 50-plus laps. They lined up side-by-side on several late restarts, and Busch got the jump each time. With one final four-lap sprint, it could have been anything goes at Bristol.
The tiny bullring has seen its share of drama before ó the late Dale Earnhardt bumped Terry Labonte out of his way in 1999, and Jeff Gordon used a bump-and-run on Rusty Wallace in 2002 ó and Busch and Martin could have created some more.
But that would have been foolish in the big picture.
Martin, who was clinging to a 12-point hold on the final Chase position, left Bristol up two spots to 10th. Busch also moved up two spots, to 13th, and is now 34 points away from the final qualifying position with two races remaining to determine the field.
“We’re trying to make the Chase,” Busch said. “We’ve been clawing at it for the past five weeks just trying to get back up there and make it in.”
Martin didn’t share that goal until his No. 5 team showed such muscle and determination to get him a chance at the championship. Now that it’s close, he wants it ó even if he won’t admit it. He gained 48 points in the standings Saturday night, and said afterward “it’s not enough.”
“I really, really would be a lot more comfortable with 150,” he said. “We will be fine if we finish how we run, absolutely. But, you know, I don’t have the greatest of confidence that the things we can’t control are going to be kind to us because we haven’t had an average year for those things. It hasn’t been average.
“But if it comes down to just flat out racing, and not a bunch of cautions and crashes and flat tires … if we can just go out and race for it, it’s going to be great.”
Especially if there’s more finishes like Saturday night.

Comments

Comments closed.

Local

Catawba holds baccalaureate services for Class of 2021

News

$9M settlement for two men wrongfully sent to death row

Nation/World

China lands spacecraft on Mars in latest advance for its space program

Business

Gas crunch hits Washington; Colonial Pipeline paid nearly $5 million in Bitcoin ransome

Coronavirus

State mostly returns to normal operations after 15 months of lockdowns, restrictions

Crime

Blotter: Man accused of stealing car, crashing it

Crime

Man faces new charge of attempted murder for father’s shooting

BREAKING NEWS

Gov. Cooper lifts indoor mask mandate for most situations, gathering limits

Crime

Barnes gets new punishment of two life sentences in Tutterow couple’s 1992 murder

High School

High school football: State’s top honor goes to Jalon Walker

Local

Scout’s Honor: With dedication of flag retirement box, Salem Fleming earns Eagle Scout rank

College

North Carolina king, queen of NCAA lacrosse tourneys

Education

Kannapolis seniors walk elementary schools

Local

Local real estate company employees come out in force to build Habitat house

Local

Quotes of the week

Coronavirus

Auditors find oversight lacking for $3 billion of state’s pandemic aid

Nation/World

When will gas situation return to normal?

Local

Rowan native Shuping posthumously receives Concord Police Department’s Medal of Valor, Purple Heart

News

GOP measure on penalties for rioting draws fire

News

Black high school softball player told to cut hair

Coronavirus

State shows 303 COVID-19 deaths in Rowan

Coronavirus

CDC: Fully vaccinated people can largely ditch masks indoors

Crime

One arrested, another hospitalized in Castor Road stabbing

China Grove

China Grove Roller Mill open for tours Saturday