Chicagoland: Mark Martin - NASCAR spotlight

Mark Martin a top 10 contender as "Race for the Chase" continues DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 5, 2005) -- What a difference a year makes. After the 2004 Pepsi 400 at Daytona, Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) was still struggling to make the cut...

Mark Martin a top 10 contender as "Race for the Chase" continues

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 5, 2005) -- What a difference a year makes.

After the 2004 Pepsi 400 at Daytona, Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) was still struggling to make the cut for the inaugural Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Martin became one of the last drivers to qualify for the championship competition that was contested over the final 10 races.

Fast forward to 2005 and Martin is not only in the top 10, he's emerging as top contender. Heading into Sunday's USG SHEETROCK 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, Martin is eighth in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series point standings. The top 10 drivers, and any driver within 400 points of the leader, will compete in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup over the season's final 10 races.

Many observers thought last year was Martin's final chance to compete for the championship that has eluded him during his 23-year career. Yet, as Martin approaches retirement from fulltime competition in 2006, the current season is shaping up as one of his best. He spent three consecutive weeks in the top five before a 39th-place finish at Daytona dropped him to eighth.

A rebound from Saturday's disappointing finish would go a long way towards keeping Martin in the top 10. He has two top-10 finishes at Chicagoland which came in the series' first two visits to the track, in 2001 and 2002.

Last season, eight of the top 10 drivers in the standings following the Pepsi 400 earned a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Clearly, top 10 points positions are at a premium as the "Race for the Chase" gets underway. Martin, meanwhile, is leading a trend. The current top 10 includes three drivers over the age of 45 -- a notable difference compared to a year ago, when the average age of the top 10 was 30.3, and 40-year-old Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) was the senior-most driver. To date, 49-year-old Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) is ranked fifth while Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford), also 49, is 10th. Both Martin and Wallace are in the midst of their "farewell" seasons before retirement.

"This year sure is turning out well for us and I hope we can keep it going," said Martin. "It's really been a good year for me and Rusty both. That'd really be cool if both of us can make the Chase. That's the way we want to go out."

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Mark Martin