Martin to mark milestone in Phoenix

Martin to mark milestone in Phoenix

When Mark Martin straps himself into his Roush Racing Ford Taurus to take the green flag on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, he will become the 13th driver in the modern history of NASCAR to make his 600th start. Mark ...

When Mark Martin straps himself into his Roush Racing Ford Taurus to take the green flag on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, he will become the 13th driver in the modern history of NASCAR to make his 600th start.

Mark Martin.
Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom.
But Martin isn't much for stats, so he'll look at the race more as a stepping stone than a milestone.

Martin moved to fourth in the championship points standings after a dominant performance in Atlanta last weekend. He is looking to continue his tradition of strong finishes at Phoenix, and to make up ground on his teammate Kurt Busch, who leads the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup standings.

In 16 races at PIR, Martin has a win and has finished second five times. He has 13 top-10 finishes, including a 10th place run a year ago at the one-mile circuit.

"We've ran really well at Phoenix over the years and it's been a pretty strong track for us," said Martin, who qualified 22nd for Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 (3:00 p.m. ET on NBC). "We won there in 1993 and we'd like nothing more than to get a win on Sunday."

Martin has counted himself out of championship contention several times this season, only to enjoy a series of strong finishes that put him right back in the hunt. He racked up five top-5 finishes in the final seven races of the regular season to secure a spot in the Chase. After posting just one top-10 in the first six playoff races, Martin conceded that his chances for winning his first series championship were slipping away. His team battled back last weekend to lead 227 of 325 laps in Atlanta before finishing second to Jimmie Johnson.

"We just have such a great team," said Martin, the only driver in the top-10 that has started all 16 races in Phoenix. "The team effort is just incredible. I have the best guys I've ever had to work with in my racing career. I'm honored to be a part of this team."

Mark Martin.
Photo by Kurt Dahlstrom.
Martin will be racing the same Viagra Ford that he steered into victory lane at Dover in June. He also used it for a 12th place run at Martinsville two weeks ago.

"Hopefully it can get us another one," said crew chief Pat Tryson. "Mark has a good record at Phoenix, so we know what he's capable of doing there. It will just be up to us to make sure that we give him a good enough car to win and he'll take care of the rest."

Martin, who has spent more than half his life in stock car racing's premiere series, made his first Cup start at North Wilkesboro in 1981. The former ASA champion joined Jack Roush in 1988 and has made 542 consecutive starts since then.

"It's hard to believe that we've been around that long," said Martin, who has won 34 Cup races. "I've had the chance to live out my dreams over the past 20 years. I also have to thank all of the fans who have stuck with us throughout the years. Without their support we surely would not have been able to accomplish the things that we have.

"It also says a lot about Jack Roush," added Martin, who helped develop Roush Racing into NASCAR's first five-car team. "He got this thing started and stuck with it and he took a chance on me back in 1988 and here we are today."

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Series NASCAR-CUP