Phoenix II: Mark Martin preview

POINTS BATTLE: With a fourth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday, Mark Martin and the Kellogg's/CARQUEST team gained 111 points on teammate and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship leader Jimmie Johnson. Martin remains second in the...

POINTS BATTLE: With a fourth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday, Mark Martin and the Kellogg's/CARQUEST team gained 111 points on teammate and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship leader Jimmie Johnson. Martin remains second in the standings and is now just 73 points out of the lead.

LEADER SCENARIO: There are many possibilities in which Martin can take over the points lead after Sunday's race at Phoenix. For instance, if Martin wins and leads the most laps, he would become the new championship leader if Johnson finishes 14th or worse and doesn't lead a lap. For perspective, a driver who wins and leads the most laps can make up 161 points on another driver who finishes 43rd and doesn't lead a lap.

GOING FOR THE SWEEP: Martin won the April event at Phoenix International Raceway, marking his first Sprint Cup victory in 98 starts. Martin's Phoenix win was his first of five this season and made him the fourth driver older than 50 to win in NASCAR's elite series. Martin started the April 18, 2009, race from the pole position and led 157 laps on his way to Victory Lane.

AT PHOENIX: Martin's April victory was his second career win at Phoenix. He scored his first victory at the one-mile track on Oct. 31, 1993. Martin started third that day and led 212 of 312 laps for the win. In 25 Cup starts at PIR, Martin also has earned 10 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s.

BEST AVERAGE: Martin's average finish of ninth at Phoenix International Raceway is his best at any oval track on the Sprint Cup schedule. Only Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International has been kinder to the driver, who owns a 7.8 average finish on the road course.

OF THE CHASERS: Martin and Johnson are the only Chase for the Championship contenders with multiple victories at Phoenix with two and three wins, respectively. Martin leads all Chasers with 10 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s at the one-mile oval. Martin has the second-best average finish (9.0) and has led more laps (833) than any other Chase driver.

DRIVER RATING: Martin earned a driver rating of 145.6 out of a possible 150 score in the April race at Phoenix. NASCAR's driver rating is determined by a formula that combines the following categories: wins, finishes, top-15 finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, most laps led and lead-lap finish.

LOOP STATISTICS: During the past nine races at Phoenix International Raceway, Martin has earned the third-best driver rating of 102.2. His average running position of 11.4 is the fifth-best among the drivers competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

CAREER YEAR FOR GUSTAFSON: Crew chief Alan Gustafson has led the No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST team for five years, and the 2009 season is his best to date. Gustafson's five wins, 13 top-five finishes, seven poles and 805 laps led are career-bests for the 34-year-old crew chief. His 20 top-10 finishes tie his 2007 season record.

THREE WINS FOR THE NO. 5: Phoenix is a special track for the No. 5 team, which earned Hendrick Motorsports' first PIR win Oct. 30, 1994, with Terry Labonte behind the wheel. Under the direction of Gustafson, the No. 5 team earned its second victory there on Nov. 13, 2005, and third on April 18, 2009, marking the first win for Martin at Hendrick Motorsports.

THE NO. 5 AT PHOENIX: Since 2005, when Gustafson took the helm, the Kellogg's/CARQUEST team has earned two wins, two pole positions and four top-10 finishes at Phoenix.

DOUBLE WINNING CHASSIS: Gustafson has chosen Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 5-538 for Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway. This is the same chassis that Martin drove to victory at PIR in April and at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September.

HENDRICK AT PHOENIX: Hendrick Motorsports, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has seven wins, 23 top-five finishes and 44 top-10s in 26 races (91 starts) at Phoenix International Raceway.

ON A ROLL: Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won five straight races at Phoenix, with Martin most recently visiting Victory Lane in April. Johnson earned the three previous victories, while Jeff Gordon won the April 21, 2007, contest after starting from the pole position. During the last nine races at the track, Hendrick Motorsports drivers have claimed six victories and six pole positions.

MARK MARTIN, DRIVER, NO. 5 KELLOGG'S/CARQUEST CHEVROLET (ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE.): "We can't say that one race changed everything. Did we close in on Jimmie (Johnson)? Yes. But that doesn't mean that the whole Chase has changed. We're going to keep doing what we've done every race week: try to win. That's all I can do, and that's all this team can do. We aren't in control of anything else that happens. I've said all along that you can't make predictions, and I still say that it's not over. There are a lot more guys in contention than just me and Jimmie. The race is still on for all of us."

MARTIN (ON THE TEAM'S PERFORMANCE IN THE FINAL TWO RACES.): "We were great in Phoenix in April. I have no doubt that we'll run strong there again this weekend. And there's no reason for me to think that we won't have a strong race in Homestead (Fla.) either. Performance-wise, this is one of the best teams out there, and I am so proud and feel so blessed to be driving for (owner) Rick Hendrick and Alan Gustafson and the whole Kellogg's/CARQUEST team. It's going to be a tough fight, but it's not over."

MARTIN (ON WINNING AT PHOENIX IN APRIL.): "That was such an incredible night. I knew going into the race that we had a really, really good race car. I knew that we had a very good shot at winning, and I didn't want to disappoint any of the guys on this team because you could see it in their faces that they were excited. We went out there and the car was nearly perfect all night. We had great pit stops, and when the yellow came out there at the end I thought, 'You've got to be kidding me!' We held Tony (Stewart) off, and crossing that finish line was such a mix of gratitude, disbelief and relief. I couldn't believe we won. It was just an amazing night. All of the people that came into Victory Lane that night, that blew me away. It still does. That's what I race for. It's the people, not the trophies. And I'll never forget them all coming to shake my hand and the things they said. That night was incredible, and I owe that to Rick (Hendrick) and Alan (Gustafson). They gave me this opportunity, and we are making the most of every minute."

ALAN GUSTAFSON, CREW CHIEF, NO. 5 KELLOGG'S/CARQUEST CHEVROLET: (ON THE TEAM'S APRIL WIN AT PHOENIX.): "It was our first win of the season, which is always a big deal. It was a great weekend for us. We had a good car in practice and a great qualifying effort with the pole. We had a strong car throughout the night and didn't have to chase it much throughout the race. The (No.) 2 was really strong, and the (No.) 14 was strong. But anytime you can win is a big deal. It was the first one for Mark (Martin, driver) in awhile and the first one for the team in awhile. It's just nice to get that win and get back to Victory Lane. As much success as we've had at Phoenix as a team, it's a place that we feel really comfortable and confident going back to. It's a fun track to race on, even if you haven't had success there. Pit strategy always comes into play. It's an interesting track, and I enjoy going there."

GUSTAFSON (ON JIMMIE JOHNSON'S EARLY ACCIDENT AT TEXAS.): "The first thing I saw was the opportunity to gain points. My initial thought was, 'This is opening the door for us to make the championship closer.' Not that you're not focused on that anyway, but the first thing I thought of was that we had to somehow or another get a really good finish, if not win the race. His accident just magnified that need. You hate to see anyone get caught up in an accident like that. But that's part of the sport. It happens."

GUSTAFSON (ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP.): "More so than the points, the performance of the team at Texas made me feel better. We got back on our feet after having three weeks that, I felt, we didn't get the finish we deserved. At Charlotte (N.C.), we didn't operate at the level we needed to. At Martinsville (Va.), we gave up four or five spots at the end of the race. And at Talladega (Ala.), we got caught in a crash. That stuff starts to weigh on you. It's nice to get back to performing well and getting the finish we deserve, if not overachieving a little at Texas. Good adjustments, a great pit crew and good strategy maybe got us a better finish than we had car. That gives you confidence and momentum. Even if Jimmie hadn't had issues, I would have felt better after Texas just by getting back on track and gaining that momentum."

GUSTAFSON (ON THE POSSIBILITY OF WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP.): "Yes. There's no question we can do it. We can outperform the No. 48 the next two weeks. The question is, will we and by how much? We have to focus on doing that. A lot of it is perspective, and I've tried to explain that to the guys and handle myself that way. After Lowe's, we went from a 30-point deficit to an 80-point deficit. We were all disappointed. Now we go from a 184-point deficit to a 73-point deficit, which is the same thing, but the perspective is different. Now we're going the right way. That may add extra momentum to this team. It makes a difference. We're going the right way now, which is really important."

GUSTAFSON (ON HIS RECORD SEASON.): "It's good. It feels good. Time will tell if we can win the championship or not. That will have huge implications on how I feel about the season. We're trying to be the best, so that's the ultimate goal. As far as having my career-best year, it's a good accomplishment, but I also feel that that's the way it should be. I've invested a lot of time and this team has invested a lot of time on improving the team and our chances. Countless hours have been spent trying to get this team to championship level. We should get better every year. And I think we're doing our job. We want to be the best, and I think we're close to it."

-credit: hm

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Terry Labonte , Jimmie Johnson , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports