Mark Martin -Great Year, Falls Short

Martin's great year falls short By Shawn A. Akers NEW YORK (Dec. 3, 1998) In any other season, Mark Martin would most likely have had his day as the NASCAR Winston Cup champion. Seven wins, a whopping 22 top-five finishes, three Bud...

Martin's great year falls short By Shawn A. Akers

NEW YORK (Dec. 3, 1998) In any other season, Mark Martin would most likely have had his day as the NASCAR Winston Cup champion.

Seven wins, a whopping 22 top-five finishes, three Bud Poles, a victory in The Winston all-star race at Charlotte and over $3.2 million in winnings -- almost everything went Martin's way in 1998.

Martin was great. Jeff Gordon, however, was simply awesome.

Gordon posted a modern era record-tying 13 victories and an unbelievable 25 top-fives in 33 starts on his way to his second consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup championship, leaving Martin on the outside looking in for the third time in his illustrious career.

"We had an awesome year, the best year of my life," said Martin, the driver of Roush Racing's No. 6 Valvoline/Cummins Ford. "These guys on the Valvoline crew, they gave me the best cars I've ever had and you can't argue with the success we've had this year.

"But the 24 team, they were just the best out there this year. They didn't make any mistakes, and they were able to win it again. Yeah, we're disappointed with not winning the championship, but we can't say that we're disappointed with the season we had because it was just awesome."

A great year, anyway. About the only trouble Martin ever encountered was in the restrictor-plate races. His best finish in four efforts was 16th in the October Pepsi 400. He finished 38th in the Daytona 500, 23rd in the DieHard 500 at Talladega in the spring and 34th in the Winston 500 at Talladega in the fall.

But perhaps the most devastating blow to Martin's championship hopes came at Darlington in the Pepsi Southern 500. Trailing Gordon by 67 points in the title chase coming in, Martin's Ford developed engine problems after a strong early run, and he wound up finishing 40th.

That left Martin 199 points behind Gordon with nine races left, and with Gordon winning three of those and finishing second in four others, it didn't leave Martin much of a chance.

The year started horribly for Martin and his Jimmy Fennig-led team, with a 38th-place finish in the Daytona 500. It marked only one of five times, however, that Martin would finish outside the top-20 all year.

Win number one came in the inaugural Las Vegas 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Four races later, Martin was back in victory lane again at Texas Motor Speedway following the Texas 500.

A pair of mediocre finishes at Martinsville and Talladega dropped Martin two places to sixth in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, but it was as low as he would get for the remainder of the season. He followed those up with a win at California, and then took the checkered flag in The Winston at Charlotte for the first time in his NASCAR Winston Cup career.

Another win at Michigan in the Miller Lite 400 in June put Martin in third place in the standings. He jumped to second with a second-place run at Loudon, N.H., in July and closed in on Gordon, but could never overtake the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Refinishes Chevrolet.

Beginning at New Hampshire, Martin posted four straight second-place finishes and seven straight top-fives, including a victory in the Goody's 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. However, Gordon scored four straight victories in the same stretch.

Win number six was perhaps Martin's most dominant, in the MBNA Gold 400 at Dover Downs. Two weeks later, he would notch his final victory of the season in the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte.

In the midst of his run for a championship, Martin was courageously forced to deal with the tragic death of his father, who was killed in a private plane crash along with Mark's step-mother and step-sister.

"My father would have been proud of us for what we did this year," Martin said.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Mark Martin