Martin's last chance

Mark Martin needs to turn his disco ball on and pull out a can of silly string. For what is conceivably his last season in NASCAR Nextel Cup racing, Martin is on his final approach for what has always been most elusive to him: a Cup series ...

Mark Martin needs to turn his disco ball on and pull out a can of silly string. For what is conceivably his last season in NASCAR Nextel Cup racing, Martin is on his final approach for what has always been most elusive to him: a Cup series championship.

In Martin's 25-year Cup series career he has finished second in the series championship four times. Martin tried to retire once already in 2005 but the sudden departure of Kurt Busch from Roush Racing forced Martin to give the Cup circuit and Jack Roush one more year.

Martin swore in 2005 that his aim was to try and have more fun, to try and gain some enjoyment from the sport that has given him so much as his career came to a close. Last season it did seem as if the always serious Martin was having the time of his life. But this year Martin's mood has been sullen.

Martin promises now that he has made the Chase that will change.

"I sort of feel energized right now," said Martin. "I have been so stressed for six weeks, I would call it sick. I promise I am going to have fun."

He made the Chase for the Championship in both years of its existence, finishing fourth in points each time. Martin has insisted that no matter what happens this is his last full time twirl on the NASCAR Cup merry-go- round.

"We just got up on the wheel and got it done there," said Martin of his sixth place run at RIR that got him into the Chase. "It means a lot to me. I was sure since May that we were gonna fall out of the chase when it got so close, but this is a good one for us tonight. We had to run good and in the middle of the race we weren't running good enough to get it done."

Over the years from listening to Martin talk he gives the impression that he believes a Cup series championship is just not in his cards. That the hand he has been dealt does not include that kind of footnote in history.

Yet, when Martin stepped out of his car at Richmond there was a glint of hope in his eye.

"We're a long shot," said Martin of winning the title this year. "But Cinderella stories can happen."

And what a Cinderella story it would be, just minus the dancing rats, evil stepsisters and glass slippers.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kurt Busch , Jack Roush , Mark Martin