Martin seeks boost

Martin seeks boost after down year By Marty Smith NEW YORK (Dec. 1, 2000) Mark Martin's 2000 season might be described as an unlucky one depite an eighth-place finish in the points race. Mark Martin's once-stout NASCAR Winston Cup Series ...

Martin seeks boost after down year
By Marty Smith

NEW YORK (Dec. 1, 2000) Mark Martin's 2000 season might be described as an unlucky one depite an eighth-place finish in the points race. Mark Martin's once-stout NASCAR Winston Cup Series program seemed destined for championship bliss, but fell on hard times in 2000. Now, they look to the arrival of new sponsor Viagra to help them regain their winning ways. Two years ago, Martin won seven races en route to a career-high second-place finish in the championship standings, and at the time it seemed inevitable that the Valvoline Ford would soon claim the throne. However, much has changed lately in the Roush Racing stable, including the onset of long winless periods and the departure of Martin's longtime primary sponsor.

Martin won just once in NASCAR 2000, and has just three victories over the past two seasons. Not since 1991-92 had he gone two seasons without at least four victories. He finished eighth in the final point standings, due in large part to six DNFs, his highest total since 1994. He hadn't finished outside the top-5 in points since 1992, and had finished no worse than sixth since his rookie campaign in 1988, when he finished 15th.

"This gets harder every year," Martin said. "The preparation you did last year is never enough for the next year. There are always teams out there that force you to raise the bar. Next year we intend to be one of those teams. We hope to be the ones that everyone uses to set their goals for 2002."

Martin came from nowhere to earn his lone victory this season, the April 9 affair at Martinsville Speedway. He used a late-race gamble, staying out on the final stop when leader Rusty Wallace pitted, just to be in position to win.

There is no question Wallace had the best car that day, leading 230 of the first 253 laps before a blown tire forced him a lap down. Even then, he battled back to the lead. He was the race leader when Jerry Nadeau spun on lap 436, bringing out the caution. Wallace dove to pit road, but Martin stayed out, having pitted for tires on the race's previous caution 25 laps earlier.

That move propelled him to Victory Lane.

"I don't think the fastest car won," said Dale Earnhardt following Martin's win, "but the smartest man did."

Overall, Martin had a decent year statistically, notching 13 top-5s and 20 top-10s. Only two drivers had more top-5s. Just six drivers fared better in the top-10 department. Martin even led the point standings for a week, following the spring event at Talladega, the ninth race on the 34-race slate.

"The problems we had throughout the year had nothing to do with the strength of our team," Martin said. "This is probably the best team I have ever been involved with. The effort they put into their work did not equal the results we ended up with at the end of the season. I didn't have the strongest car at Martinsville, but we won the race. On the other hand, there were several races like the Daytona 500, Talladega in April and Loudon in July that we should have won, but didn't."

Bad luck reigned supreme in the No. 6 Taurus this season. A few examples:

*Martin led 65 laps at the Daytona 500 and was in second-place with 13 laps to go. He then attempted to pass Johnny Benson with the promise of drafting help from Dale Jarrett, but was left out of the draft and finished the race fifth.

*Martin led 98 laps at Talladega in April and was in command of the race when the caution flew with 11 laps to go. On the restart, Jeff Gordon and Mike Skinner lined up between Martin and Jeff Burton, so Martin lost his drafting partner. He held off the two Chevrolets until the final four laps, but their run to front sent him back to a sixth place finish.

*Martin was third at New Hampshire in July and had the best fuel mileage of any team. Tony Stewart and Joe Nemechek were both ahead of Martin, but both would have to pit one more time for fuel before the race ended. Unfortunately for Martin, the race ended sooner than expected when it began to rain with 27 laps to go and the remainder of the race was canceled.

*Martin also had a shot at the win in Watkins Glen. It came down to the final laps between Martin and Steve Park. Park had gained a one-second lead while Martin and Burton battled for second place. Once Martin got by him, he chipped away at Park's lead for the final 10 laps. Had there been a few more laps, he could have earned his fourth career win at the road course.

"Ever since Martinsville in October, I have been really pleased with the cars I have driven," Martin said. "Our pit stops have improved every week. Based on where we finished this year despite our bad luck, I think the changes we began in the last 10 races will carry over to give us a strong start for Daytona next year."

One of the most newsworthy happenings for Martin this year came when Roush Racing announced that the Pfizer Corp. and its Viagra brand would sponsor Martin's Fords beginning next year. The silver and gray of the Viagra brand will take the place of the red, white and blue of Valvoline, which had a 12-year relationship with the team.

Maybe Pfizer will be able to help a slumping team find its way back to Victory Lane once again.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Mike Skinner , Joe Nemechek , Jerry Nadeau , Johnny Benson , Steve Park. , Mark Martin