Comeback Kids: Martin and The Viagra Race Team Move From Last To Top-Five With eight races to go in the Chase, Martin has climbed 38 spots to join the top-five "It's been the hardest thing I think I've ever done," said Martin. "I just can't say...
Comeback Kids: Martin and The Viagra Race Team Move From Last To Top-Five
With eight races to go in the Chase, Martin has climbed 38 spots to join the top-five
"It's been the hardest thing I think I've ever done," said Martin. "I just can't say enough about this race team and what they've done."
CONCORD, N.C. (Sept. 29, 2004) * It's been a wild year to say the least for Mark Martin and the Viagra (sildenafil citrate) Team. To say it has been a year of up's and down's doesn't do justice to the roller coaster ride that Martin and his team embarked on in February. Above all, theirs is a story of determination and drive and a never quit mentality that has Martin and the No. 6 team poised to make a run at the inaugural Nextel Cup Trophy. Along the way eight major failures could only slow Martin's continued movement to the top, as the veteran driver broke into the coveted top 10 by the 25th race and posted a top-five finish at Richmond to secure his berth in the 10-car playoff.
Behind the new-found boost of the Roush/Yates Engine alliance, spirits were high for Martin and the team going into the season opening Daytona 500. Martin's Ford had been strong throughout Speedweeks and the team had posted fourth place finishes in both the Budweiser Shootout and Twin-125's. The optimism was short lived, with Martin losing his engine on only the seventh lap of the race and being forced to settle for a last place (43rd) finish. The team would have its work cut out if Martin was to make the final 10 in the Race for the Championship.
"This is a tough set back," said Martin after the 500. "It's not often that we feel that we have a car good enough to contend for a win at the Daytona 500, but we really thought we did this year. Unfortunately we had a problem today and we'll have to start in the back going into next week."
In what would become the postmark of the No. 6 Team in 2004, the Viagra Team quickly rebounded, gaining 31 positions in the next four races. A seventh-place finish at Darlington moved Martin into 12th place only five races into the season. However the team would face a couple of setbacks over the next three races, and after a failed fuel line ended what was a top-five run at Martinsville in mid April, Martin fell all the way back to 18th in the Nextel Cup point standings.
Martin used two top-10 finishes in the next three races to climb back to 12th in the points, as the team headed into the famed Coca-Cola 600, but two failed ignition boxes midway through the race put another end to what had been a strong run, and Martin dropped back to 15th position. The team again rebounded with a win at Dover and at 13th, Martin looked poised to make a run heading into what is normally his strongest part of the schedule.
"We were really heartbroken after what happened at Charlotte," said Martin. "But the team said 'hey, don't worry about it, we are just going to go out and win Dover,' and they did that. We have a great race team and they have done a great job. We've had our share of problems but these guys keep coming back."
However, back-to-back 36th (engine) and 34th (transmission) place finishes at Pocono and Michigan seemed to all but put an end to the team's chances at the top 10, with the team back to 16th in the points.
"This is going to be tough to come back from," said Martin after the finish at Pocono. "It was going to be really hard anyway, but we've spotted a lot of great race teams a lot of spots and we've dug quite a hole for ourselves. We keep bringing fast racecars to the track, but you have to be able to finish and we haven't done that. I just hate it for the guys on this team, because so much of this is out of our control and they really haven't gotten the finishes that their efforts deserve."
Once again the Viagra Team refused to give up, as Martin put together a pair of top-eight finishes at Infineon and Daytona, and Martin went into Chicagoland in 14th place in the standings, boasting one of the strongest cars of the weekend. Martin ran in the top-five for the bulk of the race, but lost the engine with just two laps remaining, while running in third place. The set-back dropped Martin back to 15th in the points, but again the team would pick up the pieces and move forward. Two weeks later a second-place run at Pocono put the team back in the game as Martin climbed back to 13th in the points heading into Indy, a race the team felt they could win.
Martin was strong at the Brickyard 400 and after 400 miles he found himself in fourth place and just 30 points outside of the coveted top-10. However, a late caution brought out the circuits first ever green-white-checkered scenario and the bad luck continued as Martin cut a tire on his Viagra Ford on the races final lap and fell back to a 25th place finish. Once again despite having one of the fastest cars on the track the team found itself back in 15th place in the points.
"After we had had the problem at Chicago, the team just said 'let's go after Indy," said Martin. "And we did that. We weren't winning, but we were up in the front and had one of the fastest cars late in the race. For 400 miles we were a top-five car, but we had to run an extra lap and we cut a tire on that lap. At that point you really could not have blamed anyone for giving up, but nobody did. The guys just regrouped and went out and brought me a fast car the next week.
"We were in a position where we could not afford to run badly at all during those five races and we absolutely couldn't afford anymore bad luck. There pretty much was zero room for anything to go wrong."
With its backs against the wall, the No. 6 racing team headed to Watkins Glen in mid August for the second and final road course race of the season. With only five races remaining before the cut off it was simply do or die for Martin and the Viagra Team who were in 15th place. Five other drivers and 123 points separated Martin from 10th place and a place in the 10-race playoff. Martin would not only have to gain 123 points to make the cut off, but he would have to beat five other drivers to do it.
The team responded with the heart champions are made of. A third-place finish at The Glen would be the first of four top-five runs Martin would post in those final five races. The run at Watkins Glen moved Martin back up to 13th. A solid second-place effort the following week at Michigan advanced the No. 6 to 12th, and the team held serve the following week at Bristol, staying out of trouble and holding onto the 12th spot.
With the intensity at a fever pitch, Martin responded with a third-place finish at California, to move into the top-10 for the first time of the season. Martin would need one more solid finish at Richmond to secure his spot in the race, and head into the playoff as the hottest driver on the circuit.
"I don't even want to talk about the top-10," said Martin moments after the race in Fontana. "Ask me about that next week, because it's not over until then. I will say that I sure hope this team makes it in and that we have a shot to run for that Championship. We really shouldn't even be talking about this, because if it had not have been for all the bad luck we'd be somewhere around fifth now. This is a top-five race team, whether we're in the top-10 after next week or not."
"But I'll tell you this * we might forget where we finished in the points this year, but I'll never forget the effort given by this team this year."
With the pressure at an all-time high, the veteran responded with another top-five run at Richmond to move all the way up to eighth place as the top-10 teams moved into the playoff. The No. 6 Viagra Teamed had battled through multiple bouts of adversity to land a place in the 10-team, 10-race playoff to decide the Nextel Champion.
"I tell you what, it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do," said a near exhausted Martin shortly after the conclusion of the Richmond race. "We've had to overcome so much, but nobody gave up. I can't say enough about Pat (Tryson) and the job this team has done.
"Life kept knocking them and they just kept getting up and coming back," added Martin. "Every time something would happen, these guys would just get up and come back at it with that much more drive."
Martin used a solid run at Loudon to move to seventh and a second-place finish at Dover in the second race of the playoff moved him into to a tie for fourth place with Jimmie Johnson as the teams head into the third race of the Chase this weekend at Talladega.
Martin is currently 57 points outside of first, tied with Johnson, but behind due to number of wins. The team has reeled off five-top 10 finishes in the last seven races and six in the last nine. In fact, all but one of Martin's eight top-five finishes in 2004 has come since June 6.
"This is truly a great race team," said Martin. "And no matter what happens, nothing can take away what these guys have already been able to do. I believe we have the best team in the business right now and I think that the performance backs that up every week."