It's not easy to describe Mark Martin as a hungry driver. The 46-year-old Roush Racing pilot is the winningest driver in Busch Series history and exudes all the coolness of a cagey veteran. But don't let the carefree talk outside the car fool...
It's not easy to describe Mark Martin as a hungry driver.
The 46-year-old Roush Racing pilot is the winningest driver in Busch Series history and exudes all the coolness of a cagey veteran. But don't let the carefree talk outside the car fool you. When Martin straps himself into a racecar, he does it for one reason - to win.
Martin dominated the race, taking the lead for the first time from pole-sitter Tony Stewart seven laps into the event. He led a race-high 102 laps and took the checkered flag more than half a second ahead of fellow Cup-regular Kevin Harvick.
"It is pretty special - I know there aren't too many more out there for me," said Martin, who won the Cup race at California in 1998. "We had such an awesome car. I was real concerned about finishing the race at night, but that thing was just fast - it didn't care."
On the final re-start of the race with eight laps to go, Martin led Harvick, Shane Hmiel, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards to the green flag. Harvick edged the nose of his Reese's Chevrolet and tried to take a bite out of Martin's back bumper, but Martin held him off and put his Pennzoil Ford into victory lane.
"He got away from me a little bit, but I couldn't make the ground up," said Harvick, who surged into third on lap 119 and took second from Stewart on lap 120. "It was too little, too late. It was good to see Martin win here in his final year."
Roush drivers have dominated the Busch events at California - Greg Biffle swept both events last year at the two mile oval and Kenseth has three wins, including back-to-back checkers at California in 1999 and 2000. Biffle lasted just 29 laps on Saturday but Kenseth finished ninth and Edwards brought his #60 Ford in sixth.
Martin and Stewart exchanged the lead before Hmiel, who started fifth, took the point when he elected not to pit under caution on lap 50. Hmiel, who had the fastest car in the final practice session on Friday, paced the field for 19 laps before Stewart charged back into the lead on lap 69. Two laps later, Stewart made a nice save when his car bobbled with Martin closing in on the lead. Martin took the lead on the next lap.
After starting 17th, Kenseth surged into the top five early in the race. He beat the field off of pit road under caution on lap 82 to take the lead for the first time. Martin jumped up to the front shortly after the green flag dropped.
"We really didn't have that good of a car," admitted Kenseth. "I was doing all I could to keep them behind me."
There were eight cautions during the race, including rain delays that brought the yellow flag out on lap 110 and again 13 laps later. The race was red-flagged with 21 laps left on the board.
Martin was casual enough during the late race break to make a quick snack out of a sandwich he had stashed in his car.
"Mark Martin is the only guy at the race track that carries a lunch box with him in the race car," said Stewart, who plummeted to 29th in the final laps with a flat tire. "He's probably been snacking on it all day. That's how comfortable his race car was today."
Hmiel, Bowyer and rookie Reed Sorenson rounded out the top five.
"I thought we could run second, but Kevin and Mark were way better than me," said Hmiel, who equaled his career-best finish. "We overcame a lot (today). We came from dead last and that shows that we are going to be (good) all year."
"We had a little better car than we thought at the start," said Sorenson, the highest finishing rookie. "The car was awesome."
Defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. started ninth, but quickly dropped back in the field. He smacked the wall in Turn 3 after cutting a tire with 10 laps to go.
Cup regulars Joe Nemechek, Dale Jarrett, Jamie McMurray, Sterling Marlin and Michael Waltrip also ran the Busch race.
Jarrett, who last competed full time in the Busch Series in 1987, finished 10th in his first race in the junior circuit since 1999. Marlin has never competed full time in the Busch Series, but was making his second straight start after a 42nd place finish at Daytona last week. He finished 15th.