Chase field Set for Sprint Cup March to Miami Championship
Montoya became the first non-U.S. born driver to make the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Playoff (photo courtesy: Chris Graythen, Getty Images Sport)
Fan favorite Martin, who has finished runner-up to the Champion four times, has his eyes on Sprint Cup’s biggest prize, to be crowned Nov. 22 in Miami.
For the sixth time this season, Mark Martin claimed the pole position in the No. 5 Chevrolet for the race at Richmond. Martin's pole was his 47th of his illustrious career and the fourth time he has grabbed the top starting spot at Richmond International Raceway.
“I didn't really expect to sit on the pole. I hoped to be fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth; in that range,” said Martin after qualifying at Richmond. “But we got a stellar lap with a stellar race car."
With a fourth-place finish at Race 26 in Richmond, Florida resident Mark Martin not only qualified for NASCAR’s Chase “playoffs” with a spot among the Top 12 drivers, but he’ll lead that pack on the merit of his Sprint Cup-leading four victories thus far in 2009. The 10-week Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship kicks in Sept. 20 at New Hampshire and will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway when a Champion is crowned Nov. 22. Great seats start at $55 and are available here.
“It was really good to be in the Top 5 all night,” said Martin. “We had a great race car and we did what we needed to do. The pressure’s off.”
The four wins Martin has entering the 10-race shootout tied ties him with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch, but Martin will lead the field with the No. 1 seed based on points standings through the first 26 races.
“We're the points leader, that's cool,” Martin said recently. “But it will be a lot cooler to be the points leader after Miami, you know? It's not how you start the Chase, it's how you finish it. We just have to go in every weekend on top of our game, ready to fight and ready to win races."
Martin had some work to do before getting in the Chase. He sat 10th in the Championship standings heading into Richmond but just 69 points ahead of 13th-place Brian Vickers. And only the Top 12 qualify to race for the NASCAR Championship, to be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22.
“Anybody that’s in the Chase can win this thing," said Martin. "All they have to do is get on a 10-race roll. I’m telling you, anybody in this Chase, can win. Watch out for Juan Montoya. I tell you, the guy’s running good, and he’s been points racing and they may go after it now.”
Martin was mentally prepared if he failed to make the Chase, but the veteran driver has been through plenty of disappointment before in a career that has seen him finish second in the championship four times.
“I wanted this team to make it,” Martin said. “Not so much for me, but for Alan [Gustafson, crew chief] and Rick [Hendrick, team owner] and all the guys at Hendrick Motorsports. Look, they have given me a season that was beyond my wildest dreams. I hoped I would win a race—one race. And I have gotten four of them.”
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