Martin’sville? Montoya’s-ville? Johnson’s-ville?
Mark Martin paced the field in the only practice session at Martinsville but had to settle for a fourth place starting spot for Sunday's race (photo courtesy: Geoff Burke, Getty Images Sport)
Entering Chase Race 6 at Martinsville Speedway (1 p.m. EST, ABC), fan-favorite Mark Martin stands second in NASCAR’s Chase standings based on his five 2009 wins—second only to three-time reigning Champion Jimmie Johnson, who with six wins leads the standings for the Sprint Cup Championship, to be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22.
In 43 career starts at Martinsville, Martin has two wins, 11 Top 5 finishes and 22 Top 10s to go along with three pole-position starting spots. In the midst of a dry spell that has kept him winless at Martinsville since 2000, Martin pondered how the institution of double-file restarts might affect things at the Virginia short track.
"No one really knew what to think when double-file restarts started at any track,” said the Hendrick Motorsports driver. “But so far, I think they've worked out really well. I don't worry about them too much. With how tight Martinsville is, it's probably going to get a little intense sometimes. But overall I don't think it will be any crazier than it has been in most other races."
Martin is among a group of the Sprint Cup elite ready to put last weekend’s frustrating night behind him; consider that four Chase drivers finished 30th or worse at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. But before rain threatened to wash out Friday’s qualifying round in Virginia, the Sprint Cup’ers were able to complete one practice session, with Martin pacing the lone exhibition session amid Chase contenders posting the top three speeds in the segment.
Martin led the field with a speed of 96.156 mph, while Earnhardt Ganassi’s Juan Pablo Montoya ran the second-fastest lap at 96.132 mph.
"We have had some great weekends this year,” Martin said prior to pacing the practice field. “We've done better and won more than I ever dreamed of. And with that, you've got to take the not-so-great weekends, too. And that's what happened [last weekend]. It's all in how you handle it.”
Martin’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, agreed with the driver of his No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet and said he is doing his best to keep driver and team focused on Chase Race 6 rather than to dwell on what happened last week in Charlotte.
“We just go to Martinsville; we really have no [other] choice,” Gustafson said. "The key for us is to run as well as we can. We can't control anyone else. We've kind of put ourselves in a position where we're in a hole. It's not like we have to go to Martinsville and gain back 90 points. We have to gain 90 by Homestead[-Miami Nov. 22].”
South Florida resident Montoya also is choosing to look forward rather than backwards. Montoya enters Chase Race 6 sitting sixth in the NASCAR Championship standings with four races to go before the Champion is crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22.
"We made the Chase, and up until Charlotte we had four Top 5s in a row,” he said. “That is very good, and we have had pretty good cars. Everybody on the team is doing such a good job that even last week we had a faster car than the No. 48 [Johnson]. I just go every week and run as hard as I can, and see what it brings us.”
But while Montoya isn’t looking back, he may be looking a tiny bit ahead....
"If we are still in the hunt by the time Talladega comes [Nov. 1], it is going to be a stressful race," said the driver of the No. 42. "It will be interesting to see what kind of strategy you play during the race because there [are] always two ways of looking at it: Do you need points, and you want to try and lead as many laps? Or do you play conservative, and [go for the win] at the end?"
“I still say, like I've said all along, we've got to get through Martinsville and Talladega,” said Martin. “Then we'll have a clear view of what's going to happen here with this Championship. Give us those two more races to see.”
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