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This Year’s Chase for Cup Is One For The Ages

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 25 2009
Mark Martin is still strong enough to carry a checkered flag one-handed. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Mark Martin is still strong enough to carry a checkered flag one-handed. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Dover, Del. –  Strike up the band for the over-the-hill guys.

Much like 59-year-old golfer Tom Watson did in July when he dominated the British Open before losing in a playoff, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Mark Martin is energizing American sports fans by contending for a championship at the ripe old age of 50.

“My view is the guys and girls that are over 50 and that are enjoying this and are excited about it, I think that’s great. I really do,” said the 50-year-old Martin, who increased his lead in the Chase standings to 35 points over three-time champion Jimmie Johnson after winning Sunday’s Sylvania 300 in Loudon, N.H.

“It’s good for them and good for me. That’s really how I look at it.”

As he attempts to capture his first Cup title in his illustrious career, one of Martin’s biggest supporters is 53-year-old Bill Elliott, the 1988 Cup champion who is running a limited schedule this season for the Wood Brothers.

“I talked to Bill Elliott (on Wednesday) and he said ‘keep getting it. Keep beating those young guys,’” said Martin, who has five wins and six poles this season.

“He’s excited too.”

Brian Vickers, eighth in the Chase standings entering Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover, said he’s not surprised to see someone twice his age contend for the title.

“I have so much admiration and respect for Mark,” the 25-year-old Vickers said. “And with today’s modern medicine, technology and how we understand the body more so than say 50 years ago, I don’t see 50 as being old now.

“Why is he still doing so good at that age, I think, has less to do with his age and more to do with the fact that he is still really hungry. If he had won four championships, would he still be able to do it at 50?

“I think desire has more to do with it than age. Mark is hungry. I think he’s a huge threat to win the championship.”

On the other end of the age spectrum is 19-year-old Joey Logano, a former protégé of Martin, who became the youngest winner in the Cup Series when he went to victory lane at New Hampshire in July.

Because the majority of NASCAR drivers are in their mid-20s to mid-30s, Martin believes his and Logano’s achievements help keep more fans tuned into the sport.

“I think that just brings another element to what we’re doing than it would be if it was all one age group,” Martin said. “So you’ve got Joey, who won right around his 19th birthday, and you’ve got us on the other end of it.

“So I think that diversity excites kids that follow the sport and we’re working on the other end of it.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 25 2009
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