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Pedley: It’s A Big Day For Martin’s Career

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 11 2009
Mark Martin will start the race at Auto Club as points leader, but will he be when the race ends? (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Mark Martin will start the race at Auto Club as points leader, but will he still be that when the race ends? (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The old gut is telling me two things this morning. First, too many habanero nachos before bed last night. Second, the 28-year Cup-racing career of Mark Martin will be defined by Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

Yes, there will be six more events after the series leaves Fontana late Sunday afternoon. But, saith the gut, Martin wins or loses the championship at the track which sits in that smoggy, dusty industrial basin 50-miles east of Los Angeles.

Those following the Martin saga this year seem to be divided into two camps when it comes down to how 2009 will be treated in the racing history books.

Some think this is the season in which he tears free of the image of being NASCAR’s most adorable heartbreak kid. Others think that that image will only be strengthened by yet another near miss in his bid for the 2009 championship.

The former tend to believe that Martin’s decision to throw in with Hendrick Motorsports and put himself into one of those wonderful Chevrolet Impalas which have so dominated the series in recent years is a matter of kismet. They think all the near misses and emotion-numbing disappointments of the past are leading up to a big finish for the 50-year-old driver.

They think there is a God and that the karma of racing cleanly and fairly for almost three decades will result in the big payoff for Martin. They think that three years before the oft-predicted end of the world occurs, Martin will get his Sprint Cup championship.

The latter group forecasts a darker view of how Martin’s career will shake out. They foresee a more modern-Hollywood ending. One in which the hero is run over by a cement truck.

The second group kind of sees this season – one in which Martin as won races and led the points and leads the points after the first three races of the 10-race playoff – as a huge setup and that only a rolling bowling ball awaits Martin as the Chase races to a conclusion.

Me? Well, at this point the gut is telling me only that this weekend’s Pepsi 500 will give us the big clue.

Martin won the Chase opener in New Hampshire. He followed it up with a second-place finish at Dover.

But at Kansas, a crack appeared in the foundation. One that mud jacking might not fix.

Martin finished seventh. It marked the first time in six races that he had not finished in the top five of a race.

And while he managed to keep his points lead, he could not have been too happy with what he saw as he looked behind him. Jimmie Johnson is just 18 points back. And further back, five other drivers are within 100 points of him this week and seven are within 115.

In that group are some mighty tough drivers and teams. Championship-winners, no less.

In his post-race interview at Kansas last Sunday, Martin was a little more short with the media and the questions.

When somebody tried to suggest that he must still feel good because he drove well and still has the points lead, Martin got a bit huffy.

“Yeah, you can look at anything any way you want,” Martin said. “I did and I didn’t. I extended on the 48 but I didn’t on several guys.  Look at it however you want. It’s a race, OK? Every race, that’s how you score points. 
 “What is there, seven more to go? I don’t think we should be getting all hyped up about the tally right now, you know.  We’ve got a lot of racing to go. The races are actually what determines it. We had a good race, a good result based off of being a whisker off.”

Are seismic pressures grinding away at Martin?

This weekend, the crack widens or it gets patched.

That’s what the gut says, anyway. Well that, and go easier on the habaneros late at night.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 11 2009
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