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Cup Notes: Martin Stays Proud

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 22 2009
Mark Martin came up a smidge short – again. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Mark Martin came up a smidge short – again. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Homestead, Fla. – Mark Martin looked exhausted and sounded dispirited, but his words belied appearances after Sunday’s season-ending Ford 400.

“There’s no frustration,’’ the 50-year-old said Sunday after Jimmie Johnson relegated Martin to his fifth second-place finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. “I’m very proud of what we accomplished. On top of all that I had more fun than anybody.”

Few people – even Mark Martin fans – expected the longtime stock car star to compete for a title after two years of part-time racing and in his first year with Hendrick Motorsports. But compete he did, winning five races and forcing teammate Johnson to race to the finish Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway to wrap up his unprecedented fourth straight title.

“I finally picked the hardest one ever to try to win,’’ Martin said. “But my race team was so awesome…..the 5 car.  I just want to thank the fans and the competitors.  Their support means more to me than that (championship) trophy. I swear.

“This has been great and has been the best year I could ever dream of and it was an honor and a privilege to have a shot at it. We didn’t do it, but we gave them a run for it anyway and we tried hard. … My equipment is just as good, but I am not as good as Jimmie Johnson.”

It’s been a long, tough season, even for guys  considerably younger than Martin. But, after congratulating Johnson after the race and catching his breath, Martin said he’s already looking forward to next year.

“First time I can remember that I’m not glad it’s over with,’’ he said.

The Kid wins

No big surprise but much-heralded Joey Logano is the 2009 Cup Rookie of the Year.

The 19-year-old is the youngest driver to ever win the honor and he didn’t have much competition, especially after winning at New Hampshire in July, the youngest winner ever in the Cup series.

“It’s really cool to get the Raybestos Rookie of the Year,’’ said Logano, who took over the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota previously driven by two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart.  “It’s obviously one of our big goals.

“We had a real rough start and finished 20 th in the points, which I guess is okay. In the beginning of the season if you had told me that’s where we were going to finish I’d have been ecstatic about it, but now you always want better.

“It was tough at times believe me,’’ added Logano, who finished 24th Sunday. “You know the media wasn’t saying the greatest things. But, if anything, it’s more motivating.  You really want to keep pushing it and become a better race car driver. I was getting a little self confidence out of Nationwide car which was helping me there and just kept pushing it and trying to learn these race cars as much as I can. I’m not there yet, but I feel like we made big step.’’

Finishing strong

Kurt Busch said goodbye to crew chief Pat Tryson Sunday after the two combined for a solid fourth-place finish in the race and in the season points.

Tryson announced weeks ago that he was leaving Penske Racing for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010. But, despite that, the crew chief and driver managed to hold onto some of their chemistry and race well to the end.

“What defines our year was perseverance, hard work and just being first in class this year,’’ said Busch, who races a Dodge. “We fought hard to be fourth overall because those Hendrick cars are tough to beat.’’

Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon finished 1-2-3 in the points, all driving Chevrolets.

Busch said the team is close to naming a new crew chief and is looking both inside the Penske team and outside as well.

RCR moving up

Richard Childress Racing had a tough season, with none of its four entries qualifying for the Chase for the championship. But the team showed definite signs of improvement in the waning days of the season, particularly from Jeff Burton.

The veteran racer finishing second in each of the last two races of 2009 and teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer finished third and 11th, respectively, on Sunday.

“Hopefully, we can continue to improve this winter because I know a lot of our competition is, and we can come out and be strong next year,’’ Burton said.

“It’s been a good last several months,’’ said Harvick, who has said he will leave RCR after his contract is up at the end of next season. “Really since Sears Point (in July), I think the cars have shown the speed that they needed to. We’ve crashed a lot and made a lot of mistakes from all angles. But the speed has been there and now we just need to get the consistency back and do the things we’ve always been known for as a company.’’

To be inspected

NASCAR officials announced after the race that all cars had passed technical inspection.

They also announced that the cars of  Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin would be confiscated and taken to the series research and development center in Concord, N.C. for a thorough inspection.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 22 2009
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