Mark Martin, from ‘broken man’ to Hall of Famer.
In 1983, Mark Martin was a “broken man” in every sense of the word.
“Physically and emotionally both … Economically,” Martin said in a teleconference last week.
At the time, the young man from Batesville, Arkansas, had endured three seasons with 51 starts in NASCAR’s Cup Series with five different owners, including Bud Reeder and Jim Stacy.
But after five starts in ’83, a $50,000 sponsorship deal Martin had fell through when the company failed to pay.
After finishing 33rd at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October, Martin returned to Arkansas. He soon moved to Wisconsin to revive his career in the American Speed Association Series, where he’d won three previous championships.
With his NASCAR dream in shambles, Martin never thought he would return to the Cup level.
“I had no intention of doing anything but making a living short-track racing the rest of my career,” he said.
Rusty Wallace (left) and Mark Martin in the garage at Talladega Superspeedway in 1995. (Jamie Squire /Allsport)
The rest of Martin’s career lasted 30 years.
Within three years, Martin was on his way to his fourth ASA title. That’s when NASCAR came calling in the form of a ride in the Busch Series (now Xfinity).
“I had an offer to go race the Busch Series that had potential to be a better financial situation than what I was in ASA,” he said. “That really mattered to me at the time because I was just two-and-a-half years into going from a bachelor to a married man with four kids. It did make a difference.”
Martin returned to NASCAR in 1987 driving the No. 31 Fat Boys Bar-B-Q Ford for Bruce Lawmaster.
But Martin, then 28, still didn’t anticipate rising to the Cup level, seeing the Busch ride as “a step up from a lateral move.”
Nine races into the season, Martin claimed his first NASCAR win in the Budweiser 200 at Dover International Speedway. Two races later, he won from the pole at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, North Carolina.
He had people’s attention.
“The phones starting ringing for Cup,” said Martin, who won three times and finished eighth in the standings.
One person calling was Jack Roush, who had been pointed in Martin’s direction by Bobby Allison. But before Roush would take chance on the resurging driver, Martin had to do one thing. He had to stop drinking.
During his first NASCAR stint, Martin had started down a beer-fueled path in part to peer pressure.
“Everybody always picked on me and teased me because I drank so little,” Martin said in the 1997 Bob Zeller book “Mark Martin: Driven to Race.” “I went from drinking so little I couldn’t even keep from being teased about it, to where I almost enjoyed it a little bit, to having some fun once in awhile like a normal drinker does, to drinking in excess.”
Alcohol became a bigger issue for Martin in his three years away from NASCAR, just as it had for his father, Julian Martin, before he became sober in the mid-1980s.
“Genetically speaking, a son of an alcoholic is five times the risk of becoming one than not,” Martin told ESPN in 2009. “My dad had problems all through my childhood. I said I would never be like that.
“At some point, I had to look at myself and say, ‘Either I am like that or I’m not going to be like that.’ That’s a hard thing.”
Though Roush said Martin’s problem “did manifest itself “ in their first year together, Martin’s last drink came in 1988 when his sponsor was, of all things, Stroh’s Light beer. It was still Martin’s sponsor in 1989 when he won his first Cup race, at Rockingham Speedway.
Instead of the bottle, Martin refocused his energy on his physical fitness. The pursuit helped prolong his career well into the 21st Century after most of his peers of the 1980s and 1990s had disappeared from the circuit.
“With my time freed up once I got with Jack, I had the opportunity to gain an advantage,” Martin said last week. “If nobody else was doing it and I was, it’s a clear opportunity to gain an advantage on the competition. Just like the guys working on the cars were staying nights and gave everything that they could give, I viewed it as an opportunity to do the same thing. To give more than the competition. Basically a lot of the success that I had throughout my early years was to outworking the competition.”
By the end of his career, at 54, Martin was one of the most physically fit and respected drivers in the garage.
Mark Martin celebrates his win in the 2005 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, his second win in the event. (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)
What Martin accomplished in the three decades between his Wisconsin exile and his 882nd and final start in 2013 has led to his induction to the NASCAR Hall of Fame at 8 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN.
As part of the Hall’s eighth class, Martin will be inducted with team owners Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick, driver Benny Parsons and early NASCAR team owner Raymond Parks.
“I don’t know how to put it, it’s the last big deal or the big win,” Martin said. “It is the crown jewel of my career for sure.”
Martin has 40 wins the Cup Series, 49 in the Xfinity Series and five runner-up finishes in the Cup standings. But Martin hasn’t quite come to terms with having his name and career immortalized alongside fellow legends of the sport.
“Don’t forget the people in that Hall of Fame are my heroes,” Martin said. “The founders of the sport. The real men that did it with their bare hands, and I’m a little bit uncomfortable going in there to be honest with you, because I don’t feel like I belong in that kind of company.”
The fact that Martin never won a championship is not an issue for him, at least not anymore.
“(It) robbed me of an enormous amount of joy,” Martins said of past regrets. “Something that I let go of in 2006. Refused to allow it to rob me of joy. I have a lot to be thankful for. And a lot to be grateful for. And I am proud of what I accomplished with my career, and I’m not sour about the things I didn’t accomplish.
Martin’s lack of a title doesn’t diminish his career to Clint Bowyer, who was a teammate of Martin’s at Michael Waltrip Racing from 2012-13.
“Mark Martin, that guy is everything,” Bowyer said earlier this week. “He’s such a humble champion. I know he never was a champion, but he is a damn champion. He is a champion in every sense of the word. He’s represented this sport for so many years, so professional and so perfect as a race car driver. I’m glad to see him in there.”
Among Martin’s accomplishments are wins in two Southern 500s, a Coke 600 and two All-Star Races. But his greatest pride isn’t in any single race, trophy or moment. It’s in the totality of what he accomplished with his second chance.
“Fell on my face and had to go home and start my career all over again,” Martin said. “So I would say the perseverance, if you want to sum it up in one word.”
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Kyle Busch takes the blame for wrecking Martin Truex Jr.
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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kyle Busch left Bristol Motor Speedway with no regrets about his team’s comeback effort but one major regret about an attempted pass that he misjudged by about 6 inches.
“I crashed the 78,” Busch said plainly about his Lap 432 contact that sent Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota hard into the wall. “That was my bad. Totally misjudged that one coming off the corner. I clipped him there and sent him for a ride.
“He knows that wasn’t intentional at all. We’ve worked really, really, really, really good together these last two to three years, so that shouldn’t ruin anything between us.”
Truex was running second when the crash occurred. He angrily threw his HANS device and kicked the car after coming up short of winning his first short-track race in NASCAR’s premier series but had cooled down after a care center visit.
“(Busch) probably didn’t obviously do it on purpose, but it’s hard Bristol racing,” Truex said. “Probably could’ve shown a little bit more patience. He was a lot faster than me at that point in time. He just caught me and probably another lap or so he would’ve went right by. Half his fault, half my fault for following (leader Clint Bowyer) so long. I should’ve knocked his butt out of the way because he held me up for 15-20 laps and burnt my front tires off screwing with him. Played too nice and got the crappy end of the stick.”
Busch and Truex are de-facto teammates because they are closely aligned through their affiliations with Toyota Racing Development, and this was the second major tangle between the two teams over the past two seasons. Last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Busch and Truex wrecked while racing for the lead, and an altercation between their teams led to the suspensions of two Furniture Row Racing pit crew members.
Adam Stevens, crew chief for Busch, said he hadn’t talked with Cole Pearn, crew chief for Truex but said the Indianapolis incident “never crept into my mind all night.
“I would assume they’re upset,” Stevens said. “They got wrecked out of a race. I’d be upset. That’s all there is to it.”
Busch said no damage control would be necessary.
“Cole’s really cool, Martin’s really cool,” he said. “I think they’re fine. Maybe I’ll send them a ‘Sorry’ cake to the Denver shop for the guys having to work extra. They’ll probably throw that (car) away anyways, but it ruined their day of being able to get a win or even a second.”
It didn’t ruin the day for Busch despite having endured a wild chain of events in Saturday’s 500-lap race. His No. 18 Toyota slipped out of the traction compound and spun while running the inside lane on the third lap, causing a 15-car crash.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver fell two laps down, but his team managed a repair job that allowed him to climb back into the top five in the final 100 laps.
“ That was just me and this team and never giving up and being able to drive up through the field like that,” Busch said.
The damage, though, prevented his team from filling his fuel tank swiftly, which cost Busch several spots in the pits on every stop. That was costly on a restart with 23 laps remaining, and he spun after getting sandwiched between the cars of Jimmie Johnson and Chris Buescher.
“We had a shot to come back there and win the race realistically,” Busch said. “We certainly were going to way overachieve, but we just didn’t get to.”
“I’m proud of the effort,” Stevens said. “I’m proud of the car we put on the racetrack. Had we been able to put fuel in it, in a timely manner, it would have been a whole different race. … Hard to win a race when you’ve got to pass every car on the lead lap every run. Frustrating, but it shows what the team is capable of, I guess.”
Kyle Larson finishes second in ‘most frustrating Bristol race’
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BRISTOL, Tenn. — A night after earning his first NASCAR win at Bristol Motor Speedway, it was back to business as usual for Kyle Larson in the Cup Series.
Larson had to settle for another second-place finish to a guy named Busch.
Larson earned his fifth runner-up result of the season and his second at the half-mile track. But instead of placing behind Kyle Busch like he did in April, Larson was left looking at Kurt Busch‘s rear bumper.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has placed second six times since his last win in the 2017 regular-season finale at Richmond. Three of those runner-up results have been to Kyle Busch.
“I mean, I’m happy to finish second,” Larson said. “That’s probably 12 to 15 spots I feel like better than where I deserved to finish. Our car was just really bad. I got lucky all night lining up in the right lanes. I could gain three or four spots every restart. Just fight to hang on there. Then I’d be terrible at the end of the runs.
“Probably the most frustrating Bristol race I’ve had just ’cause I never really felt like I had a shot to win.”
After starting from the pole, Larson led three times in the first 63 laps but only led two laps the rest of the way.
He placed sixth in Stage 1 and fought to place fourth in Stage 2.
Larson found himself in 10th on the next to last restart with 22 laps to go. On the final restart, with 13 laps to go, he was in fourth.
Larson quickly moved into second after Clint Bowyer failed to get up to speed on the restart.
“Fourth is the second-best place to start besides the leader,” Larson said. “I knew I would get out to second. I hadn’t been around Kurt on the short runs there to see what he was doing. Was hoping maybe he would run the bottom for a couple laps.
“He went straight away to the top. I knew it was going to be tough to pass him. I knew if I got close to him, I’d have to use the bumper a little bit. I never even got close enough to get to him there.”
Larson, who clinched a spot in the playoffs on points, gave the traction compound applied to the bottom lane in each turn a positive review.
“It didn’t really matter where I ran,” Larson said. “Everybody that passed me either passed me on the top or the bottom, then drove away from me in each lane.
“I would say the lanes are pretty equal and consistent. Just hard to pass. When you get down there, you can have more lap time down there, but then your exit gets kind of tight because they hang on your outside.
“Yeah, Bristol is still a bad‑ass place. I think they’ve done a good job with figuring out exactly where they need the (compound).”
What drivers said after Bristol.
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Kurt Busch — Winner: “It’s awesome to do it at Bristol. I love this place. We now have won six times here and I have great teams that have always helped me win. This group of guys, Billy Scott, my crew chief, this is his first win and to be able to do it with Ford and Monster and Haas Automation is just what it’s all about is executing as a team and we had good restarts when we had to, and then you’ve got to get clever and start throwing everything at it.”
Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “I think if I had a better car, tires probably would have showed what they are really capable of. This was just a really frustrating day. Our DC Solar Chevy was not very good from Lap 1 to Lap 500 there, but we fought and got a second-place finish out of it. So, I was happy about running second, but just disappointed because I had a lot of confidence going into this race and thought our car was really good. But, we were probably a 12th to 15th-place car, I thought. Just lined up in the right re-starts just about every time and was able to gain some spots on every re-start and maintain. And then would be terrible there towards the end of the run. Frustrating, but we were able to fight; so that’s good for our team to be able to do that. Our pit stops, aside from the first one, were really good. So, I’m happy about that that. So, we’ll just continue to fight to get our cars a lot better.”
Chase Elliott — Finished 3rd: “Yeah, not quite enough of something. I don’t know, just got tight there after the run that we had the lead and once we got it freed back up, but we kept getting the bottom on all the restarts and it was just hard to go forward and what not. But, man, that thing was really fast there at the end. It felt like we were making up some ground on those guys.”
Joey Logano — Finished 4th: “ I wouldn’t say we’ve been in a little slump, but we kind of have been. We’ve been consistent and run in the top 10 and that’s just kind of where we’d run. We had a couple wrecks here recently with Pocono and Watkins Glen and a top 10 last week felt OK. I felt like we had a better car than a top 10 last week and then this week we had a car that could win if circumstances played out right, which it didn’t, but, overall, I’m proud of the speed we had on the short run. “
Erik Jones — Finished 5th: “The run before last, we could’ve got up front when Kyle (Busch) and I were kind of running through the field. We were probably the best car, but you know there at the end, I didn’t have enough. I was too tight. I think our Sport Clips Camry was just lacking a little bit all night. We were close, but we could never find that last little bit to get up there and compete for the lead. I’m wore out. We worked hard all night trying to get ourselves a shot. It just wasn’t quite enough.”
Clint Bowyer — Finished 6th: “I just clearly didn’t do a good job on the restarts. When I had the lead I thought I got a good jump and about the time I shifted Kurt (Busch) hit me in the door and it just lit the tires up. He didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just a product of it. I don’t know. Then when I was on the bottom I spun the tires real bad and they all got around me. It’s disappointing. You get a car that good and you get that close you hate to not come home with it, but, all in all, for as terrible as we started the weekend and as bad as our yesterday was, to lead laps or even be in the top 10, I was pretty surprised to be honest with you. In the grand scheme of things it was a pretty good run for us, but you hate to give them up like that.”
Ryan Blaney — Finished 7th: “We just struggled as the track got colder and rubbered in. I was really happy with our car in the first stage, but we just kind of lost it from there. It was a decent comeback for us. We were gonna restart sixth and the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) pitted and that kind of hurt us, but it was a decent night.”
Alex Bowman — Finished 8th: “We had a really good race car, just had that loose wheel and lost those two laps. Almost got the lap back under green and that would have probably have gotten us a couple more spots there, but still got it back through wave arounds and lucky dog. Just proud of my guys, we had a good race car, but the car was good.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON — Finished 9th: “We had a decent night. I guess the No. 41 (Kurt Busch) won by staying out. We kind of lined up on the inside and felt like we had to come in for new tires with 20 to go or something. Just a solid night. We will take it. Of course, we want more, but it was nice to have a good consistent run all night long.”
Trevor Bayne — Finished 11th: “Jack asked me in the driver’s meeting how my car was and I told him it was a 10th to 15th-place car and if we could get it to turn we’d be better than that. Early in the race it turned and we drove up into the top 10 and were running about eighth. I had the speeding penalty and kind of overcame that and got back up to seventh or eighth and then that last restart it was all about what lane you were gonna be in. We were gonna be in the top 10, but Jimmie (Johnson) pitted and I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ So I started on the bottom and cost us a few spots and ended up 11th.”
Ryan Newman — Finished 12th: “Unfortunately, qualifying didn’t go as planned but I wasn’t too concerned about it because our practices went well. Once the race started we battled tight and loose conditions, but by halfway, we were balanced fairly well. The biggest issue we had was being able to maneuver through all the rubber on the track. Our Chevy either plowed or shook itself loose. I think we’re all looking forward to the off weekend so we can recharge and get ready for Darlington. It’s my favorite race on the Cup schedule and I want to win it for so many reasons. We’ve got to win to get into the Playoffs.”
David Ragan — Finished 17th: “I was disappointed when we got spun and went a couple laps down. Bristol is a tough race and you really have to have 500 really clean laps and we had one mistake early and lost a couple of laps, so we were fortunate to get back one lap down and our team did a nice job making adjustments and I feel like we had a top 12 to 15 car, but a top 20 finish. We learned a few things and it was a good night for us. It was a lot of fun representing the Shriners in the car.”
Kyle Busch — Finished 20th: “ That was just a misjudgment on my behalf, I crashed the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) so that was my bad totally. Totally misjudged that one just coming off the corner and knowing there was still plenty of laps left, I wasn’t even in a hurry and I just misjudged it by four or six inches, whatever it was and I clipped him there and sent him for a ride. He knows that wasn’t intentional at all and we’ve worked really, really, really, really well together these last two or three years and that shouldn’t ruin anything between us. “
Ty Dillon — Finished 21st: “Bristol is called The Last Great Colosseum for a reason. It’s a battle every single time you race here. Tonight, wasn’t the night we had hoped for. My GEICO Camaro ZL1 struggled through the corners on both ends, and we just couldn’t find the balance that we needed. This team is working hard week in and week out to get better. We are going to keep making gains and building on the data we’re collecting.”
William Byron — Finished 23rd: “We had something go wrong early on and just were off the pace the whole time. It was disappointing. I thought we were going to have a good day, but something went wrong. We will figure it out.”
MARTIN TRUEX JR. — Finished 30th: “I’ve seen the replay real quick, but I didn’t really pay much attention to it. It’s hard racing at Bristol. The corner exit’s really slick where the VHT wore out. There’s some real slick patches. I’m sure he (Kyle Busch) hit one of them. Probably didn’t obviously do it on purpose, but it’s hard Bristol racing. Probably could’ve shown a little bit more patience. He was a lot faster than me at that point in time. He just caught me and probably another lap or so he would’ve went right by. Half his fault, half my fault for following the 14 (Clint Bowyer) so long. I should’ve knocked his butt out of the way because he held me up for 15-20 laps and burnt my front tires off screwing with him. Played too nice and got the crappy end of the stick.”
Paul Menard — Finished 36th: “The wheel is broke – broke the center section out of the wheel, which we’ve never seen before, so kind of just disappointed. We had a really fast Ford. We started fourth and felt like if that first caution hadn’t come out we could have been leading the race by Lap three, but on the restart I just had a really bad vibration, trying to stay out of everybody’s way up by the fence and finally the wheel broke. We’ve got to figure out why the wheel broke. What came first, the chicken or the egg, hitting the wall or the wheel breaking, but we’re scratching our head about that one.”
Michael McDowell — Finished 37th: “We started pretty far back with our Love’s Ford and really I was stopped and not in it at all, and then about five seconds later got blasted from behind. I’m not really sure. It seemed like a long time before the other cars got slowed down, but it’s so disappointing to be out so early, and not of your own doing. It’s just heartbreaking. Five hundred laps is a long race and I think I did a total of 10 laps between the two races this year in 2018, so I’m just really frustrated, but this is racing and that’s what happens sometimes. I’m not really sure what led to the 18 (Kyle Busch) being spun, but all I know is there is a lot of cars not paying attention and a lot of spotters not paying attention for that to happen like it happened.”
BUBBA WALLACE — Finished 38th: “I just got run over from behind after I got checked up. I was talked to AJ (Allmendinger) in there (the infield care center) and said ‘Sorry man, I run over you at the beginning.’ He was like ‘No, you are fine.’ He said he was sitting there for a solid second and a half and got run over again. Just poor spotting up top and some rookie drivers out back I guess.”
AJ Allmendinger — Finished 39th: “At this point, it is what it is. I’m just sorry for Kroger Clicklist and everybody that is partners with this race team. I appreciate the hard word out of everybody and all of our partners. We had a lot of Kroger Clicklist guest here. We had a lot of just partners in general, Bush’s Beans home race, so hopefully, Chris (Buescher) can get a strong run, but I’m ready for an off week.”
Results, stats for the Cup race at Bristol.
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Kurt Busch held off Kyle Larson in a 13-lap shootout to the end of the Bristol Motor Speedway night on tires that were nearly 40 laps older. This was his sixth career win at Bristol. It came in a week with rumors swirling about his status with Stewart Haas Racing.
Larson held on to finish second. He also finished second in the spring Bristol race to Kyle Busch.
Chase Elliott finished third to earn his fifth consecutive top-10 finish.
All of the Big 3 drivers experienced trouble. Kyle Busch was involved in a Lap 2 incident, Kevin Harvick had a loose wheel on Lap 185 and lost two laps, while Martin Truex Jr. wrecked after contact by Kyle Busch on Lap 432. Kyle Busch finished 20th, Harvick got back on the lead lap and finished 10th with Truex in 30th.