ALL-STAR: Like No Other - Mark Martin

Mark Martin, No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet ImpalaFirst All-Star start: 5/20/1990Best finish: 1st (1998, 2005)How he made the race: Won April 2009 race at Phoenix International Raceway

Editor’s note: Eighteen drivers are guaranteed to start in the May 22 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, which will be televised live on SPEED, starting at 7 pm Eastern. Following is profile number 13 of 18 of those drivers locked into the field.

Without question, the Sprint All-Star Race is a special event.

Few drivers seem to appreciate that as much as Mark Martin.

So when Martin looks back on his 20 consecutive All-Star appearances, which began in 1990, the veteran driver can’t pin down a favorite memory or experience.There are simply too many.

“I have a lot of great memories,” Martin said. “We won twice and both of them were very exciting and rewarding.”

Martin’s two triumphs in the popular exhibition at Charlotte Motor Speedway came under very different circumstances.

In 1998, he was headed for an all-but-definite second-place finish when Jeff Gordon suddenly ran out of gas on the final lap. Martin was there to capitalize.Seven years later, he won again – but didn’t need any last-lap heroics.

But whether it’s the All-Star Race or a points-paying event, Martin has always enjoyed competing at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 1.5-mile track is a favorite among many drivers if for no other reason than its close proximity to most of the teams’ shops.

In addition to his two All-Star triumphs, Martin also has four points wins at the facility. He’s finished in the top 10 in 22 points races over 50 such starts at CMS.But it doesn’t get any better than the All-Star Race for Martin.

“That event is just incredible, especially for the fans,” the 51-year-old said. “I think the competitors love it too, but the fans really love it. It’s really exciting. There couldn’t possibly be a better place to have it than Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s prefect. It’s a weekend that I think everybody looks forward to and somebody comes out of there with a big trophy and a big check. Everybody walks out of the grandstands with a smile on their face.”

Martin finished sixth in his first All-Star appearance last year for Hendrick Motorsports. Both of his All-Star wins came with the team now known as Roush Fenway Racing.Unlike a lot of drivers, who approach the race with an all-or-nothing kind of attitude, Martin looks at it a bit differently.

Sure, the winner’s purse of $1 million and change far exceeds the second-place purse of well under half that amount. And it’s also true that the second-place finisher is usually quickly forgotten because there are no points on the line.

Martin still sees value in running well, however, especially considering that the points-paying Coca-Cola 600 is always held at CMS the following weekend.

“If I don't do well in it, it bothers me the same as if I don't do well in a points race,” Martin said. “But there is something to all that. At the end of the day you can tell yourself, well, it was all in or nothing. You might look at that race as all or nothing. I don't. I ran third there I think in the No. 8 car (for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007) and enjoyed that. It was right there. I was almost able to contend for the win.

“So, I still take pride in racing for a position there and getting the most out of your effort. But a lot of drivers do have a little bit of that weighing in on them. It's a non-points event. It's sort of a winner take all. There is still pride left in being a contender if you don't take it all."

Contender or not, Martin believes the All-Star race is ultimately about the fans – who show up in droves and light up the nighttime sky with flashing cameras galore.

“The event is just an incredible event. It is so much fun,” he said. “The adrenaline, excitement, the fans-their support of it and enthusiasm. I think it is that, the electricity of the whole thing.”

And Martin adds: "I love the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race as much as the fans do."