A quick NASCAR history lesson: 2005 was supposed to be Mark Martin’s last season as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver.
But his former team owner Jack Roush talked him into staying an extra year while a replacement for Kurt Busch was found. Then Martin got a part-time gig with Bobby Ginn and, later, Dale Earnhardt Inc. before moving to Hendrick Motorsports for three seasons, the first of which nearly produced a championship.
This year, Martin’s first with Michael Waltrip Racing, has a lot in common with the prior stops on the driver’s resume: Each time Martin has found a new home, he’s found a renewed sense of purpose and motivation.
That much was obvious Sunday at Pocono Raceway, where Martin scored a season’s best second-place finish behind Joey Logano in the Pocono 400. It was Martin’s seventh runner-up finish at the 2.5-mile Pocono triangle.
And it looked as if it might be a victory, with Martin using a beautiful move to take the lead from Logano late in the race.
After a caution for debris, Martin got the jump on Logano into Turn 1 when the track went green on Lap 153 of the 160-lap race, and appeared headed to his first victory since New Hampshire in 2009.
“We went after that thing really hard,” said Martin. “We had a great race car. I really stuck my neck out on the line to get that lead, almost pulled it off the restart before, and I was willing to risk it all to try to get the lead. And once I got out there, Joey was just stronger than we were, just a little bit stronger.”
Martin was leading when his No. 55 MWR Toyota wiggled just a little in Turn 3 with four laps to go, which allowed Logano to bump him ever so slightly to take the lead and the victory.
“I was pushing as hard as I could push and had a little slip there off of (Turn) 3 and he was able to get up on me and get by,” said Martin. “We certainly would have got back up there and raced for the win after the pass if we'd have had the car. But he was able to pull away.”
Martin, who for decades has been known as one of the cleanest drivers in the sport, held no ill will toward Logano for the bump.
“It has been acceptable in this racing for a long time,” said Martin of Logano’s race-winning move. “It's not how I would have done it, but certainly if I'd have had a fast enough car, he would have gotten a return. But I couldn't quite keep up with him.”
Still, with three poles and a number of good runs on the season, Martin is pleased to be where he is right now.
“It was a great race, and I'm very, very proud of my race team for putting me in something that would give me a shot,” said Martin. “I'm having fun with it. Maybe next week we'll be the ones with the trophy.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.