It seems almost impossible that Mark Martin hasn’t won a Sprint Cup race since September 2009.
He has been all over the map since winning that late summer race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, putting together series of great race runs and continuing to defy a calendar that claims he is 54 years old.
He’s doing just that again this year, finishing third in the Daytona 500, winning the pole Friday for today’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and then, just for good measure, leading both Saturday practice sessions.
Chances are he saved an old lady from a mugger and built houses for some homeless folk Saturday after leaving the track.
The only guy who doesn’t seem to be impressed by Mark Martin is Mark Martin. He heaps so much praise on his team – and constantly reminds everyone how fortunate he is to be driving for and working with crew chief Rodney Childers – that the whole process becomes almost robotic.
Martin apparently wants everyone to think he’s nothing special, but the numbers speak loudly. Few 54-year-old professional race car drivers even exist. Even fewer participate at Martin’s level and with his competitive fire.
Yet, ask him about the possibility that later this year he can become the oldest driver ever to win a Cup pole (surpassing Harry Gant’s record of 54 years and seven months), and he chooses to concentrate on Gant, retired for almost 20 years.
“Whether I break that record or not, I look at Harry Gant and don’t feel I measure [up],” Martin said. “That’s just me. Records don’t mean much. I was there with him and had the pleasure of racing with him and beat by him on a regular occasion. We’ll always look at him as someone who accomplished more than I did. He was the guy I couldn’t beat at the time. He’s an incredible guy.”
For the record, Gant retired with 18 Cup wins and 17 poles. Martin has 40 wins and 56 poles.
Martin has started 106 Cup races without a victory since the win at New Hampshire.
Few would be surprised if he scores today. The relatively flat track is to his liking. He owns two wins and – remarkably – five second-place finishes at PIR.
Starting in the top 10 with Martin today will be Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson,Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick,Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.