“Martin may be the bridesmaid once more, but he is anything but bitter.” -Examiner
“Mark Martin is NASCAR's king of close calls.” -Orlando Sentinel
“Fryer's Five: Martin is a true champion.” -Yahoo! Sports
All in all in 2009, Mark Martin was just happy to be there.
Entering the Ford 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway, Martin was 108 points behind championship leader and teammate Jimmie Johnson. Clinching his first Sprint Cup title was possible, but highly unlikely.
The team led by Alan Gustafson practiced well throughout the weekend, even winning the second practice session. He was also able to put his Chevrolet fourth on the board during Friday's qualifying. Unfortunately, Johnson qualified on pole, allowing them to pick the first pit stall, and give them a huge advantage going into Sunday's season finale.
Martin started fourth on the field, but struggled earlier on with a loose No. 5 Kellogg's/Carquest. Falling out of Top-10 at lap 116, Martin and company continued working on their Chevrolet, but it was to no avail.
On the lap 121, Johnson and Martin restarted 23rd and 25th, respectively. While his teammate was able to make his way back into the Top Five at a blistering pace, Martin struggled in traffic and was never able to get back to the Top 10, despite hoping pre-race that his car would improve as the sun went down.
Martin's car took several laps to start moving up through the pack, while Johnson continued to push his way to the front.
More than a hundred laps after falling into the clutches of traffic, Martin was challenging for a top 15 spot, and ended the night 12th. He remained second in points behind Johnson, 141 points behind his teammate.
"There's no frustration, man. I know you'd love it. I know all y'all would love it. But there's no frustration."
Martin will get another chance at Johnson and the Sprint Cup Championship, though. After coming out of retirement to sign with Hendrick for this season, Martin signed an extension that will keep him at HMS through 2011.
For Tony Stewart's Lugnut Report, click here .