BROOKLYN, Mich. (June 14, 2009) – Mark Martin’s patience paid off, and the NASCAR veteran climbed from his 32nd starting spot to win Sunday’s 400-mile event at Michigan International Speedway.
The win—Martin’s third of the 2009 season—is the 181st for team owner Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports’ second straight in this particular race.
Sunday’s event ended in dramatic fashion.
Martin, driver of the No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg’s Chevrolet, was running third entering the final lap of the race. His teammate Jimmie Johnson was leading the field in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, and Jeff Gordon was holding onto fourth in his No. 24 DuPont/National Guard ‘Year of the NCO’ Chevrolet.
Johnson, who led a race-high 148 laps, appeared poised to collect his third win of the season, but his Chevrolet ran out of gas on the final lap. Until this point, Martin had been driving the fuel-mileage event patiently, fighting the urge to mash the gas and cruise past. He knew a good finish would mean more.
Johnson wasn’t the only driver to run out of gas, and Martin’s patience was rewarded.
“I thought those guys were running too hard for us to save gas,” said Martin, who improves to eighth in the driver standings. “I couldn’t do both—save gas and run with them. And when Jimmie ran out, we got over here, and I don’t know if you were listening or not, but I said, ‘Hey, we’re this close, I’m going to run hard,’ and I thought we could make it. We ran out coming off of (Turn) 4. But this is great for Kellogg’s and CARQUEST. Great gas mileage by this Chevrolet, with GM right down the road and the Kellogg’s folks are just right down the road. I just want to thank the fans. I told Rick (Hendrick), ‘Just please, don’t fire me.’ I qualified 32nd Friday night and I was laying in bed just worrying about it, you know. Heck, I love this stuff. I want to drive this car forever.”
Gordon started Sunday’s race from the rear of the field after an engine change during Friday’s practice. The four-time Cup champion followed Martin across the finish line to take the second spot and remain second in the driver standings.
“I’m really excited about this DuPont/National Guard team,” Gordon said. “It’s the year of the NCO, and we’re happy to have them on board. What a great effort by this team. We just fought hard. The pit crew was incredible and the car was great. We had to work our way up through traffic, and the car was there to do it so once we got up there in the top 15 or so we had to make some adjustments. We never really could get it as good as the first two or three guys but we were a top-five car so I’m really proud of that. The fuel mileage certainly played out in our favor, and we came home second. I’m really proud of that.”
Despite finishing 22nd, Johnson still remains third in the driver standings.
“There’s just not much you can do,” Johnson said. “It’s a shame to have such strong racing and come back and finish 22nd. We raced hard. We led the most laps. At a time when it’s tough to pass guys on big tracks, we went up there and passed the No. 5 and passed the No. 16. So on the bright side of things, I’m really happy with the performance we had, and we really closed the gap on these guys here at Michigan, but unfortunately we didn’t win. It’s part of it. We’ll take our lumps and go to the next one. But this Chevrolet was fast. I think we showed that the Bowtie can get it done here today.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., the defending race winner, drove his No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet to a 14th-place finish.
“We worked on the car, and we had it real good at one point, I was real happy,” said Earnhardt, who ranks 18th in the driver standings. “Then near the end of the race, the last quarter of the race, we got off a little bit. We had about a 10th-place car, maybe, but we were trying to save fuel at the end and gave up a couple spots trying to do that and didn’t gain back as many as we thought we would. Not as many people ran out as we thought would. It was a pretty good weekend. We ran pretty good in the race, we have to get a little bit better, and we are definitely seeing some signs of improvement.”