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Texas recap: Martin scores fourth-place finish

 

FORT WORTH, Texas (Nov. 8, 2009) – Mark Martin used a strong fourth-place finish in Sunday’s 500-mile event at Texas Motor Speedway to chip away at Jimmie Johnson’s lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.

Martin started seventh and worked with his team to find the right setup for the No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg’s Chevrolet.  Midway through the race, Martin’s team had found the right combination, and the NASCAR veteran kept pace with the leaders. Crew chief Alan Gustafson made the right call on a green-flag pit stop late in the race, and Martin crossed the finish line fourth. Martin remains second in the championship standings, and now trails Johnson by 73 points.

“Alan Gustafson and everybody on the No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg’s team were on it today,” Martin said. “We were junk yesterday in practice, and they threw some new stuff at it today. Wasn’t very good the first half and then magically midway the car became a top-five car. That what it was the last three runs.”

Johnson, the three-time defending champion and current points leader, started 12th and suffered misfortune early in the race, when Sam Hornish Jr.’s No. 77 machine slid up the track and made contact with Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson ricocheted off the Turn 2 wall and back across the track into the infield wall. He managed to drive the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet back to the garage, where he sat for 68 minutes while his team repaired both ends of the car. Johnson, who entered Sunday’s event with a 184-point lead in the standings, returned to the racetrack to salvage some of his points lead and crossed the finish line 38th.

“We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Johnson said. “The guys did a great job to get this car back out on track to pick up some more spots. We’ve got two great racetracks for us (coming up, Phoenix and Homestead, Fla.). We didn’t want this by any means but we’re still in a great position and we’ll go to Phoenix and race.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, started Sunday’s race from the pole position and led the first 11 laps. But handling became an issue, and Gordon slipped through the field. On Lap 175, he was collected in a four-car accident in Turn 1.  The No. 24 team quickly repaired Gordon’s Chevrolet on pit road and sent him back to claim a 13th-place finish.

“Our finish is thanks to the hard work by Steve Letarte (crew chief) and this DuPont Chevrolet team never giving up,” said Gordon, who still ranks third in the standings and trails Johnson by 112 points. “I am just really disappointed in this day. A total missed opportunity that completely got away from us. We just didn’t have it today. We had more of our typical Texas race where we needed our spectacular Texas race like we had in April.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. started ninth and kept his No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet in the top 10 until the closing laps of Sunday’s race.  The race closed on 122 laps of green-flag racing, and fuel mileage became an issue for many teams. Earnhardt stretched his window and opted to pit quickly for fuel with five laps to go. Unfortunately, the No. 88 Chevy struggled to restart, but Earnhardt kept trying and eventually rejoined the field. He crossed the finish line 25th.

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