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Martin to make 775th Cup start Sunday

 

LOUDON, N.H. (June 26, 2010) – Think back to 1981. What were you doing? Maybe you were watching MTV for the first time or witnessing Ronald Reagan take over as the 40th president. Some of you probably weren’t even born yet.

In 1981, an aspiring driver named Mark Martin from Batesville, Ark., was starting his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. Today, 29 years and 40 wins later, Martin is an elder statesman in the garage and he continues to put his name among the sport’s greats. The driver of the No. 5 CARQUEST Auto Parts/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet will take the green flag for the 775th time in his Cup career this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Overall, Martin has 1,028 starts in NASCAR’s Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series.

“I didn’t even know that (milestone) was coming up,” Martin laughed. “To be honest, it’s kind of shocking even to me. Like ‘Really? That’s a lot of starts.’ I kind of wonder where the time went, but it’s all been fun, you know? I’m doing what I love. Still doing what I love. It’s incredible. I don’t think you can measure success by starts, but I appreciate all 774 races that have come to this point.”

Only seven other drivers in Cup history have made more starts, ranking Martin eighth on the all-time list. In his previous 774 Cup starts, Martin has tallied 40 victories (which ranks him 16th all-time and fourth among active drivers), 262 top-five finishes and 423 top-10s. He has led 12,403 laps total and is one pole position shy of 50, which will rank him eighth all-time.

To put 775 Cup starts in perspective, the same year that Martin was making his first start none of his current Hendrick Motorsports teammates had reached their teens. Jeff Gordon, who was 9-years old at the time, was in fifth grade and on his way to taking runner-up honors in the 1981 Quarter Midget Grand Nationals. Then 5-year old Jimmie Johnson had just begun his racing career, starting out on 50cc motorcycles. And Dale Earnhardt Jr. had just moved in with his father and famous NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Sr. He was in first grade at Aycock Elementary School in Kannapolis, N.C., and had not yet begun his racing career.

Meanwhile Christina Aguilera, Paris Hilton, Eli Manning and Justin Timberlake were newborns, as Martin qualified fifth on April 5, 1981 at North Wilkesboro Speedway to make his first Cup start. Early in the race, Martin suffered a rear-gear failure and was scored 27th in the 400-lap event. Richard Petty won the race that day, marking his 194th victory at the Cup level.

While Martin was adapting to a stock car that day, his future Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Alan Gustafson was hanging out in his hometown of Ormond Beach, Fla.

“Man, that was a long time ago!” Gustafson chuckled. “Let’s see, I would have been 5-years-old. I hadn’t started school yet, but my Dad had taken me to Daytona a few times to watch the races there. I was a typical 5-year-old, riding my bike and playing with my Matchbox cars.”

Martin made his first start in 1981, but he didn’t complete a full Cup season until 1988. During 19 full seasons (Feb. 14, 1988 to March 18, 2007), Martin made 621 straight starts, which ranks him fifth all-time in Cup history for most consecutive starts. He captured 35 wins, 233 top-five finishes, 365 top-10s, 39 poles and led 11,326 laps in that time, finishing fifth or better 12 times in the championship standings.

Martin will make his 775th start with confidence, as Gustafson and the No. 5 team have shown they have a good one-mile short track program. Last fall, Martin won at the New England racetrack in the first race of the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup and held the lead in the championship standings.

“I feel that we’ve always had a good short-track program,” Gustafson said. “Not just the (No.) 5 (team), but the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization. Those types of tracks require really good chassis setups, which we’ve done a good job within the past. Also, it helps that those tracks are really fun to race on. They let the driver get after it. Mark enjoys that style of racing, and he’s good at it, too. I think that showed with our wins at Phoenix and New Hampshire last year.”

Tune to TNT at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday to watch Martin in his historic start.

Here’s a look at what was happening in the world during 1981:

IN NASCAR:
•There were only five Chevrolets entered in the April 5th event at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Last weekend at Infineon Raceway, Chevrolet led the field with 14 Chevrolets in the race.
•NASCAR added a spoiler to the race cars to stabilize the cars at high speeds.
•The championship banquet was moved from Daytona Beach to New York City at the Waldorf=Astoria for the first. It remained there until the 2009 season, when NASCAR relocated the post-season festivities to Las Vegas.
•Darrell Waltrip won his first of three Sprint Cup championships.
•NASCAR mandated the wheel bases to be 110 inches, down from 115 inches. Today the mandatory wheelbase is still 110 inches.

POP CULTURE:
•Dan Rather replaced Walter Cronkite on the “CBS Evening News.”
•Charles, the Prince of Wales, married Princess Diana.
•MTV debuted music videos on television. The first music video ever played on MTV was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.
•Luke and Laura marry on “General Hospital.” “FOX News” reported 30 million viewers, making it the most-watched hour in daytime television history.
•“Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark” hit theatres.

POLITICS:
•Ronald Reagan succeeded Jimmy Carter as the 40th President of the United States.
•Reagan was shot in the chest in Washington D.C.
•Pope John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
•President Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

SPORTS:
•The Oakland Raiders defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in Super Bowl XV.
•The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series.
•The Boston Celtics beat the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals, earning their 14th NBA Championship.
•Boxing great Muhammed Ali fought his last fight.

SCIENCE:
•The Boeing 767 made its first flight.
•The Space Shuttle Columbia became the first shuttle to orbit the Earth.
•IBM introduced its first personal computer.
•The first case of AIDS was recognized in California.

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