No Cup title? No problem for Mark Martin after NASCAR Hall Of Fame career – Charlotte Observer

Mark Martin has a sound reason why his NASCAR Hall of Fame career didn’t include a championship at the sport’s highest level.

“It’s because I never scored enough points to win one,” Martin said in his typical matter-of-fact, no-nonsense manner. “That’s that. I would have won (championships) if I had scored more points than anyone else.”

To make the Hall of Fame – he will be inducted into the 2017 class in a ceremony Friday in Charlotte – Martin, 58, accomplished just about everything else in the sport. He won 40 races in 31 seasons as a Cup driver. His total of 96 NASCAR victories (he also won 49 Xfinity races and seven in the Truck series) ranks seventh all-time.

But Martin has come to terms with the fact that he never won a Cup title, finishing second five times. After his retirement in 2013, he joined a list of top pro athletes such as Dan Marino (NFL) and Charles Barkley (NBA) whose careers didn’t include a championship.

NASCAR has its own such list – also including Hall of Famers Junior Johnson, Fireball Roberts and Fred Lorenzen – that is equally as impressive.

Martin long ago made peace with having a place on that list, but it took him a while to be able to do so. In 2006, when he left Roush Fenway Racing – the team for which he won 35 races – he came to terms with it.

“I regret that I let that take an enormous amount of joy from me,” Martin said. “I let go of it in 2006. I refused to allow it to deprive me of that joy. I have a lot to be thankful and grateful for. I’m proud of what I accomplished in my career. I’m not sour about one thing I didn’t accomplish.”

I’m proud of what I accomplished in my career. I’m not sour about one thing I didn’t accomplish.

Mark Martin

Martin came close, as those five runner-up finishes indicate. In 1990, NASCAR penalized Martin 46 points for an illegal carburetor at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. He would lose the championship to Dale Earnhardt that season by 26 points.

He also finished second in 1994 to Earnhardt, 1998 to Jeff Gordon and 2002 to Tony Stewart and in 2009 to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

A diminutive 5-foot-6, Martin won five races in 2009 – all of them after his 50th birthday. Only Harry Gant (eight) won more races past the age of 50 than Martin.

Martin started racing in his home state of Arkansas, winning four American Speed Association championships. His early days in NASCAR were difficult. Although he finished second in the rookie-of-the-year standings to Geoffrey Bodine in 1982, he struggled to find a full-time ride after sponsorship money began to dry up.

Mark Martin won five races after turning 50. Only Harry Gant (eight) won more in his 50s.

Martin, who also had a drinking problem at the time, essentially disappeared from NASCAR for several years. In 1987, he got a chance to drive for Jack Roush and took full advantage.

Finished with the drinking, Martin blossomed under Roush. His first career Cup victory came in 1989 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.

As his career began to flourish and long before it became routine for drivers to pay close attention to physical fitness and diet, Martin – no longer drinking – was doing just that.

“Mark Martin was NASCAR’s first fitness and nutrition guru,” nutrition and fitness expert Robert Hall told the New York Times in 2006. “He shed light on taking care of your body and that Moon Pies, fried chicken and colas weren’t doing anything for strength, hydration and endurance.”

96 Total NASCAR victories by Martin, seventh all-time

For Martin, taking better care of his body than his fellow drivers wasn’t just a way to channel his energies away from alcohol, it was also another way to find a competitive advantage. Endurance can be important in a long, hot 500-mile race, and Martin looked for every edge he could find.

He had found that when driving for small teams earlier in his career, he got plenty of exercise by working on his car, “night and day,” as he described it.

Martin, however, began to miss that kind of regular physical exertion after he began driving for Roush, who had dozens of crew members at the shop to handle those duties.

“With my time freed up after I went with Jack, I had an opportunity to gain an advantage if nobody else was doing it,” Martin said. “It’s pretty simple. At the time, virtually no one in the sport was putting any effort into the physical fitness side of it. I viewed it as an opportunity. I was usually gaining most of my advantage over others by outworking them and this was another way to do that.”

That, for Mark Martin, was enough in a Hall of Fame career that stands alone on its own merits.

More NASCAR Hall of Fame induction coverage

Great, but no titles

Mark Martin isn’t the only former top NASCAR driver who didn’t win a championship:

Junior Johnson: NASCAR Hall of Famer won 50 races but often didn’t run a full schedule.

Fireball Roberts: It’s hard to think Roberts, another Hall of Famer, wouldn’t have won a championship had he not died after a fiery crash at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1964.

Davey Allison: Another driver whose life was cut short (in a helicopter accident in 1993), Allison won 19 career races and finished third in 1992.

Fred Lorenzen: Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015, Lorenzen won 26 career races and the 1965 Daytona 500.

Carl Edwards: Recently announced he was stepping away from the sport after coming within 10 laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway of winning the 2016 championship. Finished second twice in 13-season career.

David Scott

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