Mark Martin is not racing for a championship this season. Not next season either, or the one after that. In fact, after nearly 32 years competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Martin has no plans for a championship charge. He hasn’t run a full Sprint Cup schedule since 2011, and unshackled by the grind of the Sprint Cup marathon that consumes 38 weekends a year, Martin can race where he wants, when he wants, for the reasons he wants.
With the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup beginning this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., and all the talk fixated on the 12 drivers gunning for this year’s championship, what is there for Martin to accomplish?
Since taking over for the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Martin has spent countless hours acclimating himself to his new team. Having dedicated the majority of his life to competing at NASCAR’s highest level, Martin knows better than anyone there is more to wheeling a 3,400-pound racecar at speeds approaching 200 mph than just buckling down and throttling up. With 873 career Sprint Cup starts entering Sunday’s Geico 400 at Chicagoland, Martin long ago graduated from being a student of the game. He’s a tenured professor as one of the most respected drivers in NASCAR.
The game, however, changes this weekend at Chicagoland. Twelve drivers are competing for a championship, but 31 other drivers join them in pursuit of a victory. It’s an interesting dynamic where the playoff teams continue to play for a season-ending title while those not in the Chase play week-to-week for a coveted win.
As a member of the inaugural Chase Class of 2004, Martin is very familiar with the intensity and rigors of competing in the 10-race run to the title. He’s been a four-time Chase participant, with a best finish of second in 2009. That second-place run was the fifth time in Martin’s Sprint Cup career where he was a runner-up to the series champion. And on four other occasions, Martin finished third in points. In 13 of his 23 full-time seasons in Sprint Cup, Martin has finished among the top-five in points.
Needless to say, Martin is well-versed in the rigors of the Chase. But if he can’t be in the Chase and attempt to spray champagne after the season finale Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he’s at least going to try and crash their party to spray some champagne in victory lane. Chicagoland is Martin’s first opportunity to do just that, and he has some practice at the 1.5-mile oval.
Martin has participated in all 12 Sprint Cup races held at Chicagoland since it was added to the schedule in 2001, and he’s one of nine different drivers to have won at Chicagoland. Martin led a race-high 195 laps en route to victory in 2009, which punctuates a stat line that stands at five top-10s with 239 laps led and a lap completion rate of 99.9 percent.
Complementing Martin’s record at Chicagoland is the performance of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops team. Since its inception in 2009, the No. 14 team has finished outside the top-six only once at Chicagoland, and that was a ninth-place effort in 2010. Its stat line consists of three top-fives and four top-10s, highlighted by a victory in 2011 that served as the springboard for the team’s epic run to the season championship.
For the next 10 weeks, the spotlight will shine brightest on the 12 championship contenders. But Martin isn’t afraid to steal that spotlight, and between his experience and that of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops team, Martin and Co. could crash the Chase party before it even starts this weekend at Chicagoland.