Martin Returns To Site Of Nasty Crash

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Mark Martin put on one of the gutsiest performances of his racing career in last July's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

The Daytona Beach resident suffered a broken left wrist and bruised ribs when he cut a tire and slammed into the wall during the final practice session the night before the 160-lap race.

With the help of his crew members, a sore Martin, with a cast on his broken wrist, strapped into a backup car, started shotgun in the 43-car field and finished 17th without the help of a relief driver.

When Martin pulled into the garage area after the race, his crew pulled him out of the car quickly after a fire broke out under the hood of his No. 6 Valvoline Ford.

This year, a healthy Martin returns to Daytona International Speedway and is looking forward to competing in the July 1 Pepsi 400.

Martin, whose only win in a stock car at DIS came in the 1999 Bud Shootout, usually dreads the restrictor-plate races. But entering the Pepsi 400 on the 2.5-mile tri-oval, he's actually excited.

He has been on a tear lately in the restrictor-plate events at both DIS and its sister track, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Martin finished fifth in the 42nd annual Daytona 500 in February and was leading at Talladega late in the race before settling for a sixth-place finish.

"I am looking forward to racing at Daytona again,'' said Martin, whose best finish in the Pepsi 400 was a fourth in 1994 and 1995. "I don't usually say that because I'm not a big fan of restrictor-plate racing, and I'm still not, but our program has improved so much in the last few years that I don't dread it as much as I have in the past.

"We finished fifth there in February and then led the most laps a few weeks ago at Talladega. It is easier to look forward to racing at Daytona when you know you can be competitive and have a valid chance to win the race."

In addition to looking forward to the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, Martin is also eagerly anticipating the return of the Paul Revere 250 Grand Am sports car race. The Paul Revere will run immediately following Bud Pole Qualifying on Thursday evening, June 29.

"From the first time that I saw the cars and drove the cars on the road course, I've been real partial to that," said Martin, who was a member of the winning team in Rolex 24 At Daytona in 1995, 1993, 1991 and 1989. "Racing sportscars at Daytona in the Rolex was a great experience and it was an honor to be part of a team that could win."

But would Martin consider getting behind the wheel in a Grand Am event?

"I'm funny about my sleep and that was the only negative to the Rolex 24. Unfortunately, Jack Roush ran a number of cars, and he typically paired a couple of veterans with a couple of non-veterans and so night driving went to the veterans -- all night. So myself and one other driver wound up switching through the night. I can't sleep during the day so I was pretty shot by Speedweeks."

Sleep or no, Martin fondly recalls his sports car days at Daytona.

"The most fun I've ever had in racing is driving in the rain at night at Daytona. It was cool to go into the night, but it was even cooler to drive in the rain."

Fans can see Martin tackle Daytona once again when Bud Pole Qualifying starts at 8 p.m. ET Thursday. The green flag flies for the Pepsi 400 at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

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