Martin Needs Stop To Woes

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The last thing Mark Martin needs, at this point, is to have any more problems this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

Off to perhaps the worse start of his 15-year NASCAR Winston Cup career, the driver of the No. 6 Taurus simply can’t afford it.

Martin has never finished worse than 15th during any of his full seasons in the Winston Cup Series and hasn’t finished worse than eighth in the points (which he did in 2000) in any of the previous 13 years.

Yet Martin, who has experienced almost every problem in the book so far this season, sits 26th in the standings after eight races in 2001. He’s finished 33rd or worse four times already, and has three DNFs. He’s a whopping 489 points behind leader Dale Jarrett.

Martin returns to Talladega – a place where he’s been involved in a few melees in the past – this weekend for the Talladega 500 in hopes of avoiding trouble and making up some much-needed ground.

Martin was an innocent bystander in the multicar accident that marred the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February. That incident relegated him to a 34th-place finish, and contrary to the team’s plans, they won’t be able to bring their primary superspeedway car to Talladega this weekend.

“We definitely don’t need something like we had at Daytona,” Martin said. “What we need is a safe race and a solid finish to help us get back to where we need to be in the points standings.”

Despite all of his troubles so far this season, which included an early accident two weeks ago that left him 39th at Martinsville, Martin is still only 177 points out of 10th place (Elliott Sadler).

Talladega, however, is another place where things can happen fast, and Martin has never been a fan of restrictor-plate racing. The same restrictor-plate rules that applied at Daytona and at Talladega last fall will be utilized for the Talladega 500.

“It’s kind of like driving on the interstate in really heavy traffic and then you hit construction,” Martin said of the close racing at the 2.66-mile tri-oval. “The lanes swerve and you don’t really know where you should go and you just hope the other cars around you don’t make a mistake. There isn’t much time to react to anything around you, so you just hope that everyone uses their heads and is patient.”

Martin’s Winston Cup career at Talladega has been filled with highs and lows. He’s finished 23rd or worse in the spring event five times, but has won there twice (in 1995 and 1997).

Martin holds the race record of an average speed of 188.354 mph, set in 1997. There were no caution flags in that event, a race that lasted just two hours, 39 minutes, 18 seconds.

Last year’s Talladega 500, won by Jeff Gordon, saw Martin lead a total of 98 laps, including Laps 163-182 of the 188-lap event. Gordon, however, hooked up with fellow Chevy driver Mike Skinner in the final five laps and shuffled Martin back to sixth place.

In last year’s fall event at Talladega, Martin finished seventh. The team will bring the same car he used in both those races back to the track this weekend, a car that never finished lower than seventh in the four races it was utilized last year.

“JR-59 is a good car,” Martin said. “The car we ran in the Daytona 500 this year was pretty much destroyed, so we’re going back to what worked for us last year. I just hope we can leave Talladega with this car in one piece so we have something proven to take to Daytona in July.”

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